University administrators have worked to promote diversity in higher education

As Black History Month approaches, Heidi Flanagan would like to thank her white colleagues in university administration for being allies during a tough year

Heidi Flanagan is Head of Student Insight and Enhancement at the University of Winchester.

Dear white colleagues working in academic and professional services administrative teams in higher education,

As another Black History Month dawns, and as one of your Black colleagues, I just wanted to say “thank you” for your efforts this past year. For real. I appreciate that at times you may have felt uncomfortable talking about racism. Me too. And while on a number of occasions, you may have made mistakes, I can see that you are trying to understand in order to effect positive change. So, I can let a few things go.

While our academic colleagues are busy trying to decolonise curriculums everywhere, I would like to show my appreciation for allies in higher education administration, too. There are several key stakeholders in the #BLM administrators’ mission within higher education that I would like to say a massive thank you to.

Credit where it’s due

Human resources allies – a huge round of applause. You hold the key, in my opinion. Thank you for the commitment to policy change: recruitment and selection, dignity at work, equality and diversity, staff development, regrading and progression, ethnicity pay gaps, culturally sensitive staff wellbeing provision, and much more. It’s a mountain alright, but I have faith in you and your impact on human resources strategies everywhere.

Next, thank you to the planning teams, for preparing the data on non-academic staff ethnicity characteristics so that we can see the scale of mountain we need to collectively climb (I am in the “mixed” category, so not many reflected at senior level). It’s a shame that according to HESA, from 2019-20 it became optional for providers in England and Northern Ireland to report data about staff on non-academic contracts (with the exception of any non-academic contracts held by vice-chancellors/heads of institutions or governors). Note to self: find out how I can monitor equality and diversity progress in this area.

Thank you to the communications teams for your consideration of corporate iconography of Black people. Also, for reviewing your editorial choices. We are saying ‘racism’ with greater confidence now, I think. We do need to keep up the effort, though, and not fall into traps like using words that racists feel more comfortable with, such as ‘micro-aggressions’. Look how far we have come with calling out ‘sexism’ in its many shapes. We can do this too with the ‘racism’ spectrum.

Thank you, senior leadership teams, for the consultations, budget and power to affect change. I appreciate that some things can be difficult to hear, but you seem to be taking it reasonably well and resourcing the issues. Please maintain focus – societal change continues to need your willpower, stamina and strategic networks.

Particular thanks to boards of governors for considering your schedules of business to create time to debate the challenges ahead. You are doing the right thing. Full stop. Moral and ethical compliance – done.

Finally, thank you to all the sector bodies who amplify the voices of your membership in support of the #BLM mission. Your allyship and energy keep me hopeful for the future.

Special kudos to colleagues and members of the Association of University Administrators (AUA). I am really proud to be a member of the AUA, and proud of the support it provides for professional and career development, especially from my perspective as “Mixed non-academic staff”. The AUA actively champions a professional culture of equality, diversity and inclusion through its values, and membership connects me with like-minded colleagues as I build my own strategic networks.

Keep up the good EDI work everyone. There is still a long way to go but it feels like we are heading in the right direction.

Happy Black History Month.

Your colleague,

Heidi Flanagan

The AUA annual conference, Enhancing HE: Innovating, adapting, improving, will take place on Thursday 18 November, online. EDI bursaries are available. 

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