Diversity training can take many forms, from hosting in-person workshops, to introducing good practice guidelines. Traditional methods can be great, but not everyone has the time for an in-person session, or wants to be mandated to take mandatory online training. Finding ways to deliver training in ever-new and engaging ways is essential to building an inclusive culture.
Chris Mansfield, GoodCourse’s co-founder, sat down with Kulbir Shergill, Director of Social Inclusion at the University of Warwick, to discuss how to engage time-poor staff on diversity and inclusion (D&I) topics, and the importance of building a diverse and inclusive workforce.
I’ve been at the University of Warwick for about four years, but it’s my first Higher Education (HE) role, which has been really interesting. I have always worked in diversity and inclusion in my professional career, but I've worked in many different sectors — from Social Housing to major charities across the country, but also in the corporate sector as well. This role at Warwick has brought a lot of that experience together, so it was a very exciting role to take up.
Working in the diversity and inclusion field, something that’s very clear is that education and access to education are a fundamental part of inclusion in society, and the opportunity to progress in it. So for me, the appeal was the opportunity to enable young people and to help to break down the barriers to economic and professional success through education. I’d say that was the main attraction, as well as it being a new role, with the opportunity to develop a strategy to make Warwick a place where anybody can achieve their potential.
When I came to the university, there was a lot of good stuff going on. There were lots of different interventions and projects across the organisation. We had a widening participation strategy and a small EDI team, but I think one of the things that leadership felt was that we didn't have a coordinated or strategic approach to bringing these strands together. We didn’t understand what our common goal was or how we worked towards it, nor how to support the vision and objectives of the university’s strategy. That has been the remit of this strategy — to bring that work together under an umbrella and understand how the interventions we undertake contribute to it.
We have three very clear objectives for our strategy. The first is to have greater diversity. We’re a place of innovation and creativity, and for that, we need diversity of thought. One of the things we’re very aware of is that while we have an incredibly diverse student population, we aren't as diverse on the staff side. This is very common in many universities and organisations at a senior level. We have KPIs to increase diversity at senior levels and having a greater diversity of thought around decision-making tables. But this is also about visibility. We know how important role models are, particularly for our students.
The second part of our strategy looks at our culture. In order to leverage the benefits of diversity, we need an inclusive culture. It's central to establishing and maintaining a high-performance culture for everyone at Warwick. Warwick is a leading university, but that experience is not always inclusive for all community members. The awarding gap exists for particular groups of students, which is something that many universities are experiencing. So getting that culture piece right is really important. I think it’s one of the areas that we’ve made progress in — understanding what implementations we need to take to really make a difference.
The third piece is our area of focus around engagement with our stakeholders outside of the university, which can be local, regional or international. Some examples of things that we work on range from providing work experience for young people from lower socio-economic backgrounds, to hosting forums on inclusion for regional employers. There’s a variety of work that comes under these three objectives.
We used lots of traditional methods. Online teaching, face-to-face workshops, having good practice guidelines, tools and frameworks. I think these are all very useful and have an important role to play in engaging people on this topic. But I think it’s also really important to understand what motivates people to engage with these tools — not everybody’s attracted to sitting in a room and being part of a workshop. So that was what really attracted me to the work that GoodCourse is doing — it’s delivering learning in a very different way on your phone. We spend so much time on our phones and access a lot of our information from them, so to me, it seemed like an ideal route. Why wouldn't you want to do it?
I think time is a huge factor. We’re all aware that work is intense at the moment and has been during the Covid period and following it. Taking time out for a half-day course or even an hour online can seem like a big chunk of time when you're under pressure. So I don't think it’s that people don't want to — I think it’s that we are time-poor. Also, if people don't know what they're going to get from something, then they're less inclined to engage with it.
One of the things about doing micro-learning on your phone with GoodCourse is that you’re not asking for a lot of time. It can also encourage those who want to go on and learn more, which makes learning much more of a voluntary activity. One of the things we know about diversity and inclusion training is that when things are mandatory, the training doesn't always have the effect that we want it to. When people feel like they're being made to do something, it can actually make attitudes around bias more entrenched — having the opposite effect of what you’d like. So I like this idea of bite-sized courses that people can do really quickly, which will give them those basic tools and also inspire and engage them to want to learn more.
I feel like we’re still in the early stages of this work. So we will be looking at the feedback that we get. But the anecdotal responses that we’ve had from people have actually been really positive. People have really liked it, engaged with it, and loved the fact that it was so short, on their phones and so easy. And that’s what we want — for me, that’s part of the secret of engaging people.
It’s been really good. I’m very aware of how responsive you’ve been to any queries that we’ve had, and I know we worked on tailoring the course so that it was absolutely relevant to Warwick, which is important. You’ve been very supportive in helping us achieve that, so I’ve got no complaints!
Sometimes it feels quite tough, particularly in the current political climate. I think that you could very easily feel quite negative about this work because we seem so polarised around a lot of issues connected to diversity and inclusion. But one of the things that gives me hope is that I genuinely believe that most people do not deliberately exclude. So if we are to achieve greater diversity and inclusion, it’ll be through continuous learning about other people, understanding our interactions and our impact on others. Understanding why we have our biases is the first step, and understanding why others have theirs is the second.
I also think that people can change their views and behaviours. Engaging with people and seeing the world from a different viewpoint really helps us to do that. It’s not easy, but there are amazing examples of people who have changed and reached out for greater inclusion and equality. I was thinking about this today: Nelson Mandela came to mind as someone who was truly able to reach out and change the world.