Tag: Playfair

presenting equality challenges

PlayFair Steps for fair play at work

Dominique and I presented our work on The PlayFair Steps at Equality Challenge Unit’s  Innovation, Change, Impact- Scotland’s Conference 2018

Colleges and HEIs in Scotland have been working towards mainstreaming and embedding equality for some time, as it is a requirement of the specific duties regulations in Scotland.

The conference aim was provide a showcase for this work and an opportunity for collaboration and sharing of experience covering:

  • Innovative approaches and radical ideas to progressing equality and diversity activity
  • Identifying and measuring effective change
  • Developing creative approaches to identifying and evaluating impact 

women in art

Wikipedia editathon for Art & Feminism 2016 at the Scottish National Portrait Gallery, Edinburgh
Looking very GLAM. Wikipedia editathon for Art & Feminism 2016 at the Scottish National Portrait Gallery, Edinburgh
Looking back at my original  plans for the Playfair Steps equality and diversity initiative in ISG, one of my hopes was that we would take the opportunity afforded by the move to Argyle House to display more artwork created by women artists.  I’m pleased to say we have done some of that.

If you have ever visited our meeting rooms on Floor E you will have been immersed in an installation by Fabienne Hess.

This installation of images on the glass walls of our meeting rooms in Argyle House is a whole work by  Hess, she was commissioned as part of the refurbishment the office spaces to create a work featuring images of existing objects of University collections. Her work  exploring the University of Edinburgh’s Collections has spanned across several years and she features in current displays at The Talbot Rice.  The process of digitizing, which started in the summer of 2012, has involved photographing almost 25,000 diverse items, from ancient manuscripts to musical instruments, anatomical drawings to historic maps. Throughout the process Fabienne has also created a series of ‘sub-collections’- these groupings, put together in arbitrary themes such as those images containing a red dot, those featuring a person raising an arm, a triangular shape, a certain shade of blue, create a fascinating set of ‘new’ collections. One of these new collections is the installation you are in.  Did you notice?

In the past year our teams of enthusiastic Wikipedia editors have participated in a number of targeted events aimed at improving coverage of women artists. Including one at The National Portrait Gallery to support their Modern Scottish Women exhibition. On the day we created 6 new articles, and improved 8.

In addition to more editing and inspired by Kirsty, I am also looking forward to hosting an intern, in conjunction with colleagues in Centre for Research Collections to look at the metadata which describes our images so that the women ( and others) are more easily found!


grab some scottish pussy

If you feel the urge, as Donald Trump sometimes does, to grab some pussy, this 3D model of the skull of a Scottish Wildcat (Felis Silvestris) made by Dr. Tobias Schwarz, of the Royal (Dick) School of Veterinary Studies has been shared as OER on Sketchfab where it can be viewed, grabbed, re-used and re-shared.  It’s a cat with big teeth.

You and I both know that phrases like ‘grab ’em by the pussy’ does not go down well with Scottish women, nor with our national Bard,  Robert Burns. Even in 1792  he warned that such locker-room banter was old-fashioned.   Burns’ poem on ‘The Rights of Women‘ describes three rights we can expect from men: protection , decorum and admiration.   On decorum I am confident he would have stood with most men and scolded Trump bigly.

‘There was, indeed, in far less polish’d days,
A time, when rough, rude men had naughty ways,
Would swagger, swear, get drunk, kick up a riot,
Nay even thus invade a Lady’s quiet.

Now, thank our stars! those Gothic times are fled;
Now, well-bred men-and you are all well-bred-
Most justly think (and we are much the gainers)
Such conduct neither spirit, wit, nor manners.’

On protection of our rights, one week in to the Trump presidency, I’m not filled with confidence. The pictures from the White House of Trump’s all-male advisors gleefully signing executive orders is chilling.

‘While Europe’s eye is fix’d on mighty things,
The fate of Empires and the fall of Kings;
While quacks of State must each produce his plan,
And even children lisp the Rights of Man;
Amid this mighty fuss just let me mention,
The Rights of Woman merit some attention.’

At our Burns Night supper this week I was grateful to be reminded by Sian that it was Hilary Clinton who coined the phrase “Human rights are women’s rights, and women’s rights are human rights,” . That was more than 20 years ago (1995) at  the United Nations Fourth World Congress on Women in Beijing.

“What we are learning around the world is that if women are healthy and educated, their families will flourish. If women are free from violence, their families will flourish. If women have a chance to work and earn as full and equal partners in society, their families will flourish. And when families flourish, communities and nations do as well. That is why every woman, every man, every child, every family, and every nation on this planet does have a stake in the discussion that takes place here.”

If only that had been more important than how she managed her emails. This episode of ‘This American Life‘  Act 1: ‘Server be Served’ describes how Secretary Clinton was  scupperd by her own IT support.

The interviews “depict less a sinister and carefully calculated effort to avoid transparency than a busy and uninterested executive who shows little comfort with even the basics of technology, working with a small, harried inner circle of aides”.

( Act 2: ‘Knowing what we Know’, a dramatised conversation between Hillary and Huma is excellent too)

sea the elephant in the room

Salvesen Photo Album
Sea Elephant (c) Centre for Research Collections, University of Edinburgh https://www.flickr.com/photos/crcedinburgh/17180464078/

Last week, as part of our PlayFair Steps equality and diversity intiative in ISG, we invited Dr Rowena Arshad to talk to ISG staff about ‘Race Matters at Work’. The presentation was excellent and thought provoking. Attendance was low though, in comparison to an earlier talk in the same series about age.   I wonder whether colleagues hear ‘age’ and think ‘that’s me‘, they hear ‘race’ and they think ‘that’s someone else‘.

Rowena’s presentation helped us to ask ourselves questions about how we see people as ‘other’, and provided valuable insights into real, recent examples at University of Edinburgh.

As well as being one of the ISG change themes through which we are looking at our organisation and changing it to be fit for the future, equality and diversity is part of a larger consideration of digital transformation going on in the university, being championed by our CIO.

Our CIO challenges us to think about the ‘internet of me’, where each of us is at the centre of a web of services tailored to what the internet knows about us and what it anticipates  our wants and desires to be as a result.  Examples given of Uber, Airbnb etc certainly seem to make life easier for some.

I’d suggest that we cannot think about digital transformation without considering privilege and bias.  For some people, their experience of the internet is not as positive as it may seem to be for white, wealthy, north american or british men. For some it is  toxic, biased and perpetuates unhelpful stereotypes.  It is up to us as tech professionals to consider all our users and ensure that we create an internet for all. It is up to us not only to consider our unconscious bias but also to check and recheck that the services we build are inclusive.

The best way we can do that it to have diverse teams working on every project and provide safe working environments for colleagues to share their experiences which can inform our thinking. The risk if we don’t is that the more our services become personalised, the less we are able to empathise with the experience of others.

Some articles worth reading:
Airbnb’s ‘belong anywhere’ undercut by bias complaints
Can computers be racist? Big data, inequality, and discrimination
Research reveals huge scale of social media misogyny
Trouble on the Tracks: Susan Calman on internet filters


Rowena encouraged us never to be a bystander. Following  a reported rise in racist incidents in the wake of #brexit, this is also a useful resource on social abjection.


change ages

Picture taken by me in my house. No rights reserved by me.

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.

PlayFair Steps for equality action

By claireknights [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons
The Playfair Steps, Edinburgh. By claireknights [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons
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.

Key messages

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’**.

Next 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.