Leicester – A Champions League City

 

Martin Quinn discusses the urban policies and strategies which have made the city of Leicester so successful in recent years.

 

Leicester has made the headlines in a number of ways of late, home of the champions of English Football as well as highly successful basketball and rugby union teams. Even the cricket team started the 2016 season with a win. Coming shortly after the discovery of Richard III in a City Centre car park its been quite a period in the limelight for a City once described by Terry Wogan as “often mentioned in traffic reports but otherwise unknown to mankind”. However as the ‘Economist’ has recently picked up on there’s a lot more to Leicester than sport and dead kings, as scholars of regional economic development show us.

 

In many ways a classic example of a small to medium sized second tier city, Leicester has grasped the development opportunities presented to it by a succession of devolution and decentralisation policies put forward by Government since the mid 2000s. In doing so it offers a series of pertinent lessons for economic policy makers. Starting with the sub-national review of economic policy in 2007, Leicestershire put in place one of the first Multi-Area Agreements (M.A.A.) in the Country between the City and County Councils. The other Cities in the East Midlands struggled to put similar agreements in place. Indeed as a whole the East Midlands was not successful in creating networked governance between the public and private sectors.

 

Three main lessons can be drawn from the experiences of both the East Midlands and Leicestershire. I have discussed these elsewhere (Quinn 2013, Quinn 2015) but, briefly, they are that place has an important impact on policy outcomes, the role of local government is critical and that strong leadership is essential. Without the pull of regional identity or an obvious area of economic functionality to draw together the private sector the East Midlands Development Agency (EMDA) struggled to attract private sector involvement in its governance initiatives, especially outside of its Nottinghamshire base. For Leicestershire however this was not the case. Businesses in the City and County tend to have a clear sense of place and belonging and there are obvious economic advantages to be had from collective efforts to grow the Leicestershire economy.

 

Leicestershire was also in a position to take advantage of two other inter-related factors that the other cities in the region were not. Firstly, local government can play a crucial role in governance at the sub-national tier. The local authorities in Leicestershire understood the need to work together despite their political differences. The involvement of the Councils in the M.A.A. gave it a sense of legitimacy and power that EMDA’s efforts simply could not achieve. Secondly, and related to this, Leicestershire has benefited from strong political leadership throughout the last decade. Initially through the political leaders of the City and County Council in putting together the M.A.A., and latterly the Elected Mayor of the city. These individuals have driven the economic agenda in the redevelopment of the city and without similar such strong leadership other areas of the country have lagged behind.

 

A major element of the physical regeneration of the City has come through a focus on the cultural, arts and heritage industries. This was a bold move by the authorities as the City and County had little or no reputation as places with strong arts industries. The City Council and then the Elected Mayor pursued the creation of a new Cultural Quarter which transformed a previously derelict part of the City. This included the building of a multi-million pound theatre (CURVE) and independent cinema and arts centre (Phoenix) at a time when local authorities were under increasing pressure to reduce spending. Alongside this the City also tapped into the discovery of of Richard III by creating the Leicester Heritage Trail emphasising the Cities rich, if largely ignored, history.

 

As the Economist points out, Leicester was at one stage the second richest City in Europe behind Vienna and has the building stock to reflect this fact. The innovative reuse of old building stock and imaginative reworking of the City’s infrastructure has seen a growth in the number of small entrepreneurial businesses being set up with Leicester now having the fastest business growth rate outside of London according to the economist.

 

This is discussed in new book chapter written by myself and Dr Richard Courtney of the Enterprise and Public Policy research unit that is due to be published later this month. Much of the focus of research into the use of culture and heritage focuses on Richard Florida’s seminal work on the creative class in large metropolitan areas, which may sometimes seem out of reach to smaller Cities. We argue that Leicester’s use of heritage and culture should be viewed through the lens of the work of Lindeborg on the ‘Cinderella Principal’ in small Danish towns and Cities. Here places with little or no background in arts and culture use it to create an image from scratch which attracts new investment.

 

The development of the office of the Elected Mayor has also produced some interesting results, especially the extent to which the local population has become engaged in the process. The concept of Elected Mayors is a relatively new one in England with even London only establishing its in 2000. Several Cities in England have rejected the opportunity to establish such a role and where ones have been put in place turn out in elections has been disappointing. In Leicester however the elections to date have seen turnouts of 41% in 2011 and 59% in 2015. The office also attracted one of the local MP’s to relinquish his seat in the House of Commons to stand for election, a reverse of the usual trend which has seen impressive local leaders leave local politics to take a place on the national stage.

 

The credibility that Sir Peter Soulsby lent to the office of Mayor has allowed him to establish a clear role as the leader of the Cities economy. There are echoes here of the manner in which first Ken Livingstone and then Boris Johnson have established the role of mayor for London as a much more powerful position than the legislation actually intended for. With rumours emerging that Andy Burnham is considering a run for the new position of elected mayor for Greater Manchester England could soon have a series of powerful political figures whose authority derives from their locality rather than Westminster. Leicester, as it does with sport, is at the forefront of these developments, and might be a model for others to follow.

Originally published at http://staffblogs.le.ac.uk/management/

Cyborg’s shopping list p1

The cyborg’s shopping list.

Marketing is not science. It is not art. It is science fiction.

 

NOTE TO SELF http://www.mckinsey.com/business-functions/marketing-and-sales/our-insights/cracking-the-digital-shopper-genome

Originally published at socialstudiesofmarketing.wordpress.com

Who Cares for Academics?

 

In this blog, Eda Ulus and Charlotte Smith ask us to think about academics and whether they are allowed to express emotion.

 

What would you think if I suddenly started crying?

 

How would you respond?

 

These are questions that Eda asks students, to introduce a lecture on emotions in working life.  We reflect on the responses as a way of learning about emotion rules – these are the spoken, and unspoken, rules about which emotions are acceptable to show to others, and expectations about how to manage, express, or hide emotions at work.  We discover that we sometimes follow these rules without consciously deciding to do so. We may struggle to locate where these rules come from, and why they are deeply settled as the right way of working.  Of course, we consider the significance of social settings – seeing Eda cry at a sad movie is OK, but how about in the lecture hall? Most of the responses are: Definitely not!  Unprofessional! Inappropriate!  (with some exceptions, like a student who said the first response would be to comfort Eda/the lecturer and ask: What is it all about?….)

 

We talk about how emotion rules are gendered – when Eda asks students to think of a male academic, suddenly crying, there is often embarrassment among some individuals.  Why? Because of a fiction, masquerading as normative, that men should not cry?  A macho outlook that men can’t possibly be feminine, gentle, or open with emotions of pain?  Are people supposed to have emotions according to their externally assumed biological sex?  We like to discuss these assumptions, and consider how intersections of race, age, social class, and lived experiences influence our interpretation of emotions at work.

 

And we consider emotion rules of the profession – the academic.  Do academics have feelings?

 

To understand our response when emotion expectations are violated, psychoanalysis – that is, a study of our unconscious desires and fantasies – provides a striking resource.  As Professor Yiannis Gabriel notes, ‘To see a person of authority (and lecturers in the classroom do have authority in the eyes of the students, no matter what they themselves think) cry, represents a collapse of the fantasy of a leader as being above others, one who is not affected by the same afflictions as ordinary mortals’.

 

So we reflect on these fantasies, and their potentially dangerous effects – for, are academics allowed to be human? To be vulnerable?

 

If we allow academics to be human – then what is their purpose?  Is an academic a neutral knowledge-conveyor?  Is an academic’s purpose to satisfy today’s student?  What makes academics happy in higher education today?  Is academic happiness and wellbeing even relevant for discussing with students and other groups in higher education?

 

Charlie and Eda have been thinking about academic wellbeing. What does academic wellbeing mean in UK Universities? What does it look like? What supports it or undermines it?  Who cares about it?  We are particularly interested in individual wellbeing in connection to social and cultural contexts, such as ideas about student satisfaction, the valorisation of consumer choice, and judgment of performance, with metrics biased against women and ethnic minorities.  We wish to understand the individual struggles and triumphs, the stresses and joys that can affect anyone in academia, while also analysing the entrenched disadvantages that undermine opportunities for wellbeing.

 

This means considering academic wellbeing through a wide range of possible experiences – from the pain of emotional health struggles, to the joys of making a difference in student learning, feeling inspiration from talks and seminars, and having support from colleagues.

 

And how about love, and the consequences when love is damaged or cannot be found?  Are today’s University spaces nurturing of love for the job, love for learning?

 

In these reflections, we are building upon recent research publications about the experiences of academics, as well as sensitive disclosures in the media.  A recent Times Higher Education survey indicates a range of academic responses about today’s higher education experiences – both uplifting and dispiriting. We would like to bring more closely together these findings in the press about the emotions of academia, with academic analyses of work conditions, by learning about the feelings and encounters that give breath to, or damage, individual wellbeing.

 

We often hear clichés like “You are only as good as your last publication”, but how is this  embodied and carried around? How does it feel to dare to take a break from the inbox, only to return and see that email has gone beyond its normal relentless flow and is now approaching a full on flood? How does the body feel when receiving that “Manuscript decision” letter, that grant notification letter, that conference submission decision letter – the list grows – thanking you for your submission, but unfortunately also notifying you of your rejection, perhaps amplified by biting reviews?

 

We want to create a research space that shatters the stigma of talking about human emotional struggles as academics, with whatever labels are used or preferred for these difficulties. We would also like to explore more explicitly any links between the increasing frequency of reports about student problems and academic ones, and learn if higher education changes may be shaping both.  The presence of stigma can conceal the fact that the line between dealing with an externalised crisis and falling into a personalised one is precarious. Afraid to show any chinks in their armour (to use masculine imagery), individuals may turn to internalised coping strategies such as the use of recreational illegal and legal drugs. For some individuals this usage moves beyond a recreational activity, shifting to one that is characterised by class A drugs and battles with addiction.

 

We don’t wish to question the benefits received by individuals from approaches to supporting academic wellbeing, like prescribed medicine or therapy. Rather, what we are questioning is whether there is sufficient attention given to the experience of academic wellbeing in the first instance. We wonder whether there is adequate energy given to exploring the social and political aspects of higher education today that may exacerbate pre-existing struggles or create new ones; and whether there is space to explore the experiences and spaces that enable love of academic work to flourish.

 

So we would like to generate more discussion in the manner of the students who responded to Eda’s question, by asking openly, with empathy, what do we feel, and who cares?

 

Alongside hoping to acknowledge a range of academic experiences including joy, we also wish to be sensitive to some difficult and painful topics included here.  Hence, some resources that may be useful to contact are Samaritans or Nightline.

 

 

Originally published at http://staffblogs.le.ac.uk/management/

Brexit: How Does it Look from Gibraltar?

 

In April 2015, in the run-up to the British general election, I predicted that, counter-intuitively, the best outcome for the UK overseas territory of Gibraltar might well be a Labour or Labour-SNP coalition government.  True enough, the Conservative Party has traditionally been seen as a more resilient defender of Gibraltar’s sovereignty, whilst the Labour Party, drawing upon a history of anti-colonialism, has been more receptive to either an accommodation with Spain or else a repudiation of the British claim.  But for Gibraltar’s economy, my analysis was that the Conservative Party manifesto pledge to hold a referendum over membership of the European Union, Brexit from which would also see Gibraltar leave, could be disastrous.

 

In the immediate aftermath of the election, with the date for a referendum still undecided, and the sentiments of the British electorate towards the European Union still woolly, some Gibraltarian commentators were happy to pin their flag to the Conservative mast; “It seems to be a non sequitur that Britain can thrive outside of the EU”, “I just don’t see a Brexit coming”.

 

One year later, panic is clearly setting in.  In the UK, the confidence of the currency markets in sterling has been considerably dented; in the event of a Brexit, banks have threatened to remove parts of their operations to mainland Europe; and the United States of America has cast considerable doubt over whether or not it would negotiate a free trade deal with a Britain that was outside of the European Union.  If Keynes were here to comment, he would probably say that we are facing ‘a financial Dunkirk’.

 

The UK economy may well be waiting for a moment of  in June, but until then Gibraltar’s economy is facing Armageddon.  There were dramatic scenes as the Chief Minister of Gibraltar offended the pro-Brexit chair of the All Party Parliamentary Group for Gibraltar by declaring that true friends of Gibraltar would be campaigning to remain in the EU.  The Gibraltar Stronger in Europe Campaign is backed by all of Gibraltar’s main political parties and economic and political interest groups.

 

Gibraltar’s economy is predicated around trade within the European Union and dislocation from this would be disastrous.  And just as uncertainty in the UK is having economic consequences, uncertainty over Gibraltar’s future role in the EU is having serious political consequences in regards to the Spanish claim to sovereignty.  In a threat reminiscent of Franco’s closure of the Gibraltar frontier between 1969 and 1985, some Spanish ministers have suggested that if Gibraltar were not in the European Union, Spain would be well within its rights to seal the border, cutting off Gibraltar from vital markets, food supplies, and labour.

 

All of this stands in sharp contrast to the spirit of recent events held in Gibraltar to commemorate the eightieth anniversary of the start of the Spanish Civil War of 1936-39.  During an evening lecture, myself and Gareth Stockey, with whom I co-authored Gibraltar: A Modern History, spoke alongside officers from Gibraltar’s branch of UNITE the Union, Candido Mendez, the retiring Secretary General of the Spanish trade union the UGT, and Ignacio Fernandez Toxo of the Spanish Workers’ Commissions, the CCOO.  Regardless of nationality, all of the speakers at the lecture emphasised that, in June 1936, refuge was given in Gibraltar to Spaniards fleeing persecution from the nationalists. They emphasized the cordial relationship, at a local level, between Gibraltar and its neighbours.

 

Gibraltarians will be voting in the EU referendum, but it is hard to imagine that many votes for a Brexit will be cast on the Rock.  If the UK does leave the European Union, I cannot help but feel that it will not be Scotland alone, but Gibraltar too, which will look to redefine its constitutional relationship with Westminster.  And if the UK remains, one wonders to what extent, in the process of campaigning, Gibraltar’s relationship with those politicians who are sympathetic to Gibraltar’s interests might be weakened by a strident ‘stronger in Europe’ campaign that alienates members of the UK parliament who are both pro-Gibraltar and pro-Brexit.

Originally published at http://staffblogs.le.ac.uk/management/

The World that Management Made

Robert MacFarlane’s excellent piece on the ‘Anthropocene’ age in a recent issue of The Guardian deserves attention in a number of ways. The idea of the Anthropocene is that it is a planetary age made by humans, no less than the volcanos and ice sheets of earlier times. Forging a synthesis from the highly separated discourses of science and art, MacFarlane portrays the concept of the Anthropocene in a sophisticated, provocative way.

 

For some commentators, the notion heralds the ‘end of nature’, for humanity is now able to entertain the idea that ‘we’ can influence deep time at the level of geological eras. What human beings are doing today –against nature, or changing nature – will live on into millions of years into the future. Tesco plastic bags will enter into the geological record, along with an isotope of lead from the ultimate decaying of radioactive uranium 235 found in soon-to-be-used arsenals of nuclear weapons. This nightmare of irreversible environmental change is accompanied in Macfarlane’s piece with a picture from Cormac McCarthy’s novel The Road’ which envisages an unexplained Armageddon in the USA, and globally, in which cannibalism is a reacquired human survival strategy.

 

However, Macfarlane argues in his conclusion that the concept of the Anthropocene is actually “arrogant, universalist and capitalist-technocratic”. He suggests that we must recognise that, first, unreflexive human arrogance is at play in any suggestion that we mere monkeys can remake nature. Second, what is being left out of the analysis is the vastly unequal distribution of power between different sorts of humans to effect the environment. Third, what is also ignored is ‘ideology, empire and political economy’.  The Anthropocene should be renamed he argues, the ‘Capitalocene’.

 

Sitting in a School of Management as I do, one can see how each of ‘arrogance, universalism and the logic of capitalist-technocratic approaches’ permeate our discipline too. And this is no accident. For behind the concept of the Anthropocene lie both the understated role, and indeed rule, of Western management and its ideology.

 

The containment of Nature and the natural world has long been a managerial objective. As the historian Karl Wittfogel showed, management first arises in the large river valleys of the world where ‘hydraulic’ societies struggle to predict and control regular seasonal flooding. The need for river management in the form of the building of flood defences creates large organizational requirements for human labour to construct levees and massive building projects to placate the fluvial gods.

 

The ‘end of nature’ is hence a long standing managerial goal.  Many senior managers today seek, like Egyptian Pharaohs, to build ‘a legacy’ through the investment of our energies in their heritage and the longevity of their name and descendants. Growth, expansion, conquest are the military metaphors which the Business School trades in. But the construction of the new – of the office block and the factory – involves the destruction of the old.

 

Many managers wish to identify and celebrate their own and their company’s (or university’s) meteoric ‘impact’ upon the plains of corporate life. Some are keen upon ending bio-diversity by eating up the competition in an anthropophagic feeding frenzy. The ‘environment’ in many management text books is disrespectfully reduced to threats to and opportunities for resource acquisition. ‘Strategy’ is a way of waging war upon your neighbours.

 

The language of management is Anthropophone for it speaks for all of humanity as the universal language of what needs to be done and why. The Anthropocene has required the visible hand of management to bring it into effect but equally ‘Management’ has succeeded in building the Anthropocene in its own image. Perhaps Macfarlane wishes to deny the puny role of human actors when faced with Nature in all its might, but senior management still seems to think its activity is a force to be reckoned with. It is this need for making an impact that might be the death of us all.

Originally published at http://staffblogs.le.ac.uk/management/

Advancing Management Research, or Advancing Elite Interests?

The Advanced Institute of Management (AIM) spent nearly £30 million of ESRC money in over a decade in an attempt to raise the dismal standard of research in management studies. AIM determined to back the academic rather than the research proposal, a bold and worthy venture that was always likely to fail. And fail it did, because most of AIM’s resources went to the elite of management studies, who used them to improve its own performance in the Research Assessment Exercise.

 

My co-authored paper about AIM is just about to be published in the British Journal of Management. It has been given open access status for the next three months by the BJM’s editor. So, too, has a rejoinder to our paper, penned by Robin Wensley and Andy Neely, ex-directors of AIM.  We had anticipated a response, but something substantial, something fierce and furious, not what is little more than a note, tame and tired – and downright curious.

 

The rejoinder’s authors direct our attention to the final director’s report and they provide a url for the British Library, where AIM publications are being stored. This leads nowhere. They provide another url for British Library collections. This also leads nowhere. Even so, it is possible to register with the British Library, navigate manually through the British Library website to the AIM repository and then through a list of AIM publications. The list is headed by AIM Research: A Final Review by Sandra Dawson, Robin Wensley and Andy Neely, the final director’s report. Beating hearts be still. The title leads only to another report altogether – Managing to Improve Public Service, edited by Jean Hartley and Alan Pike. The experience is a metaphor for the contrast between what AIM promised and what AIM delivered.

 

Wensley and Neely remind us that AIM has been fully evaluated by Technopolis for the ESRC. The evaluation is confidential, but they refer us to its executive summary, which has been published by the ESRC. There are, in fact, two executive summaries, the original one, which is part of the Technopolis evaluation and just as confidential, and the published version, which is shorter (though still described as written by Technopolis). Both have the same roots, some paragraphs being identical, but the shorter executive summary has been watered down, presumably for public consumption.

 

Omitted are such lines as:

  • “The over-investment in senior academics at the start of AIM limited the initiative’s additionality.”
  • “There is no strong evidence that AIM has made a substantial contribution to improvements in the overall quality and quantity of management and business research in the UK.”

This is not to say that the public executive summary is not hard-hitting. It states that there has been no measurable improvement in management research during the AIM years, but blames structural factors rather than AIM.

 

According to the contract under which Technopolis evaluated AIM, the ESRC’s evaluation committee was responsible for publishing the executive summary “following discussion”. However, we know what the evaluation of AIM and its executive summary contain only because The Economist procured them under Freedom of Information legislation. To be exact, The Economist has acquired a redacted version. While most redactions are probably of names and institutions, it is in the nature of redaction that what is hidden is unknown.

The evaluation of AIM runs to 98 pages, plus appendices. Much is consumed by fruitless bibliometrics, but the rest is very much to the point. Given that our paper is an observation on AIM and not an evaluation, the congruence is remarkable. This is no surprise. Drafts of our paper were made available to those privy to the AIM evaluation and were described as compatible and complementary. Drafts were also made available to the ex-directors of AIM, who did not respond.

 

There is a wider issue here, and a more important one than how AIM performed. We have fought tooth and nail for the publication of our observations on AIM and are obliged to the British Journal of Management for seeing their worth, though our paper went through many BJM referees and two sets of lawyers. The paper had previously been rejected by several leading journals and at least two conferences on management research, most commonly on the grounds that it was just plain wrong. Never has a paper endured so much checking and change. Our paper may well be wrong even now, but this is for our peers to judge.

 

The ex-directors of AIM have written their rejoinder not as academic peers, but as heads of an institution. No doubt the ESRC redactions hide the names of many more in senior posts. It was unlikely that anyone outside those in responsible institutional positions would ever see the Technopolis evaluation. As a confidential report, it could be used to counter the arguments in our paper. This does no credit to those charged with raising the standard of management research.

 

More broadly, a confidential evaluation, redacted for some undisclosed purpose, is no way for a public body to account for the expenditure of public money. To claim, as Wensley and Neely do in their letter of rebuttal to the Financial Times, that the executive summary published by the ESRC is the executive summary of the Technopolis evaluation is – now, what is the word? – misleading. In their BJM rejoinder, Wensley and Neely declare explicitly that the executive summary published by the ESRC is “unedited”: it is not.

 

Fundamental to academic research is the academic’s responsibility to comment on matters of moment. AIM certainly comes into this category: it was a brave experiment, well worth the endeavour, but captured by the elite of management studies. That our observations on AIM very nearly suffered the same fate may be testament to their merit.

Originally published at http://staffblogs.le.ac.uk/management/

I don’t want what men have

The recent weeks saw another celebration of International Women’s Day (IWD). Generally, I get what IWD is about and why we (still) need it. I get that most people involved with it hope it will be a historical oddity one day but I also understand that a day dedicated to celebrating women probably means a lot more elsewhere on this planet than it does in my neck of the woods. So I try to do my bit to mark the day.

This year, however, IWD gave me reason for concern. It may have been mere coincidence and not a representative sample of debates and activities but almost everything I heard or read on IWD 2016 called for more strong women, for role models, for women who work, achieve and compete confidently and on par with men, rewarded like men. I understand where these calls are coming from but they do concern me.

Firstly, the focus on achievement. The IWD website’s strapline for IWD 2016 was “Celebrate the social, economic, cultural and political achievement of women.” Again, I get it, I know how important role models are, I promote and write about them myself. But what I saw on IWD 2016, intended or not, was an over-emphasis on women whose power/personality/motivation/dedication [delete as appropriate] had led them to overcome challenge and achieve, either on par with men or at least comparatively, more than other women.

To be clear: I do not want to diminish anything that the various women featured have achieved. I fully understand how important many of their achievements are, for them personally and for society. But I am concerned that linking gender equality too closely to personal strength and achievement communicates to others that equality has to be earned. That you need to prove yourself worthy. That would be fundamentally wrong: equality is a basic right. You may lose basic rights if you misbehave. But they are not an optional benefit or an incentive to spur you into applying yourself to something.

At work I don’t just want parity of pay for women in top positions or equal opportunities in promotion, I want every woman to be able to do her job without experiencing gender (or indeed any other) discrimination. I don’t come from a family of female CEOs, suffragettes or Nobel Prize winners. We’re a bunch of ordinary women with ordinary lives full of nice stuff and challenges, the latter sometimes more and sometimes less admirably dealt with. But that does not mean we are any less worthy of equal opportunity than Sheryl Sandberg, Rosa Luxemburg or Marie Curie.

It is undoubtedly the reality that women often have to put extra effort in to earn opportunity and reward on par with men. But I think that we are at risk of girls and young women thinking that extra effort is a fair requirement in exchange for equality. If that is what they understood, who could blame them if, given the many other real and perceived pressures of modern womanhood, they decided to trade a little less opportunity and reward for a little more time and energy to just enjoy life. There comes a point at which emphasising women’s achievements, even with the best intention of improving gender equality, turns counter-productive.

Secondly, I don’t want what men have. At least not what many men have. Yes, I have walked into 9am meetings with male senior colleagues and envied how their composure and concentration were clearly unobstructed by just having dropped off a screaming toddler at nursery. I have looked in disbelief at extremely impressive male CVs and felt small in comparison.

But given the insanity I see in the world of work, the pressures, the tired eyes, the lack of sleep or personal life, the mental health issues, the hollow phrases and tireless self-promotion efforts – do I really want my fair share of that? I don’t, and I think many other women – and men, actually – don’t either. Which is why I am extremely conscious that so much of what I saw and read on IWD 2016 encouraged women to strive for equality in ways that emulated men and that would essentially reproduce the malaise of modern life.

I don’t want what men have. I want better, more meaningful, and I know I’m not alone in that. We need women and men (or as I’d prefer: people, of whatever ‘gender’) to find new and better ways of living their individual and collective lives. So where there is an opportunity to promote change, let’s be careful that the picture of the change we promote is based on a proper new sketch and not just the rushed adaptation of a flawed old blueprint.

I support IWD, and I support other initiatives like, in Higher Education, Athena SWAN, HeForShe or Aurora. I do so because I recognise that these initiatives give much needed visibility to the pursuit of gender equality and that they send important signals, to men and women, young and old. But especially thinking of the young ones: let’s make it the right signals. Here’s to hoping what I saw and heard on IWD 2016 was just coincidence. We deserve better.

Originally published at http://staffblogs.le.ac.uk/management/

I’m not angry, I’m just disappointed

Okay, I lied. I’m angry and disappointed. I also feel tired, defeated and fed up. (Women, eh? Always with the multitasking.)

Why? Let me set the scene:

First, here’s a list of all the initiatives the University of Leicester has joined or set up to promote gender equality, including but not limited to:

The HeForShe initiative is promoted on the University’s home page. So is the fact that ‘Leicester retains the Athena Swan Bronze award’. Clearly, gender equality features prominently on the University’s agenda.

With this in mind, let’s now turn to the recent news that Leicester University finally came out top in a ranking:

‘The University of Leicester has the biggest pay gap for academic staff for any UK university, once small and specialist institutions are excluded, with women earning £9,793 less than men on average, according to the UCU report, titled Holding Down Women’s Pay, published on 8 January, to coincide with International Women’s Day.’

And how did the University of Leicester respond?

In a statement, Leicester said that it “aims to ensure that staff are treated solely on the basis of their merits and abilities” and had recently extended its Athena SWAN scheme for improving employment conditions for women to all university departments.

Pay differences had arisen owing to “changes in responsibility, promotion, length of time in post, distinctions, productivity and other non-discriminatory factors”, it added.

A recent analysis by Leicester showed the average salaries for full-time female staff are “not significantly different” to those paid to men, with difference reflecting “annual progression through the salary scale from time of recruitment or promotion”.’ (Source: https://www.timeshighereducation.com/news/international-womens-day-universities-pay-gaps-highlighted)

When I read the statement for the first time I felt a great disturbance in the Force, as if millions of women’s voices suddenly cried out in exasperation, and were suddenly silenced.

Because there it is again: the meritocracy myth. It’s the idea that we can achieve gender equality by treating men and women perfectly equal. Sure, this would work if there were no structural inequalities, no power differentials, no persistent gender stereotypes and prejudices. But there are. And if one gender starts with a head start, it’s not a fair race simply because both genders have to reach the same finishing line. This highlights the difference in equality of opportunity – everyone has a fair chance of competing for the same opportunities, and equality of outcome – every has to the same chance of achieving those opportunities.

If promotion and pay are decided purely on merit, and women then happen to end up underrepresented in higher positions, and underpaid regardless of where they end up, then what the University’s statement really is saying that women are just a bit … less. Less qualified, less able, less productive. But even a cynic like me doesn’t believe that anyone at the university would put this forward as an argument.

What’s more likely is that women may have equality of opportunity but not yet equality of outcome. Here’s a list of just a few hiring and promotion criteria which may disproportionately favour one gender over the other:

And let’s not forget the possibility of conscious and unconscious biases which may also affect an interviewers’ panel’s perception of applicants.

Identifying those factors isn’t easy. But, how great would it have been if, in response to the ‘Holding Down Women’s Pay’ report, the university had said:

‘We recognize that we still have a long way to go, and we will work hard on identifying and eliminating the factors still leading to a gender pay gap.’

I would have been delighted. Grateful, too. Encouraged and invigorated. But then again, I’m a woman. Always so emotional.

Originally published at http://staffblogs.le.ac.uk/management/

Just Not Sorry

A ‘Just Not Sorry’ app has recently gained publicity, in which women in particular are encouraged to stop saying sorry. It is said to be inspired by an American “life coach”, Tara Mohr, who wrote a book, Playing Big, which encourages women to be more positive and assertive. Mohr suggests that by using words like sorry they are in danger of projecting an overly self-effacing manner. Others have joined the fray. Joan Kingsley, author of The Fear-Free Organization, has argued that by, for example, beginning emails with apologies we are making the recipient think that we have already done something wrong before we have.

How seriously should we take it? Is saying sorry simply being polite? There are clearly many reasons why we use the term. It is almost an automatic response if people bump into each other when going through doors or getting in and out of trains or buses. Sometimes it is a genuine apology for an error or a delay in doing something. Indeed perhaps recipients of bullying or abuse in the workplace would like more sorries?

There is no strong evidence that women are more prone to use particular words than men. In any case, word selection depends on the context and purpose behind utterances. Nor is there strong evidence that women are more polite, for example that they interrupt less. Perhaps even if they were more polite the implication might be that men should be more polite too.

However, there are potentially serious issues here. The continuation of sexual discrimination and stereotyping. The way organizational practices do or do not foster self-confidence in employers, customers and service users. How organizations deal with errors and the need to develop cultures in which errors are treated as opportunities to learn and improve performance.

British people may still have a reputation for politeness but as a nation we are, in my judgement, very poor at giving feedback – whether positive or negative. The evidence is that people prefer negative feedback to no feedback at all.

Genuine feedback, giving employees more discretion in how they do their jobs and involving them more in the wider organization, are the best means that organizations can  enhance self-esteem and ensure the full-utilization of talents. Such processes may also play a role in changing gendered mind sets, including assumptions about who apologises the most. Changing word use seems small beer compared with this. The world needs more employee involvement, not less sorries.

Originally published at http://staffblogs.le.ac.uk/management/