Ask the panel

January 12, 2007

Worried about your employment, maternity, pension rights? Send your questions to The Times Higher advice panel.

I have recently been employed as an estates manager at a university and manage three staff members. I was approached by a black member of staff I manage. He said that he had been overlooked for promotion for several years. He said that his other black and minority ethnic colleagues had complained to each other about the same issue. I have since researched the university's Race Equality Policy, which states that it seeks to "remove barriers to education and job opportunities and attract, recruit and retain staff from underrepresented groups". I can't find any more information. What should I do?

* Our Equality Challenge Unit panellist says: "First, it is vital that the proactive requirements of the Race Relations (Amendment) Act 2000 are implemented. This means that the university has to develop the aims and objectives in its Race Equality Policy (REP) and put them into practice. It is worrying that you're unable to find any information beyond the REP statement.

"Second, the university is required by law to review its policies to make sure they meet the requirements of the legislation, which includes the need to eliminate unlawful racial discrimination and promote equality of opportunity. The results of an impact assessment exercise will show if there is a differential effect on the promotion prospects of black and minority ethnic staff. If so, the university will need to take steps to ensure that it is promoting equality of opportunity.

"Third, there appears to be an issue concerning the accessibility of information on race equality work by the university. Universities need to publish the results of impact assessments, and this data should be easily accessible to all.

"You should find out if the university has conducted a race equality impact assessment of its policies affecting promotion and if it is undertaking any positive action initiatives. Contact your human resources department in the first instance and your trade union."

* Our panellist from the University and College Union says: "The first problem would appear to be the fact that you have received no formal training as part of your induction. Had this happened you would not have had to undertake research into the university's REP, as you would be familiar with it.

"The question suggests that the REP lacks the type of detail required to show how the university intends to meet its objectives. You should look through the Race Equality Action Plan, which sets out how the university is to meet its policy aims. The action plan should contain a timetable for achieving race equality goals (including post-holder responsibility) and include elements such as staff training and an outline procedure for impact assessment of policies and procedures.

"If we are to assume that the black member of staff concerned did not have the necessary skills, the question is: 'What is the university doing to address the issue?'

"In practice, however, there is little one member of staff can do to alter an institution that is clearly in breach of the spirit and the letter of the law. The best chance for success is through the active participation of the local UCU branch."

* Our panellist from the Universities and Colleges Employers' Association says: "Assuming the posts applied for are in your department, you should meet your colleague and give detailed feedback about why he was unsuccessful. Indicate where he did not meet the criteria for the post, focusing on the job description. You should also discuss how he could go about addressing skills gaps and whether the university could support him.

I would suggest that you contact your human resources department for more information on the university's policies and in relation to race equality, which you can then share with your member of staff."

This advice panel includes the University and College Union, the Universities and Colleges Employers' Association, Research Councils UK, the Equality Challenge Unit and Rachel Flecker, an academic who sits on Bristol University's contract research working party.
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