The new co-chairs of the Race Equality Charter Self-Assessment Team share their ambitions for the project to advance race equality at City
City is applying for the Race Equality Charter (REC), which provides a framework through which the University can work to identify and self-reflect on institutional and cultural barriers standing in the way of minority ethnic staff and students.
To do this, the Race Equality Charter Self-Assessment Team (RECSAT) has been formed, with Dr Jessica Jones Nielson, Associate Dean (People & Culture), and Phil Gilks, Chief Executive (City Students’ Union) co-chairing the team. Jessica and Phil talked about their aims for the RECSAT and why this is something that they are so keen to be an integral part of.
What was it about being a RECSAT co-chair that appealed to you?
Phil: I thought it was a great opportunity for me to be involved in something that I have a particular passion about and something that is really close to my heart.
I have recently taken part in the NUS Rise leadership programme, which is where a white manager attends a course with a BAME staff member, and looks at how you can become a better white ally to BAME staff, as well as how you can support your staff through their development and progression.
Also, having recently been involved in writing the Students’ Union Strategic Plan, we have identified the attainment gap between white and BAME students as one of the key areas we need to work on. It is more of an issue on some courses or schools than others but there are issues we can work on collaboratively with the University.
On a more personal level, having a mixed raced son, I feel that anything I can do – no matter how small it could be – to make sure when he grows up the issues he faces due to his race are minimised or eradicated, I feel I have a responsibility to do.
I think I am in a unique position as Chief Executive of the Students’ Union; I have access to student representatives and active groups of BAME students such as our student societies. The Race Equality Charter does not just focus on staff, it also focuses on students and I’ll be able to facilitate that engagement in a really positive and proactive way.
Jessica: I have been working in academia for the last six years here at City and being a black woman academic myself I have seen a lot of the challenges that black individuals specifically face in going through the academic environment of progression and of seeing themselves represented within staff.
One thing about City that I have really appreciated during my time working here is that we have a hugely diverse student body. That diversity really stimulates me and motivates me to really try to reach out and serve as a model for BAME students. Year upon year I am told that I am the first black academic that they have ever been taught by and that they wish there were more role models or individuals who looked like them in academia. That really has inspired me to mentor undergraduates, graduate students, even staff I have worked with over the years.
Having the Race Equality Charter, and some of the principles we are talking about, we are really trying to create more representation of BAME students and staff in order to close the gaps that we see within academia with regards to promotion, with regards to attainment and also to be able to contribute to an environment that is equal and fair to everyone, is really positive.
I thought this would be a great opportunity for me to be able to live out my values in the way that I want to be able to create a more diverse workforce within City but also to encourage and support students who might want to think about academia as a career in the future. I hope that personal and that professional intersection will be rewarding through the REC process.
What do you hope to achieve through the RECSAT?
Phil: The Race Equality Charter is the overarching aim, but it is really about delivering change as we go along. One of my personal aims within the role is that we will hear those voices that struggle to be heard, whether that be staff or students, so really creating a space where people are confident that they are able to bring forward their experience both before, during and potentially after City.
I recognise that everyone’s journey is unique, it is unique to them, and we need to be really open in listening to that. We need to be challenging ourselves and as an institution to really do something quite radical to make a big difference at City. So, I suppose my real aim is to make sure this isn’t just about delivering a charter, this is about delivering change and people feel that there is a real difference.
Jessica: I am excited to work with colleagues who are just as passionate about the Race Equality Charter and us really achieving that charter mark status, but more so about creating a culture that is going to foster and improve the work environment, and the learning environment of both staff and students.
One of the things I am really passionate about is mentorship, and role modelling, and one thing that I really hope for us to do particularly with the reciprocal mentoring scheme, that will take off pretty soon, is to encourage individuals to reconsider the opportunities that they have here at City. I want to make sure that I am a part of that and that we all have similar experiences.