Equality and Diversity Training: Cambridge University's Own Goal
I have just scored 100% on the most worthless exam I have ever sat -- the Cambridge University "Equality and Diversity Essentials" test online.
I have had some experience of the futility of online tests from the USA, and had always rather boasted that the Brits hadn't gone down this silly route. So when I was notified that I would not be able to be on my Faculty Appointments Committee or my Faculty REF Committee (of which currently I am the Chair) unless I took the Uni online training course, I felt I would pass on the opportunity...
Look, if I don't do the training and the test, just think how many days I save by NOT being on the Appointments Committee or chairing the REF (probably, if you take into account writing the REF statememts, a good 21 days.. attractive eh?). But, in the end, I thought of my mates who are trying to run the Faculty and how difficult it would be for them if I didnt do it (we havent got enough senior women, after all).. so I gave in.
And I suppose I thought that, resistant as I was, I might learn something .. like I had learned somethimg from the Speed Awareness Course I did a few years ago.
No such luck. This was a very bad way of spending 90 minutes.
Let me get this straight. I have no doubt that the University of Cambridge has a good bit still to do in equality terms (and I'm writing as someone who was for a few years the only woman University Lecturer in her Faculty.. so I know). And I have no doubt that these problems cross all levels of appointment, from temporary cleaner to regius professor, from physical disability to race or gender.
But the one size fits all version of 'equality training' in this online course could have satisfied no one. And I suspect that, if there were some unreconstructed old fogies in my Faculty (as it happens, there aren't-- even if 20 years ago there probably were), they would have been sent running into their unreconstructed bunkers by this course. It would have made matters worse rather than better.
For a start, equality training needs more than platitudes (amyone can agree with platitude); it needs a bit of specificity. There are some similar -- and more very different -- equality issues when it comes to appointing a Lab technician or a Professor of History. The course I have just done is clearly an off the peg package (loads of stuff about "halls of residence" which we don't have); and it doesn't engage with any of the major issues which face academics in general, or the particular circumstances in Cambridge -- and certainly almost none ofthe issues which face classicists.
There is still an issue, for example, about how far the highest level expertise in Latin and Greek language is as easy for ordinary women (or men) to acquire -- as for certain priliveged groups of independent school educated guys. And it's something that we need, in our Faculty, to keep in mind and discuss (as, I can assure you, we do).There is nothing whatsoever in this test package to help there.. nothing at all, not even a genuflection (and I imagine same would be true for Physics appointments, with all the different nuances that come with different subjects). Instead it is full of platitudes.. reminding you that if you find something offensive (in equality terms) you should look the offender in the eye ("maintain eye contact"), or insisting that you should say "X has epilepsy", not "X is an epileptic"... with a load of well meaning stuff about fair treatment, level playing fields and so forth.
None of this is bad in itself, and I think all my colleagues would sign up to the platitudes on offer .. who couldn't? But if you want actually to do something about the apparent disparity of opportunity for (say) women (or whoever) at the top of the Cambridge hierachy, this stuff is not only a waste of money, not hitting the targets ...but it's also a terrible waste of money.
There is a big job to do in this respect, both in Cambridge and also through most of the university sector. And that means working at the micro level, and drawing people into the project ... it's about consciousness raising in the old sense and about capitalising on the strides we have made since I took up my job (people really did use to ask women what they would do about childcare.., and there are similar advances with other 'minority ' groups.. not that women are a minority!)
But nothing comes from getting us all to sign up to slogans, on-line late at night, with our brains out of gear. And, of course, one suspects that a good part of the motive for the whole exercise is covering the university... if anyone challenges an appointment, don't they want to say "but all our appointing staff are 'equality and diversity trained'". But this is equality and diversity on the cheap. Can we, perhaps, calculate the number of person hours spent on this test and then work out how - with those hours -- we could better have served the cause of equality and diversity. Answers in comments please.
I would love to share the test with you, but -- no doubt for commercial reasons -- it is only available with a Cambridge 'Raven " password (so you've been spared).
(PS my friend, the excellent Athene Donald is the Cambridge Gender "Champion".. yes that's the title... Please don't blame her for this rubbish.)