Black Lives Still Matter: inclusion and diversity in our work
By Caroline Francis, on 5 November 2020
This blog has been written by Briony Fleming (Community Engagement Manager) and Caroline Francis (STEP trainee).
Earlier this year, Director of Engagement, Laura Cream, wrote a blog capturing some of the thoughts and reflections from our team in response to the resurgence of the Black Lives Matter movement, after the killing of George Floyd by police on the 25th May 2020.
In her blog Laura laid out the need for self-scrutiny, and for us to make real, meaningful change rather than tokenistic, knee-jerk responses and window-dressing. We recognised the need to be open and transparent about our work. Not just to share what has been going well, but also where we can do better and where we may have been blind.
We wanted to share some of the small but significant steps we have taken to try and improve the accessibility and equity of our work, recognising this is the starting point, not the end.
As a team that is predominantly, but not exclusively, made up of young, White women, we recognised the need to hear from voices other than ourselves. One of the first things we did was to hold a meeting with Ash Talwar, Equality, Diversity & Inclusion Manager at UCL, who led a session which really took us back to basics. What did we understand by White Supremacy? By White Fragility? What is our privilege and what about intersectionality? Ash also challenged us to reflect on our own roles, biases and behaviours. White Supremacy is not exclusive to neo-Nazis or Klansman, it is also perpetuated through systems and structures and the university we work in and the team we are part of is not immune from this.
This was also made clear in a recent report written by one of our team members, Mohammed Rahman. Mohammed joined our team as part of the Shared Training Employment Programme, which seeks to address the lack of diversity in the Creative and Cultural Sectors. In his report, written as an evaluation of the seven months he worked with our team, Mohammed outlined some of the challenges around working in our (predominantly White and middle-class) department and some of the attitudes, assumptions and values he experienced through that. This report, though challenging, has been important reading for us as a team. We took his honesty and openness as a starting point to discuss our own personal responsibilities in creating a more inclusive workplace, not a vague broad discussion of the wider issue, but right here in our own department and team, where it became personal and direct, not abstract.
Read Mohammed’s report:
Or, if you prefer, listen to his report as an audio recording:
Following our meeting with Ash we made a commitment to foreground inclusion in our work, making it an explicit part of planning, delivery, and evaluation.
In our most recent round of Beacon Bursary funding, we have added new guidance to both the application and panel judging process, as one step to improve the inclusivity and accessibility of the scheme.
Through this work we realised we did not know how ethnically diverse our applicants (UCL Staff and Students) are. So we have for the first time asked applicants to share information about their ethnic background through their own self-declaration.
An imperfect solution, certainly, but a step forward and one allowing us to reflect on whether the opportunities we offer are accessible to all staff and students, particularly those who are often excluded in a systemic manner.
We also ran our first information session in partnership with RaceMatters@UCL, reaching out to colleagues from a range of backgrounds, who may not have heard of our work before. Something we will embed in future iterations of funding.
We will continue to reflect and learn from this and apply learning to other areas of our work.
Learning, Hearing from others:
What has been apparent from the outset is that we cannot do this by ourselves. We need to learn from those around us who are better placed to advise us. We are beginning to understand the necessity of the authentic voices of lived experience, by creating opportunities of partnership in the work we do.
Colleagues from Co-production Collective have worked with their wide-ranging network to share or co-author a number of blogs to highlight the thoughts, experiences and expertise of those directly affected by matters at hand.
- Read “HARD TO REseArCH: Black Inclusion in Research”
- Read “Space Wars: Exclusion from Research”
- Read “Its not enough to say Black Lives Matter”
We are committed that our decision making panels (predominantly for funding but also for event delivery) have a diverse range of representatives, and where expertise from community partners is required that they are, wherever possible, reimbursed for their time and contribution.
We recognise that the lack of diversity within our team remains fundamentally relevant issue. With a couple of recruitments on the horizon, we sought advice from a range of sources on steps we could take to be more open. Actions we implemented:
- We proactively consulted UCL HR and then sought advice from UCL Legal Services to get agreement on our piloting a break away from UCL’s standard diversity and inclusion wording used for recruitment. If you don’t ask or agitate for change, you don’t move forward!
- Reviewing language: we asked EDI colleagues to review our job descriptions and adverts to ensure language was clear, skills-focussed and only included essential criteria.
- Valuing alternate expertise: We have removed any requirement for formal education qualifications, where they are unnecessary in the context of the specific role, and have instead highlighted where relevant experience would be valued.
- Being open: for new roles, we have held ‘open days’ – short telephone appointments, where interested candidates can find out more about the role.
- Using broader networks: reaching out to organisation with a far wider reach than ours (East London Business Alliance, Create Jobs / A New Direction, LondonPlus) to share our adverts in arenas where they wouldn’t be typically shared.
Something I don’t feel we’ve quite got right yet are the specifics of supporting and being an ally to Black colleagues, students and community partners. A lot of the actions detailed above are reflecting on how we are seeking to improve our practices in terms of access and inclusion more broadly, but I am keen we do not conflate this with the specific issues arising from Black Lives Matter. However, we aim to be working with Ash and other EDI colleagues to upskill our team in terms of practical race allyship in the coming months.
We need to scrutinise whether our training, networking and funding opportunities are supporting Black staff, students and colleagues and if not, understand why not and plan for how we can do better.
We are also up against a wider issue here in which only 140 out of 21,000 professors in UK are Black, with just 25 of those being Black women. To address this wider systemic, and intersectional, issue within universities, and the education sector more generally, we need to work with colleagues across UCL, that includes Widening Participation, the Students Union, as well as other engagement teams across universities to create new and innovative programmes of work that put these issues at the centre. This is something UCL has begun to work on specifically through a pipeline to doctoral success and support into academic careers.
Thinking about this, in the coming months we will be sharing updates on our work to embed our commitments to equity, inclusion and diversity in our strategic work, and across our wider department. This is a long overdue start to our journey.
Mohammed worked at UCL Culture as a STEP trainee from November 2019 – June 2020. He is currently finishing a second placement on the STEP programme at Foundation for FutureLondon. He is also a freelance illustrator, writer and clothing brand owner. To find out more about his work, visit Mohammed’s website.
- Elonka Soros, Diversity & Inclusion Consultant (Elonka delivers high-quality and highly personal diversity and bias training)
- Fearless Futures run a Design for Inclusion (for teams) and a Lead programme, for those that head up teams.
- The Other Box run a Know Your Bias training
- Richard Adams – ‘Fewer than 1% of UK Professor in UK are black, figures show’, The Guardian
We’ve been asked to share the updated Equality, Diversity and Inclusion statement now used in our recruitment and programmes please see below:
“We encourage applications from those who are underrepresented in the sector and at UCL including but, not exclusive, to non-graduates, disabled, D/deaf and neurodiverse people, LGBTQ+ people, people
from Black, Asian and ethnic minority backgrounds, especially women.”
Where appropriate we also include: “We also welcome applicants from a range of educational backgrounds and therefore do not require a minimum formal qualification for these roles.”
8 Responses to “Black Lives Still Matter: inclusion and diversity in our work”
Briony Fleming wrote on 12 November 2020:
Thanks for your comment. We’ve really valued Mohammed’s openness with us, and certainly we’ve got work to do, but we’re committed to it. We definitely take on board the point about attrition as well. If you have any resources, or people you recommend we talk to about this do let us know, it’s something we’d like to know more about. We’ll raise with colleagues in the EDI team too – to see if they have any data in regards to this. Thanks for engaging with us!
Marilyn wrote on 13 November 2020:
I’ve checked with our Faculty EDI coordinator who suggested you contact the Race Equality Steering Group about this — they can find details on the central EDI page.
All the best,
Briony Fleming wrote on 13 November 2020:
Chris wrote on 27 November 2020:
Firstly, can I thank Mohammed for his audio report. Credit to him for speaking out about “seeing half the picture”, microaggressions, the complicity in silence, whose discomfort is prioretised (amongst other alarming aspects from of his placement). I’m glad he also obtained some really positive experiences to take away with him.
I replied to Laura Cream’s June 2020 blog that you mentioned, so the rest of this response is about that. As you may recall, I was interested in recruitment/employment practices/profiles. So, I’ll take each stage of recruitment in turn.
1) Pilot recruitment wording
You indicate that you now have “agreement on our piloting a break away”. Great.!
QUESTION: Can you post what the new wording looks like, so we can compare it to the blurb I posted in my 1 July response?
2) Job applicant diversity monitoring
I’m happy to see you are now asking “applicants to share information about their ethnic background through their own self-declaration”.
QUESTION: Can you say whether this is happening throughout UCL or just on the Engagement Team/Culture Dept side?
I’m totally with Marilyn Aviles when she asks you to look at the whole life cycle. We all know about the “filing CVs with foreign sounding names in the bin” phenomenon, which hopefully would be exposed – provided CV sift personnel cant over-ride any aspect of the process. However, we should all be aware by now that, even if you get past “the sift wreckers”, you still have to survive the job itself! If we have a clear problem with people not staying (for whatever reason, regardless of department) clearly this demands analysis, so we can get to the bottom of what is going on.
QUESTION: Can you tell us a bit more about whether a) they plan to design &/or implement life-cycle monitoring and if so b) whether this will be happening at Engagement Team vs Culture Dept vsUCL level?
Briony Fleming wrote on 4 December 2020:
thanks for your comment, engagement with these posts is so helpful. We’re keen to make these updates regular and open to keep sharing our successes (and challenges!) along the way. I’m just writing up a slightly fuller response to your excellent questions, but just wanted to say I’d seen this and will respond with something hopefully a bit fuller early next week! I also wonder whether you’d be open to writing a blog post with me? I’ve found your challenges to us really helpful, and it might be interesting to do something that explores this a bit further? Either way I look forward to more discussion soon! (Briony, on behalf of the engagement team).
Briony Fleming wrote on 11 December 2020:
Hi Chris, thanks for your patience on a fuller response from us. Laura’s picked up your questions. It’s quite a long response, so if you find it difficult to digest in the comment section let me know and i’ll also email it over to you. We just want to be as transparent as possible and answer in this public forum as well.
Thank you so much for joining this conversation. I’ll do my best to answer your questions and I do hope that you might be up for co-authoring a blog with Briony in my team. We would very much welcome that.
The diversity statement we have legal sign off from UCL to use is below:
“We encourage applications from those who are underrepresented in the sector and at UCL including but, not exclusive, to non-graduates, disabled, D/deaf and neurodiverse people, LGBTQ+ people, people from Black, Asian and ethnic minority backgrounds, especially women. We also welcome applicants from a range of educational backgrounds and therefore do not require a minimum formal qualification for these roles.
We were also advised by Legal Services that the final line relating to formal qualifications should be reviewed by us on a case by case basis. UCL Culture (the department the Engagement Team is based in) has a wide range of roles, some of which require high levels of expertise likely to be achieved only through postgraduate level study (Head of Egyptian and Sudanese Archaeology Collection for example) while others are likely to be relevant to people from a wide range of educational/learning on the job backgrounds). We are of course also reflecting hard and acting on where and how we advertise too.
I think we may be talking slightly at cross-purposes around the self-declaration issue. The blog reference to asking applicants to self-declare was referring to UCL researcher applicants for one of our internal public engagement funding streams (Beacon Bursaries); it was not a reference to how we are handling job applications. UCL already anonymises all job applications (ie. there are no names on applications). It also asks applicants to fill in an Equal Opportunities monitoring form. The information applicants provide in this section on ethnicity, sex, religion etc is completely confidential and will be not seen by any person involved in the selection process. Its purpose is stated as being to help UCL monitor the effectiveness of its Equal Opportunities Policy. You asked about whether our piloting of asking internal funding applicants (in our latest round of Beacon Bursary funding) to share information about their ethnic background via self-identification was being applied across UCL Culture.
I’d like to comment on our learning first and what it means for us going forwards. There has been vigorous debate, including amongst panellists who helped judge the awards, over whether this is the right approach to take – and reflections on the need to encompass broader protected characteristics beyond ethnicity in the future. I think on balance the Engagement Team is planning to refine and continue with this approach – and consider how we might apply it to our activities beyond internal funding but we are still in evaluation and thinking mode. More to follow as the year progresses and as we draw on advice from our colleagues in UCL Equality, Diversity and Inclusion Team.
As for broader UCL Culture Activity, we are establishing a Departmental EDI Committee with a commitment to take forward a set of Race Equity Pledges and specific actions to achieve them over the course of the coming year. This is part of a broader programme to apply the learning from the work undertaken by Deans across UCL to those bits of UCL which come under Vice Provost Offices rather than sitting within Faculties under a Dean. My colleague Kat Nilsson, Director of Museums and Cultural Programmes, is going to Chair the committee and I have no doubt will draw on our team’s learning to discuss and make recommendations with colleagues on what should happen in terms of broader data collection.
I completely take your point about life cycles – it’s no good us recruiting more diverse staff if they find our environment an unwelcoming one/one where they can’t progress and then leave as a result. But I’m afraid I can’t answer your question about life-cycle monitoring – I think it’s one for UCL HR/EDI teams and I will make a note to ask it myself of them and come back to you if I have information to share. ” Laura
I hope some of that has been useful Chris, do feel free to drop me an email on email@example.com if you’d like to talk more or clarify anything. best and thanks again for joining in the conversation on this important matter.
Chris wrote on 16 December 2020:
Sorry Briony, Ive only just seen this today. I was expecting some sort of e-notification to prompt me. Anyway, I shall email you. Many thanks for your detailed replies.
Thank you for publishing the report, I have found the honesty in Mohammed’s report and in your reaction, a brave and an encouraging sign of the desire to move away from a ‘tokenistic’ approach. Race, equality, diversity and representation are complex issues, particularly in fairly and objectively addressing the personal and the structural factors that shape all our experiences. I would like to make a recommendation that as well as recruitment, we should look into staff attrition rate from our ethnic employees at UCL – how many we recruit, how many we lose from that recruitment, and when they leave – is it to a promotion or a side-wards, down-wards move? This could reveal the impact of what being employed by UCL has had on its ethnic minorities.