Former trade union activist and political advisor Nita Clarke OBE (BA History and Politics, 1974, MA Comparative Labour History, 1977) had her first experience of public speaking at Warwick and became a Sabbatical Officer at the Students Union. Nita was awarded an OBE for her services to employee engagement and remains a prominent speaker on the subject.
Can you tell us about your current roles and why they’re important to you?
I’m Director of the Involvement and Participation Association (IPA) – a small, not-for-profit organisation that works to boost employee engagement and give employees a voice.
Post-pandemic, keeping employees engaged and looking after their wellbeing has never been more important. At last, employee engagement is recognised as a key agenda item for the boardroom and not as a peripheral issue. The impact of the pandemic has been incredibly interesting and a catalyst for change. Managers now need to know much more about their employees, their home lives and key issues to ensure they’re able to work. They need to demonstrate the value of employees.
My co-authored report Engage for Success, commissioned by the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills was described by the Chartered Management Institute (CMI) as the definitive work on this subject and is still used as a reference point. The report was instrumental in establishing the Engage for Success Movement, which has changed the way companies and industries think about engagement.
What your career highlights, what are you particularly proud of?
After graduating, I got a job working for a trade union which became part of UNISON, and there I progressed to become a Senior Advisor. I’ve also been a Senior Press Officer for Ken Livingston and the Labour Group on the Greater London Council. I became quite heavily involved in developing trade union policy for new Labour and went on to work on the trade union movement for Tony Blair while he was Prime Minister.
What are your fondest memories of Warwick?
I have extremely positive memories of Warwick and enjoyed my time studying and having fun. I was part of the generation who didn’t want to go to Oxbridge and join the old system. There was a movement towards the new. I started at a different university, but I bumped into a friend who was already at Warwick and she raved about its new style and culture and I thought I have to get there.
After being accepted, I took to it like a duck to water. Warwick was political and I was an activist. I have fond memories of speaking at Students Union general meetings at Rootes Hall, and leading occupations at Senate House and the Warwick Arts Centre, generally protesting about accommodation fees or industry partnerships.
Later in my career, I offered a public apology to Lord Butterworth for bricking up his driveway. I realise now he had astonishingly brilliant foresight in partnering with business and industry, and building connections in the West Midlands. Lord Butterworth started this well before other universities, which gave him time to refine and embed this model to make Warwick what it is today.
In between studies, I became a Students Union sabbatical officer and still have many close friends from that time who are still interested in politics. At the time, there was an incredibly interesting and disparate, politically interested group of students who chose Warwick to find like-minded people.
My friend Kasper De Graaf (BA Politics, 1977) co-founded The Boar in 1973 and was President of the Students Union 1974-75. We were a manifestation of the early broad left, we saw ourselves as the sensible left which was, in a way, the early progenitor of New Labour. A number of people in this early student movement became part of the new Labour in the mid/late 1990s.