In completing a reflective portfolio for my doctorate i have had to demonstrates the link between the theory I have read, the study I have done and my ongoing professional role in a rapidly changing, but under-researched area. Theory and practice are definitely intertwined for me as everything I have done has fed directly back into my practice and I have brought my experience of practice over many years to the analysis I have done. This record of my journey as a scholarly practitioner has given me insights and helped me to learn from my experience. My own reflexivity and commitment to feminist research ethic form a key part of my justification of the level that has been reached in my doctorate.
Doing the work has had impact on my ongoing practice in several ways. It has provided a framework and structure for me to engage with some thinking I needed to be doing in my own role to combine digital leadership and diversity leadership. One of the findings in my data was that digital leaders have very little ‘bandwidth’ available to engage with EDI issues in any nuanced way, over and above their day jobs. This would have been equally true for me had I not set aside this time to engage with the research. My practice is undoubtedly now more research informed, and I hope better as a result. Doing an up to date literature review has also given me the confidence and credibility to talk about EDI issues in professional fora. Previously I would have been drawing only on my own experience and opinions whereas now I am able to reference more published evidence which is academically credible rather than the management consultancy reports from Gartner, PWC etc. which flood my inbox. Engaging with feminist research philosophy has helped me to think about what the elements of feminist practice can be, and has served to make me more able to engage with my academic colleagues who write about being a feminist manager.
One of the recurring themes which appeared in the literature I was reading was the importance of data driven decision-making in organisations. In my professional role I continue to do surveys and gather data about university IT staff experiences. I have a data researcher who works with me. In the period we have done 2 large surveys; one on workplace experiences of EDI and another on EDI elements of working from home during Covid lockdown. These surveys provide data which will be the basis of management decision making in my organisation as we move forward. While these new surveys ensure that I will continue to present, contribute to and practice leadership in digital and diversity leadership. I will disseminate those findings to the sector, applying what I have learned from my time as a research student in years to come.
When I began my thesis there was relatively little published research looking at the experiences of managers in professional groups in higher education and even fewer looking specifically at university IT departments. In the course of the 3 years there is now a bit more published research about professional staff including a 2018 book (Abbot et al., 2018) which explores a range of aspects of working in universities but still very little about the group of which I am part – those with specific digital leadership roles, or my specific area of investigation – managers’ experiences of equality, diversity and inclusion (Equality Challenge Unit, 2017b). It is precisely in this area that this study has attempted to fill an important lacuna in practitioner research. The other researchers working in this area have similarly highlighted that this area is a gap, and this serves to make my study even more timely, relevant and of interest to the sector.
In their 2018 book ‘Professional and Support Staff in Higher Education’ the authors note the absence of input from any digital, HR or IT professionals and suggest that there is more work to be done in integrating the contribution of these groups to leadership and to scholarship.
“we (as contributors, colleagues, and more broadly as institutions) must take some deliberate steps to promote greater inclusion amongst authors contributing to research regarding professional and support staff, especially those who do not currently see themselves as part of the scholarly conversation. Professional and support staff within higher education are diverse, their roles multifaceted, and their contribution and experiences under-examined.”(Bossu, Brown, & Warren, 2018, p. 460)
The findings of this study may also be of particular interest or usefulness to practitioners and researchers working in universities who are interested in understanding how colleagues in professional roles relate to their larger organisation when they think about leadership of equality, diversity and inclusion.