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Calling Professional Services staff! Are you thinking of joining a union?

The following post was written by the founder of the SUCU PS members network and prior SUCU committee member Amy Ryall, with our thanks! Amy has since moved on to a new position at the Open University, but is now a representative on the National UCU Academic Related and Professional Services committee, which you can learn more about here.

Thinking of joining a union? Have some questions? Here’s a good place to start. Perhaps you’re interested because things aren’t going so well for you personally, or perhaps you’ve been looking around the sector for the last few months or years and wondering what on earth is going on. We’re all doing the same, but by joining UCU you can help to make a difference to our conditions and those of your colleagues and students. Unions work on collective action – the more members they have, the more effective they are.

Isn’t UCU ‘the lecturers’ union’?

No! It’s very definitely not. UCU is the union that acts most usually on behalf of staff at the University who are at Grade 6 and above. This is linked to negotiating agreements over benefits for staff at these grades. Membership is for all academic and academic-related and professional services staff. It might be though, that one of the other Unions has more members in your work area and that’s definitely something to consider when you’re thinking about joining one. . Sheffield UCU has a particularly strong Professional Services (PS) staff making up about 20% of the total membership, and the branch committee has a number of PS staff on it. To try and address issues affecting PS staff more effectively, we hold regular local Professional Services meetings, and at the UK level, Vicky Blake, the current UCU President, is a member of Professional Services staff at Leeds. Ignore what you read in the press or hear from colleagues, if you’re a PS member of staff who joins, you’ll be made very welcome.

Isn’t membership of a Union all about going on strike?

No! Though if you’re not a member, you may only become aware of the work of unions when strikes occur. Strikes are definitely part of union activity, but they are a last resort, when the normal day-to-day work of negotiation between employers and workers breaks down. They’re also less likely to happen if the union has a large membership. Employers are more likely to continue talks or come to an agreement if they think that a strike will involve a large number of the workforce and therefore be disruptive. A lot of work happens ‘behind the scenes’ and on behalf of all employees, whether they are union members or not. We have representatives involved in negotiations over terms and conditions, over pay, health and safety matters and many other aspects of the management and running of the University. You might remember the threat of Section 188 ‘fire and rehire’ last summer, which would have seen the terms and conditions of all staff at the University worsen. Negotiations by campus unions succeeded in getting the University to back down and rescind the threat. Union reps have been involved in weekly meetings about health and safety during the pandemic and they are currently working to support staff going through restructures, which are a type of ‘change management’ process. As a member, you’re entitled to individual support if you’re involved in a restructure and we also have caseworkers who support members to ensure they are being treated fairly if specific problems in the workplace arise.

What can I do?

To start with, you can become a member. A trade union is its members and we work together to make things better for everyone. You can benefit from this without being a member, but as a member, you can influence how things are done both at branch and UK level, not to mention bask in the knowledge that you’re doing something for the collective good. Learning how to advocate for yourself and your colleagues is also a benefit of being a member. By doing this, you can help actively improve your work situation. It can also help you to resist policies which might make conditions worse. Higher Education has come under increasing attack in recent years, with growing marketisation very difficult to resist and the ‘business’ of a university taking precedence over almost everything else. But together we can change this. In addition to the successful campaign against Section 188, we have successfully campaigned for the Graduate Teaching Assistant contract and for Saturday open days to be voluntary and compensated with time off in lieu. The national strikes of 2018 saved our defined benefit pension. Outside Sheffield, action taken by cleaners at the University of London’s six colleges has brought their employment back in house from being outsourced and a recent strike ballot at Brighton University was enough to make employers rescind their plan to make IT staff there redundant, without members having to actually strike. These successes do not happen unless members make them happen and the more members we have, the more effective we are and that’s good for everyone.

If you want to know more get in touch with ucu@sheffield.ac.uk. We are happy to answer your personal questions, or talk to non-members from your workplace as a group. If you’re curious, please do join us, we’d love to meet you.

Our Ongoing Work to Reduce (and Ultimately Eliminate) Pay Gaps at Sheffield

Trade unions most often make big wins when we are willing to take collective action over issues that are important to our members. But we also do make incremental progress on a day to day level, sometimes in ways that aren’t fully obvious until some time has passed. This report shows how long-term behind-the-scenes work by your UCU reps is resulting in real change in policy and practice, and the ambition of the university to address inequality.

At Sheffield, relationships between recognised campus trade unions and management are structured by a recognition agreement [PDF], which sets out the normal frameworks for industrial relations locally and commits both us and university management to “an organisational system of employee relations that will be founded upon the key principles of; collaboration, team working, equal opportunities, transparency and mutual respect.” The agreement sets out systems for consultation and negotiation and resolving disputes, if they arise.

In March 2017, UCU joined with our fellow recognised campus trade unions UNISON and Unite to submit a joint claim to the university about its gender pay gap, which we noted then was unacceptable: “This pay discrimination is fundamentally unjust, and it can be bad for reputation, bad for staff morale; it could also mean that our University is potentially liable to equal pay and discrimination claims at employment tribunals/in the courts.” Our claim coincided with the introduction of mandatory statutory gender pay gap reporting – our view then was that simple reporting was not enough; action was also needed. That view has not changed in the four years since.

In March 2017, UCU joined with our fellow recognised campus trade unions UNISON and Unite to submit a joint claim to the university about its gender pay gap, which we noted then was unacceptable: “This pay discrimination is fundamentally unjust, and it can be bad for reputation, bad for staff morale; it could also mean that our University is potentially liable to equal pay and discrimination claims at employment tribunals/in the courts.” Our claim coincided with the introduction of mandatory statutory gender pay gap reporting – our view then was that simple reporting was not enough; action was also needed. That view has not changed in the four years since.

We acknowledged then that the University had made some progress on reducing the pay gap and that the reasons for continued disparity were complex. But we also called for an equal pay audit or review, joint analysis of the results and the development of an action plan to meaningfully tackle discrimination and inequality. To the university’s credit, senior staff engaged productively with this claim in line with the principles of our recognition agreement.

Over the interim four years, UCU reps have been working with colleagues from HR and from across the university on a Gender Pay Gap Working Group that has been analysing the gender pay gap and its complexities and reporting to the University Executive Board and Council, through its Equality, Diversity and Inclusion Committee. This has involved both the production of data to align with legislation, but also the creation of additional data aimed at understanding where there are particular issues around equal pay at Sheffield, along the lines of what we asked for in 2017.

What is now several years of data has revealed – perhaps unsurprisingly – that the overall pay gap persists because we have a disproportionate number of women working at lower grades and a disproportionate number of men at higher grades. Overall our pay gap has declined marginally since 2017.

The additional data we requested has also revealed particular issues at different pay grades, which aren’t always visible in the headline figures that government reporting requires. The data also backs up concerns our members regularly raise, including inequalities around academic, and particularly professorial, promotion processes; gendered differences in the levels that people are appointed to; access to and impact of maternity and other parental leave; the lack of a promotions pathway for professional services colleagues; and other factors.

Throughout the last four years, we have consistently argued that data reporting was insufficient without a concrete plan of action. We have also argued that a plan of action was pointless if it did not identify targets and develop mechanisms for progress towards those targets to be measured. This position was also supported by other members of the working group.

We are pleased that after four years of meetings and negotiation, at last December’s University Executive Board the university’s senior management agreed with the working group’s recommendations to commit to the eradication of the gender pay gap and to develop interim progress markers towards that end goal, against which we can hold the institution to account. The first of these is a 5% reduction in the gap by 2025, with annual reviews that will aim to accelerate movement towards that reduction target if possible. At UCU, we believe the university can move faster and will continue to push for the change necessary to do so.

The gender pay gap working group also had its work extended last year to address the ethnicity pay gap. We know that there are real issues of racial inequality at this university – the BAME staff network has been leading the charge on this to great effect and the establishment of a Race Equality Strategy and Action Plan in 2019 is a welcome development.

The pay gap working group has a role to play within this wider strategy, particularly through the interrogation of data and the development of similarly ambitious plans for addressing pay inequality on the basis of race and ethnicity. The group is currently asking similar questions we asked of the gender-related data. UCU reps on this working group are also conscious that there are different factors that influence this pay gap – for example, the university has a persistently low recruitment of Black British staff, particularly at higher grades. There are also complex ways in which race, ethnicity, nationality and migration status intersect.

We are proud that our branch led the fight for and won reimbursement of visa and ILR fees for international staff at Sheffield in 2017 and 2018, therefore reducing some of the additional costs borne by non-UK colleagues, but are conscious that there is much more work to be done to address racism, xenophobia and pay inequalities.

UCU will continue to work with our fellow campus trade unions and others across the university, to push senior management to take bold steps to set and enforce goals for combatting inequality and to make the University of Sheffield a fairer place to work. We very much welcome member involvement in this work – please do drop us an email at ucu@sheffield.ac.uk if you’d like to get involved. You can also read more about UCU’s UK-wide work on eradicating the gender pay gap here and in our 2021-22 pay claim, which retains pay inequality as a key part of our demands for UK-wide action across the sector.

My First UCU Congress

One of our Sheffield UCU members attended their first UCU Congress this year, and wrote the following reflection on their experiences. If you are interested in attending UCU Congress 2021, or in getting more involved with local Sheffield UCU branch work, or just want to ask us more questions about what ‘getting more involved’ might mean, contact us at ucu@sheffield.ac.uk.


I thought it would be terrifying, but it wasn’t. I’ve never been to Congress before. In my mind, the now legendary meeting of 2018, where UCU leadership repeatedly walked out on motion debates leading to an early termination of the meeting had set the mental bar for it; somewhere between wild and lawless. Congress was not for the faint-hearted and certainly not for newbies like me.

But, turns out when you have an encouraging set of co-delegates, an online meeting and a lively and entertaining WhatsApp group, anything is possible. So I went. I won’t pretend I wasn’t a bit nervous. Sheffield Branch Committee members are universally well-informed about everything. This is undoubtedly a very good thing, but it can also be a little intimidating. I wasn’t sure of the format, whether I would be expected to speak, whether I would understand anything that was going on, or whether anything I thought about proceedings and motions would be sensible. As Congress progressed though, I found that I relaxed into it a bit, realised that those speaking were not all highly confident public speakers and that my opinions were just as valid as anyone else’s, even if they were sometimes not quite so well-informed. I came to learn a bit more about UCU and how things work, and that aim was more than fulfilled.

Congress is essentially a series of motions, proposed by branches and detailing suggestions and ideas for activity and action that UCU should take. They are presented by members with the opportunity for others to speak either for or against. In the online version of Congress, no voting takes place on the day, and instead we were asked to note how we would vote. An in-person Congress would have taken speakers on the day but in the online version speakers had been asked to register their intention to speak ahead of time. It did not make for the easiest of processes but was probably as satisfactory as it gets in order to ensure that proceedings ran smoothly. Motions were really varied with some concentrating on the interests of particular membership groups, others on union procedures and some much more localised and personal. If you’re interested in learning more, the full list of motions is on the UCU website. Overwhelmingly, the impression I came away with of a group of people who really cared about how they and their fellow workers are treated and how we treat each other. The discussion between Sheffield delegates on our WhatsApp group was really helpful, interesting and supportive. I learnt as much from that as I did from proceedings on the floor.

That’s not to say that the gathering was without controversy. A lengthy preamble to one of the motions, delivered by UCU’s in-house lawyer to set out the legal implications of a positive vote, provoked some interventions which required robust chairing. There were also some unpleasant transphobic objections to a couple of the motions, thankfully countered by the majority of delegates. At one point during the second day, it looked like a delegate would be removed from proceedings for refusing to retract a statement about a UCU staff member. Listening to those speaking for and against motions gave me a really fascinating insight into the politics of UCU and made a lot of things that had previously seemed quite mysterious make sense. The range of people that UCU includes gives rise to wildly differing opinions about a whole host of things and understanding that in a bit more detail is really helpful when thinking about how to go about things at branch level.

The next Congress is in May and we’ll be asking for delegate nominations shortly. I’d really encourage you to think about standing. It was (genuinely) an interesting and lively experience with a supportive group of people from the branch. I got to see some of the workings of UCU, both positive and negative, learn from branch colleagues. I was also really proud of those from Sheffield who spoke to our branch motions with such passion and grace. Unions really are the sum of their parts, and as members we can make a difference.

Anti-Racism: Taking Action

Today, we conclude our mini-series for the 2021 UCU week of Action Against Workplace Racism. Further down this page, you will find additional lists of resources in relation to themes discussed previously and the broader topic of racism and anti-racism in education. This also includes references from the other posts in this series.

As we acknowledged at the beginning, reading will not make anyone anti-racist. Yet an ongoing commitment to reading, learning, and putting learning into action is especially important for those who operate within the education system.

Researchers at Sheffield Hallam University (Austen et al, 2017) found that the best way to effect change was to begin by collaborating with others who recognise the problems and have made their own commitment to work for change. To facilitate that process, our new wall of actions highlights action being taken at Sheffield–using crowd-sourced examples submitted as part of this week’s activities.

Wall of Action

Made with Padlet

We welcome further recommendations from UCU Members and others about resources that you have found helpful in starting or sustaining an active commitment to anti-racism.

Recommended reads:

Lori D. Patton and Chayla Haynes, Dear White People: Reimagining Whiteness In the Struggle for Racial Equity.

Nadena Doharty (UoS), Manuel Madriaga (SHU) & Remi Joseph-Salisbury (Manchester)’s journal article “The university went to ‘decolonise’ and all they brought back was lousy diversity double-speak! Critical race counter-stories from faculty of colour in ‘decolonial’ times”. Educational Philosophy and Theory. 2020

Further reading: Higher education and university students

Nadena Doharty, 2019, “The ‘angry Black woman’ as intellectual bondage: being strategically emotional on the academic plantation”, Race Ethnicity and Education.

Remi Joseph-Salisbury, 2019, “Institutionalised whiteness, racial microaggressions and black bodies out of place in Higher Education”, Whiteness and Education 4.1.

Shawanda Stockfelt, 2017, “We the minority-of-minorities: a narrative inquiry of black female academics in the United Kingdom”. BJSE 39.7.

Jason Arday 2019, “Understanding Mental Health: What Are the Issues for Black and Ethnic Minority Students at University?” Social Sciences 7.10.

Further reading: what happens before university, race in the school classroom:

Muna Abdi’s “Performing Blackness: Disrupting ‘race’ in the classroom”. (Education and Child Psychology 32.2) Muna Abdi is a Sheffield-based scholar and activist with extended experience in education, research and community engagement. Her educational consultancy provides resources and training for workplaces, individuals and organisations.

David Gillborn’s “Coincidence or conspiracy? Whiteness, policy and the persistence of the Black/White achievement gap”, Educational Review.

Remi Joseph-Salisbury and Laura Connelly, “‘If Your Hair Is Relaxed, White People Are Relaxed. If Your Hair Is Nappy, They’re Not Happy’: Black Hair as a Site of ‘Post-Racial’ Social Control in British Schools”. Social Sciences 7.11.

Derron Wallace’s “The diversity trap? Critical explorations of black male teachers’ negotiations of leadership and learning in London state schools”, Race, Ethnicity and Education 23.2.

Further References

Abdi, M. (2015) `Performing Blackness: Disrupting ‘race’ in the classroom´, Education & Child Psychology, 32(2), pp. 57-66.

Abdi, M. (2020) White Allies MUST be Antiracist too.

Adelaine, A. et al. (2021) Knowledge Equity, 2020: Discussions with UKRI facilitated by Ladders4Action.

AdvanceHE (2018) Equality in higher education: statistical report.

Ahmed, Sara (2006) “The nonperformativity of antiracism.” Meridians 7.1: 104-126

Arday, J. (2018) `Understanding Mental Health: What Are the Issues for Black and Ethnic Minority Students at University?´, Social Sciences, 7(10), pp.196-220.

Arday, J., Mirza, H.S. eds. (2018) Dismantling Race in Higher Education: Racism, Whiteness and Decolonising the Academy. Cham, Switzerland: Palgrave Macmillan.

Austen, L., Heaton, C., Jones-Devitt, S., Pickering, N. (2017) ‘Why is the BME attainment gap such a wicked problem?’ The Journal of Educational Innovation, Partnership and Change, 3(1).

Bei, Z. (2020) Reading up on racism is ‘cool’ for people now, but what else will you do?

Bilge, S. 2013. “Intersectionality Undone: Saving Intersectionality from Feminist Intersectionality Studies”. Du Bois Review: Social Science Research on Race, (Carbado, Crenshaw, Mays & Tomlinson, eds), Intersectionality special issue, Cambridge Journals, 10(2): 405-424.

Byrne, B., C. Alexander, O. Khan, J. Nazroo and W. Shankley, 2020. Ethnicity, Race and Inequality in the UK: State of the Nation. See in particular chapter 5 ‘Ethnic inequalities in the state education system in England’ by Claire Alexander and William Shankley.

Campbell, E.R.A. (2011) `A Critique of the Occupy Movement from a Black Occupier´, The Black Scholar, 41(4), pp.42-51.

Cargle, R. (2018) When Feminism is White Supremacy in Heels.

Centre for Ethnicity & Racism Studies 2002. Institutional Racism in Higher Education, Building the anti-racist university: a toolkit

Davis, M. (2009), Comrade or Brother? A History of the British Labour Movement. London: Pluto Press.

Doharty, N. (2020) `The `angry Black woman` as intellectual bondage: being strategically emotional on the academic plantation`, Race Ethnicity and Education, 23(4), pp.548-562.

Doharty, N., Madriaga, M. and Joseph-Salisbury, R. (2020) `The university went to ‘decolonise’ and all they brought back was lousy diversity double-speak! Critical race counter-stories from faculty of colour in ‘decolonial’ times´, Educational Philosophy and Theory, DOI: 10.1080/00131857.2020.1769601.

Ervin, L.K. (2017) The Progressive Plantation: racism inside white radical social change groups.

Gillborn, D. (2008) `Coincidence or conspiracy? Whiteness, policy and the persistence of the Black/White achievement gap´, Educational Review, 60(3), pp.229-248.

Gilroy, P. (2005) Why Harry’s disoriented about empire.

Jefferys, S. (2006), Ambiguous messages: The gap between European trade union policies and the challenge of racism and xenophobia at the workplace. London Metropolitan University: WLRI.

Joseph-Salisbury, R. (2016) We can do better than the racist, repugnant, chemical weapon-supporting Churchill on our £5 notes.

Joseph-Salisbury R. and Connelly L. (2018) `‘If Your Hair Is Relaxed, White People Are Relaxed. If Your Hair Is Nappy, They’re Not Happy’: Black Hair as a Site of ‘Post-Racial’ Social Control in British Schools´, Social Sciences 7(219), pp.1-13.

Joseph-Salisbury, R. (2019) `Institutionalised whiteness, racial microaggressions and black bodies out of place in Higher Education`, Whiteness and Education, 4(1), pp.1-17.

Joseph-Salisbury, R. (2019) `‘Does anybody really care what a racist says?’ Anti-racism in ‘post racial’ times´, The Sociological Review, 67(1), pp.63-78.

Kwakye, C., Ogunbiyi, O. (2019) Taking Up Space: The Black Girl’s Manifesto for Change. London: Merky Books.

Ortega, M. (2006) `Being Lovingly, Knowingly Ignorant: White Feminism and Women of Colour´, Hypatia, 21(3), p.56-74.

Ouali, N. and Jefferys S. (2015), ‘Hard times for trade union anti-racism workplace strategies’, Transfer, Vol. 21(1) 99–113 DOI: 10.1177/1024258914561419

Patton, L.D., Haynes, C. (2020) `Dear White People: Reimagining Whiteness In the Struggle for Racial Equity´, Change: The Magazine of Higher Learning, 52(2), pp.41-45.

Stockfelt, S. (2018) `We the minority-of-minorities: a narrative inquiry of black female academics in the United Kingdom´, British Journal of Sociology of Education, 39(7), pp.1012-1029.

Rollock, N. (2020) It’s time for white people to step up for black colleagues.

Stockfelt, S. (2018) `We the minority-of-minorities: a narrative inquiry of black female academics in the United Kingdom´, British Journal of Sociology of Education, 39(7), pp.1012-1029.

Sweetman, J. (2018) ‘When Similarities are More Important than Differences: “Politically Black” Union Members’ Experiences of Racism and Participation in Union Leadership’, Journal of Social Issues, Vol. 74, No. 2, pp. 244-264, doi: 10.1111/josi.12267

Tate, S.A., and D. Page. (2018) “Whiteliness and institutional racism: Hiding behind (un) conscious bias.” Ethics and Education 13.1: 141-155.

Wallace, D. (2020) ‘The diversity trap? Critical explorations of black male teachers’ negotiations of leadership and learning in London state schools’, Race Ethnicity and Education, 3, pp.345-366.

Williams, M.T. (2019) How White Feminists Oppress Black Women: When Feminism Functions as White Supremacy.

Witness – the lived experiences of UCU Black Members (2017)

Tackling workplace racism– a UCU bargaining guide for branches (2016)

Racism and anti-racism in Education

This is the fourth post in our miniseries exploring the contexts of racism and anti-racism as part of our action against workplace racism. Tomorrow, we will share examples of actions being undertaken at and by members of Sheffield UCU, based on crowd-sourced submissions. A link to contribute is provided at the bottom of this blogpost.

The University of Sheffield has a BAME Staff Network and launched a Race Equality Strategy and Action Plan in 2019. Yet educational institutions, often thought of as vectors of social mobility, are also ridden with racial discriminations. In today’s blogpost we explore resources that discuss racism in the educational system more broadly, and others which draw on particular examples and experiences to illustrate the lived realities of racism and its impacts on individuals.

A 2016 UCU study highlighted the stark experiences of Black and Minority Ethnic staff in further and higher education in the UK. The study revealed issues around career progression, with an overwhelming majority of survey respondents reporting they had faced barriers to promotion; 59% across both sectors reported they had not been supported by senior colleagues and managers when seeking to progress their career; and about half of respondents saw no positive career development path with their current employer. When it comes to bullying and harassment, around 70% of respondents in Higher Education reported they were “sometimes” or “often” subject to it from managers and/or colleagues, while 86% of respondents in HE said they were “often” or “sometimes” subject to cultural insensitivity. This confirms findings from other literature: Black and minority ethnic staff in UK higher education routinely report being undermined and marginalized whilst their knowledge and experience are frequently called into question (Leathwood, Maylor & Moreau, 2009; Shilliam, 2015) [cited in ‘Staying Power’ The career experiences and strategies of UK Black female professors’].

In August 2020, ten Black women involved in UK research wrote an open letter highlighting the urgent need for greater transparency, accountably and inclusion in the distribution of research funding. Concerns had been raised about £4.3 million allocated by UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) and the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) to examine the relationship between COVID and ethnicity. £0 was allocated to Black academic leads, while one individual on the assessment panel was also co-investigator of three of the six awards. The letter-writers met with UKRI representatives in October 2020, and UKRI identified actions to be taken. Dr Addy Adelaine and colleagues have summarised this process in Knowledge Exchange, 2020. A reluctance to disaggregate data by ethnicity makes it very difficult to discern what is really happening–beyond that the distribution of funding remains unequal.

Turning to students, a 2020 study entitled Ethnicity, Race and Inequality in the UK: State of the Nation led by researchers from The University of Manchester’s Centre on Dynamics of Ethnicity (CoDE) and the Runnymede Trust found that “ethnic minority groups constitute 26% of all undergraduate students in England [but] are less likely to attend Russell Group Universities, with the Black group particularly under-represented” and that “all ethnic minority groups are less likely than White students to receive a ‘good’ (2:1 or first class) degree”. In terms of representation, the report (drawing on 2016/17 data) highlighted the “under-representation of academic staff [in Higher Education] from all UK-born ethnic groups, notably from Black and Muslim groups”.

Part of the explanation for this underrepresentation in academia is to be found in access to funding. A 2019 Leading Routes report entitled The Broken Pipeline: Barriers to Black PhD Students Accessing Research Council Funding examines the link between the UK BME attainment gap at undergraduate level and students’ success rates in receiving research council funding for postgraduate research. The report found that “sector wide discrimination and bias continue to play a significant role in restricting access to funding and in consequence limiting the number of Black PhD students and academics in the UK”. The report reveals shocking numbers: “just 1.2% of the 19,868 studentships awarded by all UKRI research councils [over a three-year period] went to Black or Black Mixed students and only 30 of those were from Black Caribbean background”.

Equally striking are the statistics for professors in the UK. A recent AdvanceHE staff equality data report for UK Higher Education Institutions showed that for the academic year 2017/18, only 10% of professors came from categories racialised as BAME (7.7% men and 2.3% women). Breaking this down, just 0.6% of UK professors were Black, in the narrower sense (90 men and 35 women). Across the whole of the UK, fewer than five heads of institutions were identified as belonging to groups racialised as BAME (3.1%) and of UK origin. A 2019 UCU study on the career experiences and strategies of UK Black female professors evidences “a culture of explicit and passive bullying [which] persists across higher education along with racial stereotyping and racial microaggressions”. Meanwhile, interviewing 37 UK senior academics racialised as BAME about their experiences of mentoring, Kalwant Bhopal (2019) found that the rhetoric of equality and diversity does not match up with experiences of policy and procedure.

As Black British scientist Winston Morgan writes, a lot of his time “was spent defending [himself] against those who found it difficult to accept that [he] could be a good scientist”. Because many still refuse to accept “that racism or even unconscious bias exists in academia”, forming racial justice equivalents of gender equality initiatives such as Athena Swan has proved challenging. The rebuttal of the very existence of racism is a hurdle that is both frustrating and discouraging, as Leona Nichole Black explains:

Having to shoulder the burden of proof, we as Black and Minority Ethnic communities often refer to the ‘covert’ nature of British racism. I suggest this speaks to our self-doubt, and frustration that the legitimacy of our experiences is routinely called in to question in the face of a tolerant and multicultural Britain. What clearer demonstration of this than the “I, too, am Oxford” initiative by Black students at Oxford University, a campaign exposing BME experience of racism at the institution, and the faux civility of the rebuttal staged by white students, “We Are All”.


This discussion frames some of the problems and offers some suggested resources. Tomorrow, we will be sharing examples of actions that are being taken by Sheffield UCU members as part of our action against workplace racism. The Google Form will remain open to contributions throughout the day; in the event that we cannot transform all of them into public posts in a timely fashion, you will see that the form requests (optional) permission to store the information provided until a later date.