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.”