One of our innovation projects over several years was to develop a Playful Engagement Strategy for ISG and to test some playful approaches. We know our Information Services Group (ISG) staff are innovative and creative, and they have developed a variety of fun, creative, and engaging ways to provide and deliver our technologies and services.
We want to ensure that this continues and that ISG fosters an environment, and culture, where innovation, playful learning, and creative engagement are embedded in our practices. This is in line with the University’s aim to offer an educational experience that is inspiring, challenging, and transformational.
To this end, we have established playful engagement themes, strategy and goals.
Our goals are to:
Facilitate the development of playful innovators, researchers, and creators
Promote creative, playful, and innovative use of technologies and tools in ISG services
Utilise our world-class libraries and collections in innovative and engaging ways to enrich our services
Support a healthy work life balance, and a positive, engaging and inclusive work environment
I am very pleased that Charlie has been able to spend the time to really think about what playful engagement could mean for a large IT and libraries service. Her work draws upon a whole raft of team, game, maker, challenge and enjoyment activities which all combine to make working here much more fun than it might otherwise be.
She and I will be presenting about this at the UCISA leadership conference in Edinburgh.
This year has been quite a one for my work with the PlayFair Steps. The PlayFair Steps is the name I have given to the programme of activities in University of Edinburgh Information Services Group which are designed to deliver an improved experience for all our staff by tackling equality and diversity issues in our workplace. I began this initiative in 2015 and it is part of a wider change programme across the whole of the organisation.
After 3 years we are seeing impact and progress towards our goals. We have also been successful in winning a number of awards.
When looking at equality and diversity drivers for change in organisations, there is some literature which suggests that external accountability , the impression the public have about your organisation, is a consideration that may influence senior management. So if you can show that your activities have gained external recognition, won awards or been celebrated by your peers, more investment by senior management may follow. It’s not an exact science but as employers we are all very aware that the tech industry has a bad reputation for diversity and inclusion.
Students of organisational development will be well aware of the importance of context, culture and ‘climate’ in enabling the success of workplace diversity programmes. With this in mind I worked with my teams to write applications for various employer awards last year in the hope that we would be nominated and shortlisted.
Winning this award in the HE sector boosted my confidence to try for 2 more awards in the wider tech sector. Alongside rapid growth a new and urgent interest in diversity can be seen by the appearance of industry awards and celebrations. Targeted trade sector and community events such as awards provide the opportunity for HR practitioners in organisations to gain external acknowledgement and assessment of their organisational efforts and commitment to diversity .But its a hotly contested area. Organisations which promote diversity may benefit by being more attractive to women and ethnic minorities and those employers may be able to recruit from a larger talent pool, so the big recruiters are keen not to miss out and are pulling out all the stops.
In October and December we were finalists in the ‘Employer of the Year’ category in the Scotland Women in Technology Awards in Glasgow and for ‘Diversity Project of The Year’ in the Women in IT Excellence Awards in London. At both events I was very pleased to be able to host a table at the awards dinner and to invite colleagues and friends to join our celebrations. In Glasgow each of the 4 female University of Edinburgh Directors of IT invited as our guests women in our organisations who we identify as rising stars for the future. In London we were joined by friends from ALT, WikimediaUK, Open University, EDINA, Ordnance Survey and Wellcome Library. A lovely, sparkly time was had by all and it was exciting to be part of such celebratory events. In both cases however, we were pipped at the post by big recruiters such as JPMorgan and Empiric, both of whom have huge recruitment and marketing efforts targeted at women in IT.
The awards create a climate in which organisations compete to showcase themselves as diversity-aware recruiters and attractive employers for a range of groups. While such awards may also be dismissed as window dressing or worse, validation of insidious work practices, the investment being made by some large tech industry employers is undeniable. The rise of business awards which bring external recognition and validation to organisations’ visible efforts towards diversity is framed in the language of inclusive growth, improved competitive performance and better targeted services. It may be time for university IT departments to up our game if we are going to be able to attract the best talent to improve our services.
Perhaps we should work together as a sector to do this. One way we could do this would be to return again to the knotty problem of what IT careers look like in HE, and indeed what learning technologists look like. We should ask ourselves: ‘If you as an employer, had to take a bunch of recruitment materials to a recruitment fair what would you say to attract the best, brightest and most diverse talent to join our professional teams?’.
*Dominique and I will be showcasing our award-winning programme next in London on 28th February. The event is hosted by UHR and is an opportunity to hear from other HE organisations about how their teams have improved practice, contributed to business efficiency, and enhanced organisational effectiveness and staff engagement. Book your place now.
When looking at equality and diversity drivers for change in organisations, there is some literature which suggests that external accountability , the impression the public have about your organisation, or investor or client pressure, may be a consideration for senior management. There may be concern for reputational damage with the wider business and society, and this risk could be mitigated for instance by the company’s success in winning a prize for gender equality .
We are finalists in the ‘Employer of the Year’ category in the Scotland Women in Technology Awards 2018 to be announced on Wednesday 24th October 2018 in Glasgow and for ‘Diversity Project of The Year’ in the Women in IT Excellence Awards taking place on27 November at Finsbury Square, London.
Here’s the student testimonial which won us our Employer award:
Why have you nominated this person/company for Student Employer of the Year? Tell us why you think this employer is exceptional. Suggested areas of excellence: offers excellent experience and advice; opportunities to learn; understands study commitments; contributions to studies.
The Information Services Group (ISG) at the University of Edinburgh is a brilliantly dynamic place to work as a student. The company offers a large variety of part-time jobs which are designed for only one day a week so you can easily combine work with your studies. While you might assume that most of the jobs would be in IT, ISG actually offers a huge range of roles, providing exceptional means to develop digital skills even if you are studying something completely different for your university degree. For instance, there are jobs in copyrighting, media production, customer services, archives and libraries, communications, web development, event management and IT training. The jobs are designed to fit with the kind of skills students might already possess and you really get the impression that the organisation values the skills and insights that we bring to the table from our varied studies and experiences.
ISG has a specific scheme to increase the number of University of Edinburgh students they employ. They understand that having work experience during your studies is a big part of being employable and getting a job when you finish your degree. They employ undergraduates, taught postgraduates and research-based PhD students like myself in various roles, but I don’t think many students realise the sheer range of opportunities available at ISG. All jobs are advertised on the University Careers website, MyCareerHub, and there is a student employment officer in the HR team who works tirelessly to ensure that all student workers come away with a fantastic experience. The ISG team are continually thinking about digital ways to enhance the profile of student employment. All student workers are encouraged to think about developing their own profiles on LinkedIn and describing the skills they are learning. This has also greatly enhanced ISG’s brand presence on LinkedIn as an employer that focusses on the student work experience while creating a digital network for student employees as well. Some managers in ISG even write recommendations on LinkedIn for their student employees when they reach the end of their contracts and these references can then also be used as evidence of the work experience each student has undertaken.
Please provide a specific example of a time when this employer has provided exceptional support understanding or opportunities to development. Give evidence of the qualities and characteristics listed above.
I have been working in ISG as their digital recruitment and marketing intern for the past year and a half. My own PhD research, however, is in English Literature, so I am bringing my writing and analytical skills to benefit the organisation in improving the style and language used to communicate job adverts and digital marketing content. One of the unexpected opportunities I have found in this work is learning much more about equality and diversity issues than I ever thought I would in an IT-based role.
Since IT is a competitive and heavily male-dominated sector, however, ISG are particularly keen to attract more diverse applicants for their workforce. They are keenly interested in attracting women and young people into STEM careers, for example, and work very hard to ensure an open atmosphere with equal opportunities for all. There is an extensive programme of equality and diversity activity within the organisation, and a particular focus on making female role models visible. A series of workshops called the PlayFair Steps have been especially crucial in highlighting the equality and diversity issues that still exist within our organisation and the steps we must take in order to mitigate these issues. Through these workshops, I have learned much about implicit bias, especially in terms of gendered recruitment language, and am now much more mindful of the ways in which I formulate my own writing here in my role at ISG, as well as in my PhD research and daily life.
This year, I have been working with staff across the organisation, alongside another student who works in the equality and diversity project, to source and write profiles of women working in STEM roles in ISG and to promote these profiles online, where a wide range of people can then learn about the diversity of the careers and the people in the organisation. I’ve been given the opportunity to plan and lead my own work on these case studies and it has been extremely eye-opening to learn about the many issues that shape women’s careers in STEM and beyond. These are invaluable insights which have given me an opportunity to think extensively about careers and employment beyond university.
I am delighted to say that the PlayFair Steps equality and diversity initiatives in Information Services Group at University of Edinburgh have been recognised as excellent by the judges at the recent Universities Human Resources awards.
Many organisations are now choosing to recognise Equality, Diversity and Inclusion (EDI) expertise as a significant area of valuable knowledge which contributes to the business advantage and has a direct and significant positive impact on reputation. After two years this work is now able to show positive impact and report on metrics for improvement and use data driven decision-making for management practice. The work brings us ‘diversity advantage’. Diversity advantage can be seen as the positive consequences which accrue to a business through diversity and inclusivity practices in the workplace.
Increasingly EDI work in organisations can be seen as having a focus on:
improve the use of data in driving future developments
a greater priority on communications
more effective evaluation of policies and interventions
a focus on ‘what works’ underpinned by a robust and systematic use of the evidence.
My work in ISG EDI is seen through leadership in innovative practice to recruit staff, develop colleagues’ understanding of intersectionality and embed EDI into student employability programmes. I proactively recognise and reward staff with EDI expertise in my own teams. As well as identifying key people within the organisation to lead events in specific areas there are now 3 university of Edinburgh PhD students working as interns in ISG with specific remit to bring their academic expertise in gender studies and inclusion to contribute to our work. We have a Gender Equality Intern ( Dominique) and Digital Marketing and Recruitment intern ( Vicki) and an Equality Images Intern ( Francesca) These interns join my growing team (including our Wikimedian in Residence) to ensure that EDI in ISG is visible and celebrated. The three interns work on EDI plans and programmes, innovative digital marketing for recruitment and within the University archives and collections to find quality equality images which can be digitised and used to promote stories from our University history and to be used in presentations and publications. I have also agreed to sponsor a year’s sabbatical for another of our team ( Jo) to pursue a Masters by Research to properly surface the real story of The Edinburgh Seven.
The PlayFair Steps has been successful in that it allows staff to look at diversity and equality in various ways and from various points of view, all of which contribute to improving ISG. The work began as an initiative around gender equality and has expanded to recognise that people’s identities and social positions at work – particularly in the technology industry – are shaped by multiple and interconnected factors. I have developed a range of activities exploring how a person’s age, disability status, race and ethnicity, gender, gender identity, religion or belief, sexual orientation, socioeconomic background, and parent status contribute towards their specific experiences in and perspectives of our workplace. Using the local expertise of our academic colleagues and students, I seek to move beyond anecdote and create a more inclusive workplace with support from senior management for both top-down and bottom-up change.
Our IT practice now benefits from a more nuanced understanding of the structural issues which lead to workplace improvement. It is not enough to just ‘add women and stir’. The PlayFair Steps programme (which draws its name for the idea of ‘fair play’ at work) focusses on ensuring that barriers and bias are addressed and a more inclusive workplace is experienced by all. The PlayFair Steps is an initiative which improves our reputation and is of interest to central IT departments at other universities. The work is also being disseminated at relevant sector-wide conferences and recognised through being shortlisted by various national awards. Fingers crossed for more success and recognition of the value of this work in the future.
ISG is an organisation with a diverse workforce. As the first in our ‘PlayFair Steps‘ equality initiative seminars we invited Wendy Loretto, Deputy Dean and Professor of Organisational Behaviour at University of Edinburgh Business School to talk to ISG staff about ‘Understanding age in the workplace’. Wendy’s main research field is age and employment, with a particular focus on changes in employees’ and employers’ attitudes and practices in extending working lives. She gave us an overview of the issues, challenges and opportunities and brought critical insight to this topic questioning some of the rhetoric and assumptions that underpin much of the policy and mainstream management discourses. The session prompted group discussions amongst ISG colleagues and suggestions for real changes to move us towards working inclusively.
Information Services has more than 600 staff. Earlier this year more than 300 of them replied to a gender equality survey. The results of this survey are providing a starting place for the IS senior management to promote equality in the workplace and implement proactive plans for change. We are recruiting an intern to help us. This internship coincides with an exciting time for Information Services as we make plans to move to a new building and find new ways of working.
Opportunity and strategic alignment
Following our gender equality survey, within the context of the University’s commitment to Athena Swan, and in line with a broader approach to change management in IS, we have an opportunity now to make some innovative moves to address equality and diversity issues for our staff.
One of the key messages arising from our staff survey was that ‘equality involves everyone’. This indicates that our success will depend on ensuring that our plans target all groups and include a range of positive actions, in addition to those specifically designed for women.
Alongside the work we must do in HR and with directors and managers around policies and process, we will establish an innovative programme of staff workplace activities * and L&D opportunities focused on a general concept of ‘fair play’ called ‘The PlayFair Steps’**.
To begin making our planned equality action areas into a SMART plan for 3 years.
To recruit (using CIO innovation funds) a Phd intern to work with us for the first year to monitor progress against targets in these change areas.
To establish a staff group to lead, shape and bring new ideas.
Proposed Equality Actions Areas for next 3years
Deliver a communications plan to advertise, update and raise awareness of relevant university HR policies where they exist.
Deliver a communications plan of concerted positive comms around ADR, L&D, mentoring, professional networks for career development.
Dispel myths of inequality of access to opportunity by making visible stats which reflect the real uptake of staff development, training, conference attendance and rewards and recognition payments across ISG.
Offer staff development sessions on ‘how to get promoted’.
Review how ‘good citizen’ activities contribute to promotion criteria, reward and recognition.
Do follow up surveys (from the University) on race, faith and disability.
Ensure fair and transparent recruitment, promotion and policy-making processes.
Ensure everyone involved in recruitment (JD, panels etc) has been on diversity and bias training. Showcase and share examples of JDs with gender-neutral language and positive action.
More visible positive action to recruit to under-represented groups/areas including use of social media to advertise opportunities using appropriate hashtags and fora. e.g #womenintech.
Work –life balance
Enhancement of family-friendly policies and improved communication of these.
Ensure colleagues have an equal chance of a healthy work-life balance by not holding meetings outside core hours.
Encourage work/social activities which are family friendly.
Ensure colleagues have an equal chance of a healthy work-life balance by reducing management email sent outside core hours except re tier1 service incidents.
Designate a separate (bookable) quiet room with a nice view for prayer, meditation, escape from sensory overload, breastfeeding and expressing.
Supporting gender equality more broadly
Offer visible equality role models of both genders by ensuring that invited speakers, presentations, vendor presentations reflect a gender mix.
Offer visible equality role models of both genders by working with conference organisers to reduce the number of single sex panels at conferences or events.
Ensure that we have diversity in our decision-making groups.
Provide opportunities for career development and networking through visible support/involvement/hosting of organisation events e.g Ada Lovelace Day.
Offer visible equality role models by naming computer systems, servers, rooms etc after relevant famous women.
Display more art by diverse (and women) artists.
Ensure that systems which hold personal data offer a choice of gender neutral honorifics e.g Mx
Build systems and applications which pass the Bechdel test for software.
Promote to staff and students digital initiatives for gender equality in tech areas e.g coding and gaming.
Engage with research in emerging areas around gender and the internet to inform the development of services to support staff and students’ safety online
* Similar to our ‘healthy working lives’ initiatives.
** As well as including the word ‘fair’ and ‘play’, the Playfair Steps are a well-known set of steps in Edinburgh which take you easily from the old (town) to the new (town) . Additionally, the engineer William Playfair invented infographics- bar charts and pie charts -and much of our gender equality business is done using these.