UCL News


Equality and diversity at UCL

28 September 2009

UCL held its 2009 Disability Equality Day on 17 September to provide staff with knowledge, skills and guidance on how best to support those with disabilities at the university.

Sarah Guise, Acting UCL Equalities and Diversity Coordinator, explains what equal opportunities means today, and the support her team provides to help make UCL an environment where everyone can flourish.

What does your role as UCL Equalities and Diversity Coordinator encompass?

My role is based in the Human Resources Policy and Planning Team but the range of equalities and diversity issues I work on is much broader than human resources. My job is to ensure that UCL promotes equalities and diversities for staff and for students, across all departments and disciplines. Naturally, I don't do this on my own but by working with contacts in departments who know the particular equalities issues in their area of work or study.

How would you describe the term 'equal opportunities'?

'Equal opportunity' means that people from all different walks of life should have the same access to employment and study and that the only consideration should be merit. In law these differences are things like gender, race, disability, sexual orientation, religious affiliation and age.
These days we tend to talk more about 'equalities and diversity', which is not only about equality of opportunity but also equality of outcome - in other words, making sure our policies and procedures actually make a difference to people's life chances, by monitoring data and carrying out surveys. As a public sector organisation we are also responsible for actively promoting the benefits of having different kinds of people in the organisation.

How do you embed equality into the fabric of the organisation and make everyone aware of it in their everyday work?

That's a very important, and difficult, question. One of the main ways in which we do this is by training staff in the kinds of discrimination issues they may come across in their work. Training is tailor-made for departments and our trainers look at the demographic of the discipline. For example, a training session for an engineering department would look at the relatively small numbers of female staff and students at each career stage and discuss why women leave the engineering profession, and the personal and professional barriers they face.

How do you monitor discrimination in the workplace?

We look at our anonymous equalities monitoring data to see if there are any widespread issues, such as the fact the ethnic minority applicants are less likely to be shortlisted for interview at UCL than their white counterparts, and make recommendations to departments based on these findings.

When it comes to individual cases, ultimately the individual has to speak up in order for the discrimination to be addressed. In order for them to do that they need to be confident that there is support available and that their grievance will be taken seriously. We have put a lot of effort into training and promoting our network of harassment advisers so that staff and students facing discrimination can speak to someone who will empathise with their situation and advise them on how best to deal with it.

What does your department do to ensure that all staff have access to equal opportunities?

This year the staff survey was entirely funded from the equalities budget and the results were broken down by equality area e.g. gender, ethnicity, disability and so on. The results from the survey were presented to the Deans of Faculty and they are making action plans based on the findings in their area. This way equal opportunities are not just promoted by staff in human resources but also acted on by senior managers at UCL.

Four UCL departments received Silver awards this year from the Athena SWAN Charter, which recognises and celebrates good employment practice for women working in science, engineering and technology in higher education and research. How important to UCL today is the fact that we were one of the first universities to welcome women?

I think UCL's egalitarian history is something to be proud of, but we mustn't be complacent. At grades nine and ten only 31 per cent of our staff are female. The figure is improving each year, but we have to be proactive about addressing the barriers for women at senior grades, particularly for academic staff.

Disability Equality Day took place last month - what are the aims of the event?

UCL held its first Disability Training Day in 2004 and around 400 people attended. It's been difficult to ensure that all staff across UCL have been educated about this important issue in recent years, so we decided to build on the success of the first event and organise another. We called it 'Disability Equality Day' because we thought it would be more ambitious than raising awareness, as we are aiming for genuine equality.

It is fair to say that most staff at UCL have some understanding of the day-to-day barriers that disabled people face, so we wanted to go one step further. We also noted that the staff survey results showed that disabled staff were significantly less satisfied in many areas than their non-disabled colleagues and the day was one way of doing something about it.

What is your favourite part of your work here at UCL?

It changes from week to week, but right now I'm very excited about the momentum being gathered by the Lesbian Gay Bisexual and Trans (LGBT)  staff group and our plans for LGBT history month 2010. Dealing with cases of discrimination and harassment can be a little depressing, though very important, so it's good to work on more positive and progressive projects as well.

If you have any queries about equalities and diversity at UCL, please contact Sarah directly at s.guise@ucl.ac.uk.

Image: Sarah Guise, Acting UCL Equalities and Diversity Coordinator


Have your say: UCL's new Disability Equality Scheme

UCL is in the process of developing a new, three-year Disability Equality Scheme to promote equality of opportunity and positive attitudes towards disabled people; foster an environment where discrimination and harassment of disabled people cannot flourish; meet their needs where possible and encourage their full participation within the UCL community.

A workshop will be held for those interested in contributing ideas  for the new scheme  on Wednesday, 14 October 2009, 2-4pm at 188 Tottenham Court Road, Room SB5. If you are interested in attending, please contact the Academic Registrar's Office to confirm your details and advise us of any needs that you may have for the workshop.

Find out more:

Disability Equality Day 2009
UCL Disability Committee
UCL Equalities website
UCL Committee for Equal Opportunities