Notes from ARLT SIG 23rd Feb 2023 meeting –  Creating visibility for PoC colleagues who work in junior roles by Dr Teeroumanee Nadan

by Dr Teeroumanee Nadan, Chair of ALT’s Anti-racism and Learning Technology Special Interest Group

This post was originally shared on 2 March 2023 on Dr Teeroumanee Nadan’s blog teeroumaneenadan.com.

On 23rd Feb, members of the Antiracism & Learning Technology Special Interest Group (ARLT SIG) (https://bit.ly/3zqImwT) community met around the theme of “Creating visibility for POC in junior roles”.

This emanated from a different ARLT SIG meeting earlier in 2022-23 academic year, during which a comment was made about representation during the 2022 ALT conferences. I picked up this topic further during the November ALT Assembly meeting and one thing that got discussed is the plus-one ticket to conferences. From experiences of junior staff that I have heard of in the sector (and myself having been a junior staff at some point in time), I was more than determined to take this conversation further with the community.

I summarise in this blog the questions that I had set for this topic and the group discussion.

  1. Why is the representation of POC colleagues who work in junior roles important?
  2. Whose responsibility is it to sponsor and create visibility for POC staff in junior roles?
  3. Why are POC colleagues more likely to stay in junior roles/not be promoted?
  4. How to increase visibility of POC colleagues in junior roles in your department? What tips can you share? How to overcome challenges you (may) face?
  5. How to increase visibility of POC colleagues in junior roles in your institution? What tips can you share? How to overcome challenges you (may) face?
  6. How to increase visibility of POC colleagues in junior roles outside your institution (e.g. ALT conferences, etc)? What tips can you share? How to overcome challenges you (may) face?

I provide below a summary of what was discussed around those questions and share my personal views on some of the topics as well. Whilst this was not a recorded session, I commend the small group of eight attendees who contributed to the group discussion.

Anonymised summary of small group discussion

Opportunities to contribute to decision-making

Opportunities to share views and experience

For career progression to more senior roles

An additional comment that came out of this question was the need to share cultural views and experiences. Earlier in the academic year, we touched upon “Antiracist approaches to technology” (https://bit.ly/3VmlveC) with guest speaker Liza Layne and on the need for diversity in not only high-level decision-making but also at every step.

My personal thoughts: For an organisation to succeed around DEI and particularly anti-racism, it is key that POC staff in junior roles can voice out their concerns, feel heard, and actions be taken to address their concerns. Doing so automatically creates a more fluid diversity at higher levels.

Whose responsibility is it to sponsor and create visibility for POC staff in junior roles?

The organisation as a whole Particularly line managers and senior leadership

POC Champions

Everyone

It was generally recognised that sponsoring and creating visibility for POC junior colleagues lies with the institution mainly. However, one argument that emanated from the discussion is that budget is held by line managers and senior management. It is therefore imperative that people with budgetary control and line management role understand the basics around antiracism.

It is also crucial to have role models and champions who look and sound like the POC staff in junior roles. While White “allies” are key to the success of anti-racism in institutions, leadership should be recognised among POC staff, and identify POC role models and champions with first-hand experience around antiracism. It is key here to specify that White “allies” are not representative of POC staff and not all senior POC staff can champion antiracism.

It is also the role of every staff (irrespective of ethnicity) to raise concerns when they are not given opportunities, however, we very well know that staff need to feel empowered and psychologically safe to raise such concerns.

My personal thoughts: One thing that I have done in ARLT SIG is to encourage junior members of ALT to join the ARLT SIG committee, including in the role of Vice-Chair. I am more than appreciative that most of the ARLT SIG committee saw the long-term benefit for the ALT community. I am personally committed to providing all the support needed to increase the visibility of POC staff in junior roles in committee roles in ARLT SIG.

It is often argued that line managers and senior staff are more apt to sit on committees. However, while addressing anti-racism, it is more than important that we have positive action to redress the impact of past discrimination and recognise and cultivate leadership skills in POC staff in junior roles.

Why are POC colleagues more likely to stay in junior roles/not be promoted?

Glass ceiling

Biases, Discrimination

Lack of opportunities

Glass ceiling is common in all sectors around all protected categories and it still remains almost impossible for any POC staff to be rewarded and/or recognised for promotion.

Another point that was also discussed was the fact that systems or institutions are not designed by or for POC staff in general, in particular how job descriptions are written. We see a small proportion of POC staff in senior roles and institutional racism seems to be more prominent in certain institutions. Hence, the needs of POC junior staff are not well understood and/or not given adequate consideration. White Ignorance was highlighted and the fact that White line managers and senior staff still cannot recognise their privileges.

My personal thoughts: Sadly, this is an issue that many POC go through. I recall a few POC staff sharing with me that they are not given time to work on their accreditation while White staff are given time to do so and sent to conferences. Many have also shared they feel their line managers monitor them more closely than their White colleagues. This is sadly not specific only to LTs, but is a wider HE sector issue, where some White line managers feel insecure around competent junior POC staff.

How to increase visibility of POC colleagues in junior roles in your department? What tips can you share? How to overcome challenges you (may) face?

Who is making the recruitment decision?

Celebrating the diversity of the teams

One discussion point was around involving junior POC staff in interview panels. When it comes to diversity, the discussion was around line managers’ phrasing of requests. For international staff, phrases like “I would like you to do this please” could sometimes be confusing – is that an order, a request, or optional? Cultural guidance to British work habits would be appreciated for international staff.

My personal thoughts: It is essential for junior POC members to see the full length and breadth of activities undertaken in a department, this means being included in the recruitment process and on interview panels as well. Most institutions have training available to prepare staff for the interviewing process that POC staff in junior roles could be given time and encouraged to join.

However, this must be done with adequate support, I had found myself in the past having extra work writing reports for a few interviews which did not conform to the new EDI policies. This meant that because I had the skillsets to recognise the lack of fairness in interviews, I also carried the extra burden, without my work allocation re-considered.

Around cultural understanding, I recall one of the first training I had as a Software Engineer was culture training. Nonetheless, in between the frequent “please”, “thank you” and “sorry” of the British culture, I often find myself questioning if it was simply British politeness or genuinely heartfelt “please”, “thank you” and “sorry”.

How to increase visibility of POC colleagues in junior roles in your institution? What tips can you share? How to overcome challenges you (may) face?

Demystify things and build their networks

Opportunities to shadow

One topic that was touched upon here was the need to bring junior POC colleagues to committees and meetings, to demystify processes and to help them grow their networks.

We also discussed the need to have shadowing opportunities, however, it was raised that this highly depends on the open-mindedness of Line Managers and Heads of Department.

My personal thoughts: One thing that I often recommend, is for Line Managers and Heads of Departments to have mandatory re-training every few years. Whilst this may be on paper, this is not really what happens. If you are familiar with HR cases or trade unions, you may have heard of cases where middle managers get their PAs to undertake their online training or similar blatant behaviours without much consequence on them.

One thing that HE in general need to work on more is to provide more opportunities for shadowing and secondment. Staff retention is not exactly a strong point on the agenda of many institutions. We need to focus more on long-term cost benefits rather than short-term cost benefits of high staff turnover (often as a result of bullying or retaliation for raising bullying concerns).

How to increase visibility of POC colleagues in junior roles outside your institution (e.g. ALT conferences, etc)? What tips can you share? How to overcome challenges you (may) face?

Create opportunities to attend meetings and conferences

Promote initiatives like ARLT SIG

Share their experiences organisation-wide and more widely

Attendees contributed a lot to this question, guided by their own experiences around visibility in meetings and conferences. Suggestions around visibility in events included:

  • Bring junior POC team members to ARLT SIG meetings, ALT meetings, webinars, trade shows, and conferences, preferably different staff to provide opportunities to everyone.
  • Invite junior staff members to weekly/monthly meetings where real decisions are being made
  • Have CEO+1 ticket for Line Managers and HODs to bring a junior staff along at a discounted rate (although it was noted this has not been observed in academia).
  • Sponsorship quotas for POC staff e.g. at ALT conferences
  • Junior POC members to have equal authority and power to decision making, e.g. staff of junior roles should not be kept to only do backend tasks (e.g. not only for reviewing papers, etc)
  • Provide flexibility by encouraging junior POC members to attend events during working hours (not outside office hours or lunch breaks), and provide the support needed for work re-allocation when necessary.
  • Write up the experiences of junior POC members attending events in internal newsletters.

Other suggestions included:

  • Create job applications/committee roles encouraging people to apply even if they do not have the required skillsets for the role.

My personal thoughts: It is crucial that line managers realise that everyone has the need to grow and deserve the support to grow their career. It all comes down to them separating their own insecurities from their line managerial duties. You may find materials and video on this blog useful Changing mindset to reduce discrimination at work (https://bit.ly/3zJTe9h).

Post-event activity

One suggestion that came up from this event was to have longer sessions around the same topic, a part two and a workshop, and sectorial change and also changes within ALT. That is an action for me to follow up with ALT.

Once again, as I have raised in various other ARLT SIG meetings before, the question now is what commitment are you going to make?

I was keen for the conversation to continue beyond that one-hour meeting, and provided the participants with a commitment, which was to email me with any personal commitment they would take to change things in the future:

  1. An immediate action you will take this week/this month
  2. An action (or commitment) you will take in the next 3 months (on your own or in your team)
  3. An action (or commitment) you will take in the next 6 months (on your own or in your team)
  4. Those of you who wish to participate in this post-event activity are more than welcome to send a confidential email to me, my email ID is on the slides deck.

I hope you have found some of the discussions that emanated from this event useful and hope you can apply some of them in your own team, department and institution.

Did you enjoy reading this? If so, consider becoming a Member of ALT. If your employer is an Organisational Member, membership is free! Find out more: https://www.alt.ac.uk/membership

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