Getting staff involved in learning about topics that might seem non-essential can be difficult, especially considering how time-poor workers are. It is important for leadership to enable this by freeing up time for employees, supporting them, and being receptive to their needs.
Becky Bradshaw, Chief Operating Officer at the University of Northampton, is working on building an inclusive, progressive environment. She sat down with Chris Mansfield, Co-founder of GoodCourse, to discuss the initiatives she is working on and ways in which she is developing a sense of community.
I am the Chief Operating Officer at the University of Northampton. I have been in the post for eight weeks now; I was previously Director of Estates & Campus Services here. The University of Northampton is the only one in Northamptonshire.
I have worked at this university for over twenty years; I started in a relatively junior position and developed my skills in health and safety. This is often seen as a compliance function but is actually about people — which is intrinsic to the way I want to work. Then, in 2015, the university announced a major project to move locations and build a brand new campus. This enabled me to get involved in the people side of that project, ensuring our built environment was right for teaching and learning. This was such an exciting opportunity to develop community. Now we’re finally seeing the results of this in operation.
There are quite a few new areas under my remit: human resources, marketing and recruitment, academic registry; IT, which is definitely a learning curve for me; and enterprise and employability on top of my previous remit. The portfolio is broad and complex and co-ordinates the professional services side of the institution.
This is a really tough question. I think it is an understatement to say that this was a challenging period for all individuals. I was really proud of the university’s response when supporting our student community. The University of Northampton is a change-making institution, which means spotting a social problem and having the grit and determination to do something about it. Covid demonstrated this ten-fold. After adapting to new styles of teaching and learning, we looked outward to our local community to see how we could deal with this challenge. We provided accommodation for key workers, for the homeless community, providing food parcels and support. Some of these initiatives have continued, which have cemented fantastic local partnerships with the institution.
Particularly during the first twelve months of the pandemic, a lot of people suffered from loneliness, so our campus is now an active campus. This means free access to sports and societies, and exercise programmes designed to kickstart involvement again.
The built environment is there to facilitate belonging and inclusion. We are in the early stages of developing a new university strategy, and at the same time, we’re looking at our estate strategy. One very clear point is our students and staff's need for belonging. In all honesty, we aren’t there yet. There is a yearning to be part of something bigger, an inclusive environment. We have taken early steps to this end. We commissioned an organisation to help us understand the challenges our Black students were facing in our living environments to help us give them a more inclusive experience in the university. It is clear as our new strategy emerges that diversity, equity and inclusion will be core to our directives moving forward.
We are currently also looking at developing our EDI strategy, and have increased our level of support and resource to deal with that. We have a strong, active group of networks, such as our GEM (Global Ethnic Majority) staff network. Our disability, women’s and LGBTQ+ staff network, in addition to a few other groups, were intended to provide safe spaces for staff to share their experiences and discuss issues with colleagues. But they have evolved and are now pushing us as leaders to ensure that the overall learning and workplace environment is much more inclusive to different groups. It is incredibly positive and useful to have that two-way dialogue. We want to make sure these networks are more embedded.
It is incredibly positive and useful to have that two-way dialogue. We want to make sure these networks are more embedded.
We also have a firm commitment to adjusting and adapting our working environment and student spaces to ensure they are easier to navigate for neurodiverse individuals.
That is also a work in progress for us. We are reviewing our ability to free up time for staff to participate in these activities. We have great new programmes designed by staff on cultural awareness and integration — but they require commitment. As leaders, we have to facilitate that, so we need to free up the time to allow them to benefit from these activities. We also have a series of workshops, such as one on being anti-racist to model the types of behaviour we want to see in our workforce.
Giving colleagues the space to make mistakes, try new things and initiatives, and be there to catch them if they do fall. It’s okay to fail; that is sometimes how we get our best ideas.