Go where the fear is: UHR22 Day Two

11 May 2022      Ruth Turner, Membership Officer

In the week of the announcement of a new Doctor Who, writes UHR Communications Officer Martin Higgs, perhaps you can forgive us for starting our recap of day two highlights from #UHR22 with a quick timeshift back to yesterday afternoon’s session with Professor Simone Buitendijk on ‘The compassionate university’ - with the help of UHR Secretary Paul Boustead.

“The session really asked us to think about the idea of competition versus collaboration, and the ways our competitive systems – whether that be in terms of REF and funding or recruitment of staff or any other aspect of our roles – unhelpfully cut across the collaborative instincts we must increasingly foster if we are to solve some of the biggest challenges that we face, which when thinking about the welfare of our planet are now at the ‘as if our lives depended on it’ level. It acted as a call to arms for HR and People professionals to really think about the overall mission and purpose of higher education and how we can change culture and behaviours to be more in keeping with this mission. In a post-pandemic context compassionate leadership has never been more important than it is now. How are HR teams tapping into organisational values to support positive cultural change? On equity, diversity and inclusion we heard that our efforts are not just about numbers and measures, it is about being truly inclusive and thinking about networks, communities and generational changes; while we also heard Professor Buitendijk’s thoughts on the eradication of historic and legacy employment practices, making UK HE the place to be/work, and the way in which The University of Leeds is leading the movement and is keen to work with others in a collaborative networked manner”.

Back in our correct timezone of Wednesday 12 May, it’s tempting to ask UHR members to catch up with the session from Professor Eddie Obeng in their own time. Recordings of conference sessions will be made available from Monday 16 May or earlier if we can manage that. His session about a ‘post-hybrid’ future asked us to consider the sheer rate of change that we are all subject to in our working lives, and encouraged us to ‘Go where the fear is’, as this is also the place where we can learn the most. The session was a whirlwind of ideas, energy, live-drawn graphs, and humour that was massively appreciated by the conference audience.

We’ll catch up with our other plenary today - Mohsin Zaidi on ‘Mental health, social mobility, D&I / Intersectionality and the power of representation’ – tomorrow!

What did other UHR colleagues appreciate today?

“In her session on the Employee Value Proposition, Emma Brookes of UHR asked us to consider the current state of the labour market and wondered, ‘Are we at the start of a new Renaissance period?’ Whilst it might not feel like it, that came on the back of a pandemic and a fundamental shift in the way the world worked. Harnessing the agility and flexibility we all demonstrated throughout Covid is crucial to address new challenges. Emma invited delegates to think about the image that they are presenting to the world – does the ‘glossy brochure’ live up to the reality? Or will we be exposed as the Wizards that we are….? This interactive session certainly pulled out some fascinating feedback from delegates on the difficulties their HEIs are facing in recruitment and retention, gave some pointers with helpful case studies both in HE and beyond, and finished by asking us – What single thing will we do to make positive changes in our own institutions?”

Sophie Crouchman, UHR Strategic Projects and Research Manager on session WB4: A New Wave for EVP - Culture and Connection

“I really appreciated the session from Ivana Vasic Chalmers of the Women’s Higher Education Network, which dealt with some of the gender discrepancies in how we have moved through the Covid pandemic. WHEN’s research spoke to the experience of lockdown, when no external paid help for the house and housework was allowed. More mums answered that they were exclusively or mostly responsible for co-ordinating or organising children’s activities, helping with school work, making meals, and providing emotional support. It was only when it came to playing with children that the percentage of dads and mums who reported being responsible was almost equal.

Mums’ work stations were much more frequently in common family spaces - leading to more interruption and stress. Mums and dads were both overwhelmingly concerned about the pandemic negatively impacting on their careers and were pessimistic about the impact on pay and promotion. The session really worked as a way of unpacking some of the Covid inequalities we’ve all suspected.

Naomi Holloway, UHR CPD Manager on session WB6: Sharing the Caring - parents, the pandemic and pertinent lessons

Naomi’s other choice from today is session LB2: Workplace sexual harassment: the legal framework for employers in HE

“The Bevan Brittan team of Ashley Norman and Anne Palmer took us through some of the common misconceptions about harassment, including the idea that the person complaining must have protected characteristic themselves, or that one-off incidents are not harassment. They asked us to consider ‘When is “just banter” not just banter?’ - it’s when it’s unwanted conduct that violates a person’s dignity or creates an intimidating hostile, degrading, humiliating or offensive environment.

Claims brought after April 2022 could be as high as £50k, a figure likely to concentrate minds. They discussed the challenging situation of where disclosures are made but the complainant doesn’t want to take it any further, even though HR knows others have made similar disclosures. In these circumstances further conversations about taking forward the claim should be had and if still not made formal then HR needs to determine whether an investigation should be undertaken anyway. HR can’t really sit on issues in these circumstances.”

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