Office of the President and Provost (Equality, Diversity & Inclusion)


Inclusive Advocacy: evidence and justification for pilot programme in 2018-20

Inclusive Advocacy is a new sponsorship programme designed to ensure high-performing, under-represented groups reach their full potential at UCL (University College London).

Emerging from the recognition of persistent barriers to career progression for Black Asian and Minority Ethnic (BAME) staff, the two-year programme aims to connect senior leaders at grades 9 and 10(Advocates) to high-performing grades 7 and 8 staff (Protégés). The senior leader’s role is to proactively ensure that the protégé receives robust support and access to useful networks, hopefully resulting in career advancement.

Why does the Inclusive Advocates programme have a focus on Black Asian and Minority Ethnic staff progression?

Substantive statistical analysis of all key areas of university activity has demonstrated significant differentials between white staff and Black Asian and Minority Ethnic staff. For example, there is a higher turnover rate of Black Asian and Minority Ethnic staff; white staff are promoted at a proportionally higher rate, and faster, than Black Asian and Minority Ethnic staff, and Black Asian and Minority Ethnic staff are less satisfied with career support. Furthermore, numerous studies have found that Black Asian and Minority Ethnic staff often feel isolated, marginalised, undermined, and lacking support in the higher education sector. The sense of Black Asian and Minority Ethnic staff feeling as if they are ‘outsiders’ is repeated throughout much of the literature on this topic.

Whilst at a formal level, UCL has clear institutional policies for the equitable treatment of all staff, as in any large, complex organisation, there remain opaque, and sometimes invisible, practices and instances of informal decision-making that can undermine formal procedures. These are compounded by unconscious biases that foreground psychological processes, which means that most people are invariably inclined to have more of an affinity to others who are like themselves. The cumulative effect of this, as evidenced by statistics from UCL’s ‘Race equality charter mark application form, is durable inequalities in career progression outcomes according to demographic categories. Additionally, staff from under-represented groups generally have less power in an organisation than the socially dominant group – in both actual and ‘soft’ power - and this can limit their advancement, yet the organisation may tend to blame their lack of progress on them, or society at large, rather than its own systems and processes.

The Inclusive Advocacy programme is driven by evidence-based research which indicates that the daily experiences of working relationships and managerial support and encouragement are significant matters for career advancement. For example, the personal discretion of managers or principal investigators in delegating high status or risky projects can influence who is considered more prepared for promotion.

Is sponsoring specific groups of staff unfair – or even wanted?

Most senior staff may be able to name someone who has been influential in advancing their career: someone who has ‘taken them under their wing’ and gone the ‘extra mile’ to support them. This means many senior staff have de facto been beneficiaries of sponsorship and may instinctively understand what is meant by the term ‘sponsoring’. There is a strongly held perception of ‘meritocracy’ at UCL, but to have a functioning meritocracy, there must be equality of opportunity.
That said, equality of opportunity does not always lead to equality of outcomes. This initiative aims to address that. UCL has compelling statistical and qualitative evidence which shows that structural barriers are still more prominent for staff with certain protected characteristics. Over time, as staff from historically marginalised or disadvantaged groups progress more equitably through the organisation, specific programmes should not be required.
 An important aspect of the Inclusive Advocacy programme is that it also offers the opportunity for reciprocal learning, by raising awareness of the experience and perceptions of under- represented groups amongst senior managers. It will bring together a community of senior leaders who wish to advance inclusion, with incredibly talented junior staff who can bring a diversity of perspectives and knowledge.

What is the difference between sponsorship and mentoring?

A mentor is an experienced person willing to build your confidence and provide a sounding board; whereas a sponsor is a senior person who believes in your potential and is willing to take a bet on you, in so doing advocates for your next promotionHewlett, A, S. (2013) Forget a mentor, find a sponsor

The main distinction between mentoring and sponsorship is that whilst a mentor may help an employee envision and plan their next position, an advocate will leverage their social and career capital with the protégé, to ensure expanding developmental opportunities for them.

The role of UCL’s Inclusive Advocates is to open doors, introduce opportunities for exposure, demonstrate to a higher-level audience what the Protégée can bring to the institution, connect the Protégée to career opportunities and advocate for their abilities. The Advocate must be willing to learn from the protege, to be welcoming of diverse perspectives and to be receptive of the fact that success comes in many guises.