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Equalities

New Year – New Hopes

This time last year we were preparing for what turned out to be the biggest and longest strike action taken at this branch – to protect our USS pensions. UCU members came out in the rain and snow (and occasionally in the sunshine) in unprecedented numbers to defend their defined benefit pension. UCU made a clear case that our pensions are deferred salary and that the proposed changes and cuts to benefits were unacceptable, coming as they had after years of below inflation pay settlements and significant increases in workloads.

The strike campaign revealed fundamental flaws in the valuation of the pension, and in the way that many of our employers – including our own VC – represented our interests in negotiations with USS. Our pressure on our employers won concessions from USS, not least the establishment of the JEP, which reviewed the methodology and valuation of our pension. Unfortunately, intransigence on the part of USS and some employers means that we have to continue to press USS to implement all the recommendations of the JEP. To that end this branch has written an open letter to our VC Sir Christopher Snowden to ask him to ensure that the JEP recommendations are implemented.

Against the backdrop of this vital national campaign about USS, this branch was busy in 2018 supporting UCU members facing job cuts and highly disruptive organisational change. We helped staff facing Voluntary Severance across several departments, and those affected by Voluntary Redundancy in Health Sciences. We were sad and angry that the VC and senior managers reneged on earlier promises of ‘no more reorganisations’. Once again we found ourselves having to protect individual members and groups facing threats to their livelihoods. Sadly it was often necessary for us to push the senior management to adhere to employment law and recognise the damage of poorly managed organisational change.

Members of the branch attended numerous consultations with senior management on a range of issues from the project restructuring our Faculties from 8 to 5, as well as reviews of professional services, and closures of units. We constantly asked senior management to follow, and where necessary, improve, policies.  Over the course of 2018 we were forced to raise many concerns, in particular, about the abuse of appraisal and performance metrics. Members also raised complaints about the introduction of the new Clarity travel system and, thanks to positive engagement by the senior management side with UCU, many initial problems were resolved. We will continue, of course, to take your complaints about the new travel process to the management team – please let us know of  difficulties you experience.

In 2018 we lobbied the University Council as part of our campaign to improve University governance. We highlighted staff and student concerns about the cuts to frontline staff and dissatisfaction with the excessive rates of pay for both the VC and the ever growing number of senior managers. Linked to this, and prompted by members we created a petition about the new VC, and you may have seen that the UCU elves reiterated our demands before the Christmas break. We will continue to push the university to improve senior management.

Throughout the strike and beyond we had several successful branch General Meetings and these were well attended and sparked vigorous debate. We held three branch strategy days, and have been able to offer training for new representatives. We have outlined priorities for the branch in 2019 as follows:
Better Governance – more diversity in membership of key governance committees and restore effective staff representation at Senate and more public sector and education to Council.
Improve Appraisals – fix the many problems with new appraisal metrics and processes to restore the positive and developmental appraisal process negotiated with UCU
Ensure Equality – focus on the gender pay gap and take action on unconscious bias
Deliver Living Wage – work with sister unions to ensure living wage for all staff at the University and push for fairer VC and senior management salaries
Defend Health and Safety – focus on excessive workloads and overwork culture at the university, stamp out bullying and harassment, but also continue to push senior managers to mitigate serious risks to health of staff and students.

Alongside these our network of volunteer caseworkers and reps will continue to support members across the University. As ever the more members we have the stronger we are – so please do speak to your colleagues about joining UCU. We will be continuing our series of UCU workshops and Take a lunch break meet ups. We welcome ideas from you about how to get members involved in the work of the local branch.

As we head into Semester 2 we will retain our optimism for 2019. Let us hope that the new VC is able and willing to listen to frontline staff and our students, and will work with us to improve our University.

Gender matters

The University’s 2017 statutory Gender Pay Gap return revealed mean and median pay gaps of +20.2% and +17.4 % respectively. This gap between men’s and women’s pay is wider than that found across the UK economy as a whole or the wider HE sector. Women account for 42 % of our academic workforce, yet they continue to be over-represented in more junior roles, and the recent Equal Pay Review and Gender Pay Gap return suggest the persistence of a ‘glass ceiling’ or promotion bar for women at the University. The senior management have suggested that women have done so well in past promotion rounds that the University has “exhausted female talent pools for promotion” (Equal Pay Review 2017 p.13) and this is why so few women are moving into the upper pay grades. UCU contests this. We think that presenteeism and a long hours culture at the University creates the perception that senior roles require 24/7 working, which may be more possible for many male staff. This deters women from applying for promotion. We are also aware that women continue to be over-represented in educational, administrative, and pastoral support roles that, while essential to the running of the University, are often regarded by senior managers as less valuable than other roles dominated by men. This means that women do not get considered for promotion. Moreover, the clustering of women in part-time roles and on casualised, fixed term contracts exacerbates gender inequalities.

UCU has been pushing the senior management to take action to address gender, (and disability and ethnicity) inequalities at this University. There is now a wealth of evidence that gender biases are highly problematic in the world of education and that women are held back by unconscious biases. We have suggested that more ‘hidden bias’ training is required for all staff who sit on promotions panels or manage staff. We have also continually pointed out that Module Evaluation Questionnaires and other student evaluations are subject to gendered biases and should not be used in promotion or disciplinary proceedings – yet we know that they continue to be used in these ways. At our most recent Joint Negotiating Committee (JNC) we asked that senior managers cease using student evaluations in standard university CVs and appraisal – we await a response. We have also asked the senior managers to cease bell curve moderation of appraisals as this is known to be susceptible to gender=based discrimination and we believe this entrenches the gender pay gap.

One pernicious barrier to the advancement of women at this University is the lack of very senior role models and the continued over-representation of white men at the apex of the organisation. Four top senior management roles – President, Vice-President Research, Vice-President Education and COO – are all white men. We have recently added a female Vice-President International, and another for Internal Partnerships, but many believe that the real power rests with the roles currently occupied by men. If we look outside this University, it is depressing to see that only 26% of university vice-chancellors and principals are female. There are even greater challenges for our Black and ethnic colleagues. Last year the  Guardian reported that our Universities “employ more black staff as cleaners, receptionists or porters than as lecturers or professors”.  Professor Kalwant Bhopal, author of White Privilege: The Myth of Post-racial Society has continually pointed out how Black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) communities – are marginalised – especially in Higher Education. She says “I think that universities – particularly elite universities – are not really interested in this issue because they want to perpetuate their own image of white privilege and whiteness.”

In recent years, our members have alerted the senior management to a number of public facing and outreach events, such as distinguished lectures, expert panels and presentations that have failed to include a single woman. Whilst we were happy that a recent issue of the in-house re:action magazine focussed on women, we believe that much greater efforts to represent diversity are needed. One particular University space where the representation of women needs to be addressed is our Senate room. In a University that seeks to be diverse many of us question the dominance of men in the artworks there. Alongside the Rothenstein mural which has been the subject of recent controversy, this room displays portraits of our previous Vice Chancellors. The sole woman represented is Dame Helen Alexander the former Chancellor. The continued resistance of senior management to suggestions that this room and other spaces in our University should contain images that better reflect our diverse community is indicative of the progress that should be made. These are just symbols, but symbols matter. Southampton UCU will continue to press for meaningful action to close the gender pay gap.

 

*the last two sentences of this blog were edited on 27/11/18 because, you know, we are a collective, a union, and we think and talk about stuff to make it better.