Mar 31 2014

The week that was…

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Last week saw the historic change in law to legalise same sex marriages. In addition to this big news, we came across HEFCE research on attainment gap between white and ethnic minority students, a national network for Black PhD students, report on four generation (4G) workplaces and women’s fears about career breaks.

On Sunday midnight, law changed in the UK making same sex marriages legal in the country. Prime Minister David Cameron hailed this historic change as a “powerful message” about equality in England.

Research from the Higher Education Funding Council of England (HEFCE) has found that white students get better degrees than ethnic minority peers despite same entry grades. The report found that 72% of white students who have grades BBB at A-level went on to gain a first or upper second-class degree, compared with only 56% of Asian students and 53% of black students. HEFCE’s research also showed gaps in degree classes between students from wealthy and poorer areas.

A student blogger reiterates this sentiment as he writes on experiences of working class students in top universities: “Coming to a Russell Group university as a working-class student was as big a culture shock as coming from another country. There are pressures to adjust to radically different standards. It can be overwhelming when you’re already making a difficult transition from school to university.”

Black PhD students may feel isolated in the academy, say two students who are setting up a national network to help black scholars overcome isolation. This network will be linked with the US-based Black Doctoral Network, an established group with about 4,000 members worldwide, and will provide information on mentoring and scholarships as well as opportunities to network online.

UK Commission for Employment and Skills (UKCES) has published a report on the changing workplace. The report finds that multi-generational workplaces will become fairly common in the UK in the future as people retire later. UKCES describe the change in an interesting way – “Some of your colleagues are old enough to be your great-grandparents, your office is entirely online and your competitors are algorithms. Welcome to the future of work in the UK.”

A new survey from the London Business School reveals that 70% of women feel anxious about taking a career break, fearing that it will have a negative impact on their career. Louisa Symington-Mills, found of Citymothers, says: “No one talks enough about the hit your confidence takes when you become a mother and then attempt to reintegrate professionally…When a new mum comes back to work, the short time she was given off is often viewed as a tremendous act of generosity from her employer’s perspective.”

Came across something interesting? Write to us – Equality.and.Diversity@lse.ac.uk – or tweet to us – @lsediversity

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Mar 28 2014

Butterflies in the stomach? Let’s talk about anxiety

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Anxiety, according to the Mental Health Foundation, is one of the leading causes of mental ill-health in the world. Anxiety is the theme for this year’s Mental Health Awareness Week (12-18 May 2014). To find out more and get involved, read on.

© Flickr user Marianna Zanatta

© Flickr user Marianna Zanatta

Most of us have, at some point, felt ‘jelly legs’, ‘butterflies in the stomach’, tingling in hands and feet, dry mouth or shaking just before that big public speaking event or submission of the overdue project report. These are common signs of ‘anxiety’. Some people live with more anxiety than others but it is nevertheless something we can all claim to have experienced. 8.2 million people in the UK were diagnosed with anxiety in 2010. But how many of us have talked about it, especially as a persistent health issue?

The Mental Health Foundation has declared ‘anxiety’ as the theme for this year’s Mental Health Awareness Week which runs from 12 to 18 May 2014. The Mental Health Foundation says anxiety is one of the leading causes of mental ill-health in the world.

The Mental Health Foundation is also curating the Anxiety Arts Festival 2014 - “Anxiety 2014 is a new London wide arts festival exploring the spaces between the concepts of anxiety and the ways they are lived, perceived and represented by artists, individuals and communities. The festival runs throughout June 2014 spanning venues and spaces across the city, from grass-roots community centres to London’s leading cultural and academic organisations.”

  • LSE is a signatory of the Time to Change pledge which demonstrates the School’s commitment to challenging mental health discrimination and stigma.
  • LSE staff and students can access free and confidential counselling (for students; for staff).
  • For more information and resources on anxiety and panic attacks, please see Mind website.
  • If you have any queries, you can write to us – Equality.and.Diversity@lse.ac.uk.
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Mar 24 2014

The week that was…

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Highlights from last week’s equality and diversity news: US college withdraws appointment offer after female academic negotiates pay, does research assessment discriminate against female academics, research councils may tie funding to diversity accreditation and black scholars claim racism is still alive on campuses.

Last week, news emerged that a New York college withdrew its offer of appointment to a female academic after she tried to negotiate her pay among other things. This has raised a debate over the push for women to demand higher salaries and promotions to climb the career ladder – an individualistic approach that places responsibility on individual women to make it to the top, often without considering the systemic barriers in place.

It’s also raised the issue of assertive women being stereotypically seen as bossy, not collegial or too demanding whereas assertive men are seen as having leadership qualities, knowing what they want etc. Speaking of which, Sheryl Sandberg (Yahoo! CEO and founder of Lean In, an organisation that aims to empower women to achieve their ambitions) has launched the Ban Bossy campaign to raise awareness of how damaging it is to characterise female leadership as ‘unwomanly’.

Barbara Graziosi, professor at Durham University, has written about potential sex discrimination in research assessment. While the data has not yet been published, it appears that the proportion of women submitted to the REF was lower than the proportion of women working at Durham University. All institutions are expected to impact assess REF submissions to identify any disproportionate impact on a certain group. However, as Graziosi writes, “After the RAE in 2008, the Equality Challenge Unit examined 32 institutions and their equality impact assessments. Only 22 provided evidence of having undertaken an equality impact assessment; moreover, “save for a few notable exceptions, the quality of the EIAs provided was poor”. ” Interestingly, this week news emerged that research councils may tie funding to diversity accreditation.

Finally, at the UCL talk ‘Why isn’t my professor black?’, a number of black scholars claimed that racism may explain the startlingly low numbers of black professors (only 85 out of 18,500 professors in the UK). William Ackah, lecturer in community and voluntary sector studies at Birkbeck, University of London, said, “Society has grown comfortable with black people in sport or music, [but] it has a problem with black people leading in public life and academia…”

Came across something interesting? Tell us about it – Equality.and.Diversity@lse.ac.uk.

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Mar 24 2014

Acceptable sexism? Unconscious bias in the workplace

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Though we have come a long way in challenging overtly sexist behaviour, ‘low level’ or subtle sexism is still passed off as office banter or humour. Snéha Khilay argues that this holds women back in the workplace and needs to be discouraged.

Over the years negative, hostile behaviour towards women at work has been deemed as overt sexism and therefore unacceptable. However, the subtle and no less insidious sexism continues to fester in the background. There are comments and behaviours, whether made by men or women that devalue women. During a recent training session, I conducted an exercise titled ‘Acceptable Continuum’, providing statements to be categorised as either ‘acceptable’ or ‘unacceptable’. I noted with concern some participants becoming indignant that ‘I am going through a blond moment’* or referring to women as ‘girls’ was generally considered ‘unacceptable’. This indignation was verbalised by comments along the lines of ‘This is PC gone mad’, ‘We are walking on an eggshell culture’, ‘I can’t say anything now??’ etc.

© University of Salford Press Office

© University of Salford Press Office

I have worked with various organisations and noted that colleagues sometimes use certain but subtly negative language patterns, either out of habit or because it has become unconsciously so ingrained into office culture and banter that it becomes acceptable. There is a lack of awareness or a perception that if no harm is intended by these comments, no one should be offended. It is worth pointing out that these kinds of every day subtleties, with their ‘drip drip’ effect, are damaging and detrimental to how women are perceived and therefore treated.

In some organisations, colleagues have explained that when women state ‘I must have gone through a blond moment’, this seems to give some men the freedom and permission to make disparaging comments about women, albeit in jest. Some of these comments made by men were along the lines of ‘That was good work… for a woman’, ‘Can you be Mummy and organise lunch for the next Senior Management Team meeting?’ (made to a female member of the SMT), ‘I am surprised that you managed to do the project given your child care responsibilities….’, ‘here comes the handbag brigade’ – the list goes on.

It is apparent that sexist humour, which is really the denigration of women through humour, trivialises the unpleasant reality of sex discrimination behind a smokescreen of harmless banter and implies that when sexist language is presented as humour or in jest, it is to be viewed as acceptable and considered a bonding ritual between colleagues.

I recently attended a Board meeting of a public sector organisation which was also attended by two newly appointed members. I noted with wry interest that the Chair of the Board (a man) introduced the new female Board member with a detailed background about her family; she had three daughters, was a PTA member and attended a book club. In contrast the male Board member’s professional qualifications and accomplishments were highlighted. It was also telling that the Chair even introduced the female member with ‘I would like to welcome the beautiful Jackie^ to the Board’.

This type of subtle sexism leaves some observers feeling uncomfortable but not entirely sure about what. However, the real danger lies in it being possible to see the comment as normal and acceptable. Further, the Chair could even argue that he was complimenting Jackie. I later learned that Jackie had similar professional qualifications and accomplishments to those of her male counterpart; this was not mentioned at the meeting.

Various studies** reveal that sexist jokes and gender stereotype are some of the main factors in holding women back from thriving at work. The hard-to-detect comments can have an insidious effect, which over time is profound enough for women to start conforming to the stereotypes instead of focusing on their career advancement. Research findings show some common subtle incidents occurring on average 2-5 times a week. These include:

  • Comments that women are not as good as men at certain activities (maths, sports, leadership);
  • Comments that women are too easily offended or that they exaggerate problems;
  • Seemingly benign comments about women, that they are naturally better at cooking, shopping or child care;
  • Choosing women for stereotypical assignments or tasks;
  • Making comments about women’s clothing.

The studies show that in response to the subtle sexist comments and attitudes, women have been known to perform poorly on cognitive tests. Further, they express feelings of incompetence and even greater dissatisfaction with their work-related performance.

Fundamentally, it is important for all of us to be aware that whilst we have made huge strides in moving away from explicitly negative and sexually inappropriate behaviour, subtle comments and remarks considered to be innocuous are damaging and help maintain the ripple-like effect of discrimination against women. As we celebrate International Women’s Day in March, we need to be more aware of subtle sexism in the workplace, the need to move away from stereotypes and to place a greater focus on treating people as individuals and not labelling them with the group that they represent.

The United Nations theme for International Women’s Day 2014 is ‘Equality for Women is Progress for All’.

* ‘I am going through a blond moment’ – phrase usually used by a woman to imply that she had forgotten to do something, is a scatterbrain or is being silly or stupid (from the stereotypical perception of blonde-haired women as unintelligent).

^Name changed

** Melbourne Business School, Australia, Pennsylvania State University USA and Philipps University Germany

SnehaSnéha Khilay is a diversity and leadership consultant/trainer. Snéha carries out consultancy and training on Diversity and Inclusion, Managing Diversity and the Law, Cultural Competency, Dignity at Work and Conflict Resolution. Snéha has published articles on diversity and leadership in Management Today, Start Your Business, Simply Business, Professional Manager, Change Board, People and People Management. Visit Snéha’s website at www.bluetuliptraining.co.uk.

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Mar 17 2014

The week that was…

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In today’s The week that was… – is racial discrimination still an issue at universities, sexism in science is driving away women, women over 50 are staying in work longer but with few promotion opportunities and what role can men play in fighting everyday sexism.

Is racial discrimination still an issue at universities? This is the question being asked following Harvard’s and Oxford’s photo projects aimed at raising awareness of racism in higher education. The projects, entitled ‘I, too, am Harvard’ and ‘I, too, am Oxford’, featured black and minority ethnic students holding placards with messages such as “You do know they only accepted you because you’re black?”, “Then…why do you speak such good English?”, “Having an opinion does not make me an ‘angry black woman’.” In 2011, a report by the National Union of Students (NUS) found that one in six black students had experienced racism at their institution and one third did not trust their university to handle complaints properly.

The Guardian’s Academics Anonymous series is discussing sexism in science driving away women this week. The author writes: “Women in science face persistent challenges and discrimination…I will be told by my supervisor not to worry about enthusiasm and hard work because in the end, I will leave science for marriage and children. I have been asked to divulge my relationship status and future maternity plans in interviews. I have even watched my professor refuse to interview astounding female candidates because they have a child.”

A recent report from Unison, Women Deserve Better, has revealed changes in the world of work for women over 50 years of age. The findings of the survey show that women are staying in the workforce for longer but have fewer chances of promotion or moving to a higher grade job. The report also describes women in this age bracket as the ‘sandwich generation’ – women caught between the responsibilities of caring for children and grandchildren and/or a dependent elderly relative. An article in the Guardian argues that ageism and sexism in the workplace are as ubiquitous as ever.

What role can men play in the fight against everyday sexism? With recent discussions on lad culture in higher education, it is important to consider how men can be involved in challenging sexist behaviour. Laura Bates, founder of Everyday Sexism, writes: “The fact is that battling gender inequality isn’t about men v women. It’s about people against prejudice. And we need everybody on our side. For some men, hearing feminist arguments from their male peers can be an incredibly powerful way of getting the message across – so we need those allies out there spreading the word.”

Have something to add? Write to us – Equality.and.Diversity@lse.ac.uk

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Mar 14 2014

The leaky pipeline: women in academia

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Last Saturday was International Women’s Day and March is Women’s History Month – time to see where women have got to over the many decades of demand and struggle for equal rights, including in the academia.

The numbers are well known – only 20% of professors in the UK are women in spite of the representation being almost equal when starting out at the lecturer level and more women than men students in universities both at undergraduate and postgraduate level. These numbers refer to the ‘leaky pipeline’, the concept that women disappear from the career ladder at some point.

The Equality Challenge Unit have produced a very helpful visual representation of this leaky pipeline -

ECU infographic

So, what’s the recipe for success for those who are among that minority of female professors? Coinciding with International Women’s Day, the University of Cambridge published a book by Jo Bostock – The Meaning of Success – documenting how senior women in Cambridge reached where they are today. In a series of interviews, various views emerge.

Dame Athene Donald, professor of experimental physics at Cambridge, writes: “These women weren’t complaining about their lot in life, they weren’t whining, whingeing or moaning, terms of denigration so often thrown at women who speak out. They were celebrating what they loved about their jobs – building teams, seeing their students thrive and progress, working with people who sparked them off intellectually and seizing opportunities to try out new things and make new discoveries…But when we externally judge success, for instance at the promotion or recruitment stage, are these the metrics that are used? The answer too often is no.”

In the same vein, Cambridge academics wrote a letter to the Times Higher Education a few weeks ago arguing for changing the measures of success to make recruitment and promotion more inclusive. This is a fresh approach – one that turns the tables to make leaders in higher education responsible for changing cultures to address gender inequality and imbalance, prompting universities to evaluate their policies and procedures before giving up trying to determine why there aren’t enough women on the top.

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Mar 10 2014

The week that was…

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Welcome to this week’s round-up of interesting equality and diversity stories we came across. Highlights include – UCL Provost writes on equality and diversity, culture of acceptance around mental health in academia, NUS launches leadership programme for women, photo project against racism by Harvard students and report on violence against women in Europe. 

Professor Michael Arthur, President and Provost of University College London, wrote on equality and diversity for his ‘long view’ column, focussing on recruiting a more ethnically diverse workforce (currently, only 85 professors in the UK out of a total of 18,510 are black) and advancing women’s careers. He said rethinking recruitment and spreading ownership and leadership of this set of issues across the university were some ways of moving forward and added: “UCL may be full of exceptionally bright people, but we need to accept that we will inevitably have blind spots in our knowledge of how its culture affects people who are different from us.”

A post in the Academics Anonymous series being run by the Guardian discusses the culture of acceptance around mental health issues in academia. The author, a researcher development officer, sees PhD students regularly and writes: “It is all too common to see PhD students work themselves to the point of physical and mental illness in order to complete their studies. It is less common to see PhD students who feel that they are under such pressure that the only option is suicide. But it does happen.” The article received a huge response with many shares and comments, following which the Guardian published a post with experiences of mental health issues in academia around the world. It was discussed that university staff battling anxiety, poor work-life balance and isolation aren’t finding the support they need.

As part of their work on Women in Leadership, the  National Union of Students has launched a Women’s Aspire Leaders Programme. The overall aim of this programme is to increase promotion, retention and the number of women in senior leadership positions so that the student movement can be more representative of its membership. Women non-student staff who are aspiring to be leaders within the student movement can apply for a place on the programme.

A group of black students at Harvard have launched a photo project ‘I, Too, Am Harvard’ depicting the institutional racism they have experienced. The photos show black students holding up boards reading comments like “Can you read?”, “I don’t see colour; does that mean you don’t see me?”, “You aren’t black on the inside.” Inspired by this photo project, students at Oxford started their own photo campaign last Sunday ‘I, Too, Am Oxford’.

Lastly, the European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights has published a report from the first of its kind survey on violence against women in 28 European Union member states. Based on the detailed findings, the report suggests courses of action in different areas that are touched by violence against women and go beyond the narrow confines of criminal law, ranging from employment and health to the medium of new technologies.

Have something to add? Write to Equality.and.Diversity@lse.ac.uk

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Mar 3 2014

The week that was…

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In today’s ‘The week that was…’ – the correct figure for women in leadership is 50%, NUS summit on lad culture in higher education discusses the role of students’ union leaders and does an employee’s same sex partner have equal right to receive a survivor’s pension?

Professor Binna Kandola OBE asks,”Given that women are as equally capable of being leaders both now and in the future, why does the Davies report aim for a mere 25% on female board representation and why does the 30% Club set the target five points higher?” Calling these figures “arbitrary”, Kandola argues that the “correct figure is clearly 50%”. He also adds that leadership criteria is still contained of overwhelmingly ‘male’ attributes. This is not to say that women can’t/don’t have those attributes but that these attributes, such as vision, engagement, deployment, are so strongly associated with men that it would be simpler to say: “We’re looking for a bloke.”

The National Union of Students recently held a summit on ‘Confronting lad culture in higher education‘. Among other issues, the role of students’ union society leaders was discussed: “It is typically these leaders who are responsible for coming up with initiation ideas, or even writing misogynistic group emails…” Some students’ unions are taking charge and Oxford University has introduced ‘Good Lad workshops’ for men in such positions. These workshops discuss issues of masculinity, consent and peer pressure.

A recent case dealt with whether an employee’s same sex partner had the right to receive a survivor’s benefit under an employer’s occupational pension scheme. The claim of discrimination was upheld by the Employment Tribunal on the basis that paying a civil partner less under the survivor’s pension than a hypothetical wife was unlawful. The Tribunal said that the Equality Act 2010 (section 61) requires every occupational pension scheme to have a non-discrimination rule. However, the Employment Appeal Tribunal overturned the Tribunal’s decision on the basis that civil partners could not claim equal treatment for the period prior to the Civil Partnership Act 2004 coming into force.

Have something to add? Write to us – Equality.and.Diversity@lse.ac.uk.

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Feb 26 2014

Learning diversity from Gandhi and Mandela

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Snéha Khilay appreciates the resilience of Gandhi and Mandela in pursuing freedom and justice for all and thinks that we all have the potential to make a change if we strongly believe in values of equality and diversity.

Mahatma Gandhi loved his cup of tea in the afternoon. He laughingly acknowledged to his colleague Henry Polak that he was addicted to the afternoon tea and that he was its slave. Gandhi was challenged about his addiction and asked “You know you are a ‘slave’, yet you are not trying to liberate yourself. How can a ‘slave’ ever think of liberating the Africans and the Indians, get them their rights from a racial regime?” Although Gandhi tried to argue that a cup of tea does no harm and does not have any adverse effect, Polak pointed out that “no champion of freedom can let a habit be his master”. Immediately after Polak’s statement, Gandhi gave up drinking tea.

Gandhi Mandela

© Flickr user nicholaslaughlin

I recently learned from my mother that she was so influenced by Gandhi that she and her friends also gave up drinking tea which in India is a vital social ritual. She said as a young woman in the 1940s, she would not have been allowed to walk alongside Gandhi but wanted to take some action to show alliance to Gandhi, his philosophy and cause.

I had the privilege of seeing Nelson Mandela when he came to South Africa House, London soon after his release from 27 years of imprisonment. I was enthralled and humbled by his speech where he continually thanked the audience for their support in ending apartheid in South Africa and setting the nation free. After his speech, I made a silent vow that I too would continue to promote equality and fairness and work towards eliminating discrimination.

So what is it about Gandhi and Mandela, who in my personal opinion are two of the greatest icons of all time, that inspire others to take action? There are abundant stories that show their management of diversity was with courage and foresight. Gandhi and Mandela both had a profound belief in equality, fairness and justice which embodied a lasting impression of hope, inspiring others to take responsibility. Their philosophy of ‘think beyond oneself’ and ‘do good in the community’ was contagious. “It is in your hands to create a better world for all who live in it,” said Nelson Mandela in his 91st birthday speech.

Gandhi and Mandela were  convinced in their belief and despite enduring harsh and brutal treatment, they continued to be fearless in their pursuit of freedom of people and the principle of fairness. This, combined with their hallmark of forgiveness, instilled lasting changes. They reached and maintained these convictions through deep inward journeys, through experiences of humiliation and imprisonment, journeys that took them beyond instincts of violent retaliation to an inner stillness, which in a world of unrest, disquiet and uncertainty was mesmerising, encouraging and captivating. Their philosophy, their beliefs and their respectful behaviour became a benchmark for others to inspire to.

We all need to be a Gandhi and Mandela, to continue to confront the system, whatever the system represents so that we can all live and work with dignity and respect. Our lives are not just about trivial personal pursuits, it is about attaining worthwhile goals that make a lasting difference.

I am confident that the spirit of Gandhi and Mandela is alive, whether in my mother’s generation, my generation or my children’s generation. The examples of their spirit are expressed in many ways, whether caring for a neighbour, climbing Mount Kilimanjaro for a charity, challenging discrimination at work or being imprisoned for revealing the truth about a nation’s wrongdoings. These are the people who promote fairness, respect and dignity quietly and without fanfare. I strongly believe that inherently there is more good than bad in ourselves, we all have to believe this in order to pursue, attain and maintain Gandhi’s and Mandela’s philosophy.

I continue to be hopeful that Gandhi and Mandela’s principles are enduring and that they can be applied in our daily lives, the shelf life of these principles is by no means limited. If you were to make one New Year’s solution, take the baton and follow Gandhi’s and Mandela’s footsteps and “be the change you want to see in the world”.

I claim to be an average man of less than average ability. I have not the shadow of doubt that any man or woman can achieve what I have, if he or she would make the same effort and cultivate the same hope and faith. Gandhi

SnehaSnéha Khilay is a diversity and leadership consultant/trainer. Snéha carries out consultancy and training on Diversity and Inclusion, Managing Diversity and the Law, Cultural Competency, Dignity at Work and Conflict Resolution. Snéha has published articles on diversity and leadership in Management Today, Start Your Business, Simply Business, Professional Manager, Change Board, People and People Management. Visit Snéha’s website at www.bluetuliptraining.co.uk.

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Feb 24 2014

The week that was…

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Highlights from last week’s equality and diversity news: Bristol race discrimination case upheld, research by IiP says wellbeing most important factor in job satisfaction and Cambridge academics call for more inclusive recruitment processes to address lack of female professors.

A black staff member at City Academy, Bristol has had his claim of race discrimination upheld by an employment tribunal. David McLeod had been passed over for promotion three times in six years in favour of a white person. The judge also criticised the school for appointing an all-white, British management team to run a programme to help underachieving black and ethnic minority pupils. A hearing to decide on compensation will be held at a later date.

Research by Investors in People suggests ‘sickies’ could be dramatically reduced if employers provided more health and well-being benefits. In the survey of 3000 full time staff, wellbeing came out as the factor most likely to give people job satisfaction. 54% of respondents felt their employer didn’t care about their health and well-being, and of these, nearly half said it made them feel less motivated at work and more likely to pull sickies. Paul Devoy, head of IiP, said: “Organisations need to see staff health and well-being as crucial to their business and staff retention.” He added: “Happier staff are less likely to take time off sick.”

A group of academics from Cambridge University have, in a letter to the Times Higher Education, called for inclusive recruitment processes to address the lack of female professors. At present, only 20% of professors in the UK are women. The proposals suggest ways of measuring applications that will not unduly advantage men: ”A broader, more inclusive approach to success and promotion, where other academic contributions, including teaching, administration and outreach work are valued, would make it easier for women to advance.” The Guardian Higher Education Network hosted a debate on the topic.

Have something to add? Write to us – Equality.and.Diversity@lse.ac.uk

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