Professor Anne Trefethen: Race Equality Task Force and Staff Experience Survey

The pandemic has amplified the importance of data in decision making, as COVID-19-related statistics have played such a critical role in determining our own freedoms, local and national lockdowns and the like. As a nation I think we have also become more aware of how the value of statistics relates to the quality of the data on which they are based. We should be proud of our colleagues in Oxford who have played critical roles in the collection, understanding and communication of data during this period. I thought I would write today about University statistics and data, and I hope I can encourage you to take part in the Staff Experience Survey – a key biannual data collection – and to engage with the Race Equality Task Force.

First, though, I thought I’d bring your attention to the University gender pay gap report that was published last week. It is really important to understand that the gender pay gap is a measure across all jobs in the University, not of the difference in pay between men and women for doing the same job. As such it provides information about the structures in the University and the equality of the gender balance in those structures. This is the University’s fourth report and I’m glad to say we continue to make progress, although we still have some way to go. The mean gender pay gap has decreased this year from 21.6% to 20.1%, and has fallen by 4.4% since the introduction of gender pay gap reporting in 2017. The median gender pay gap remains at 13.7%, which is lower than the national level of 15.5%. What these numbers show is that we have few women in senior roles and more women in lower-grade roles. Our year-on-year figures show that we are shifting that balance but clearly have more work to do. The University figures hide a lot of detail and divisional action plans are being put into place that reflect local environments.

The Staff Experience Survey will be open from 27 April to 18 May.  This survey builds up a longitudinal data set that allows trends to be tracked over time, and the impact of actions that have been taken to be evaluated. It is an opportunity to give honest feedback about your own experience at the University – good, bad and indifferent. The data collected in the survey plays an important role in identifying areas that concern colleagues and feeds into University-wide projects on bullying and harassment, wellbeing, and pay and reward, amongst others – please take the time to give your input. This year we are using an independent provider (People Insight) and we hope this will ensure an efficient, streamlined process. It may seem odd to run the survey at a time when life this year has been so far from normal, and our staff’s experiences during the pandemic have been so varied. In some ways, though, this makes it even more important for us to hear your views so that we can address new issues that have arisen and that matter to you.

The survey also informs the institutional Athena Swan and Race Equality Charter renewal applications and action plans. And this year the Race Equality Task Force will use the data from the survey directly in their consideration of action areas. Throughout Hilary term, the Race Equality Task Force has been laying the foundation for our work to advance racial equality across the collegiate University. The full membership includes 35 people with a wide range of roles – students, researchers, professional and support staff, academics and college representatives. Our focus is both on improving staff and student experience and in articulating where barriers exist, as well as identifying what can be done by everyone in the collegiate University to dismantle those barriers – thereby improving the Oxford experience for all members.

‘Conversations on Race’, a four-part online series, will take place throughout Trinity term, with external speakers sharing their experiences of advancing racial equality in their contexts. Hosted by members of the Task Force, each event will also include the opportunity to put your questions to the speakers. All staff and students are welcome to attend.   

The series will take place 1–2pm on Fridays of weeks 3, 5, 7 and 9 of term. The first in the series, hosted by Dr Rebecca Surender, co-chair of the Task Force, on 14 May, will be with Professor Saleem Badet, Research Professor in Humanities at the University of Kwazulu-Natal and former Vice-Chancellor of Rhodes University, South Africa. Please register to attend in order to receive joining instructions. Speaker updates, and reminders of the registration link, will be included in upcoming University Bulletins. A recording of each session will be added to the Equality and Diversity website.

We will be reaching out through a number of other mechanisms to hear more about people’s experiences at the University, beyond the quantitative data of the survey – please keep an eye on this page for those activities. We all have a role to play in building and sustaining an anti-racist culture we can be proud of at Oxford, and I hope you will get involved.