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Interview with Jane Coleman (Chief Operating Officer, WMG)

We spoke to Jane Coleman, Chief Operating Officer for WMG, about WMG's social inclusion work.

 

What is your role in WMG, in particular in relation to equality?

My role as Chief Operating Officer is to head up the majority of our Professional Services teams, ensuring effective departmental operations, with some additional responsibilities for governance. I am also the ED&I Champion in the WMG Exec team. For example, I have been involved in WMG’s Athena Swan work from the beginning of our engagement with the charter. It’s an area that I am passionate about; I’ve had roles in the past with ED&I focus or responsibilities, so it is something that is close to me.

 

Why is equality important to WMG?

We have a very diverse community in WMG – over 3O% of our staff are from BAME backgrounds, we have staff from 49 countries and students from 54 countries, making us one of the most ethnically diverse departments in the University – and it’s important to us to make sure that all of our staff and students can thrive and flourish.

Sitting in the fields of science, technology and engineering, we work in areas that are typically male dominated, so our Athena Swan activities have been important to us, and we feel we have a big role to play in encouraging more women into STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Maths). There are lots of reasons why it’s a challenge, for example the fact that not many girls study Physics at A Level, but we feel as an organisation that we need to take a lead on this issue.

"We have a very diverse community in WMG... [we are] one of the most ethnically diverse departments in the University – and it’s important to us to make sure that all of our staff and students can thrive and flourish"

Professor Lord Bhattacharyya founded WMG, and from his influence we have, from the very beginning, always been international in our outlook, partnering with companies and organisations around the world. Lord Bhattacharyya also cared very much about skills development for young people and WMG continues to have a strong ethos in outreach and engagement. He was instrumental in establishing the WMG Academies for Young Engineers in Coventry and Solihull, with the aim of encouraging young people to study science, technology and engineering, in a school setting which is more business-like and business-led. The academies support our aim to recruit more girls into STEM, but also, we made a deliberate decision to site those schools in areas of high social and economic disadvantage. Until last year, 100% of students attending the WMG Academies went straight on to university, advanced apprenticeships, or work.

For me, equality is about recognising the strengths of our people and making sure that everyone can flourish in our community. Obviously, we’re not perfect, and there are still things we need to do better. There are sector-wide issues as well, and the work that we’ve been doing on inclusion in recent years, including our staff surveys, have highlighted areas where we have some work to do. We wanted to grasp the nettle and really move our inclusion work on to the next level, it’s the right time to be really pushing forward in our activities in this area.

 

What do you see as the key critical equality issues for WMG to work on?

For students, increasing the number of women in science and engineering, in particular. We have made some strides in this area, but we need some more in-depth data analysis to really get into the detail of this.

"It’s about empowering everybody and making sure everybody knows... this is all of our responsibility, we are not powerless in this. We want you to challenge when things aren’t right, we expect you to challenge, and we will support you to challenge."

For staff, we need to make sure that we have the right progression routes and support for colleagues. We have had a big recruitment drive in recent years, which is great as it has brought in a lot of new talent into the organisation, but we now have the responsibility to make sure that these new colleagues are developing and can further their careers here. So, it’s not just about attracting people in but about retaining and developing. That’s got to be a strong focus for us now.

Also, although we do have a high proportion of BAME staff, breaking that down further we can see we have low numbers of Black staff. Again, there is a sector-wide issue here, but we really want to tackle this.

 

What has WMG been doing to progress social inclusion?

There are a number of things we’ve been working on in the social inclusion area, such as increasing the number of dignity contacts in the department, enhancing our compulsory line management training with more content on inclusivity, and establishing a Staff Disability Network.

But, to just focus on two of the biggest pieces of work we’ve been focusing on, firstly we’ve introduced mandatory Challenging Inappropriate Behaviours training for all WMG staff. For us, this is going to be a game changer. And actually, it already is, I’m starting to hear colleagues discussing it and encouraging other staff to attend, which is exactly what we want. And the fact that it’s mandatory is important, because we all know that often with equality training the people who really need to be there don’t attend. And it really is mandatory, we are committed to that, we will have all of our 800+ staff complete the training by the summer and that just takes us on a level from where we’ve been before.

It’s about empowering everybody and making sure everyone knows it’s their responsibility, it’s not just the responsibility of senior management and HR. Of course, senior management and HR do have a role to play, but this is all of our responsibility, and we can all do something, we are not powerless in this. Yes, you might be a junior researcher experiencing some issues with a professor, but what we’re saying with this training is that it’s ok to challenge. And not just it’s ok, but we want you to challenge, we expect you to challenge, and we will support you to challenge.

The training is 2½/3 hours, with groups of 20-25, so with 800+ staff you can work out how many sessions we are putting on, and we’ve committed that a member of the Exec team is at every single session for the whole session. It’s important for us to show that level of support for this training because we want to send that message that we are tackling this, we think this is really important, and we will support you.

“Our mandatory ‘Challenging Inappropriate Behaviours’ training is already a game changer.... We’re committed to have all of our 800+ staff complete the training by the summer."

The second thing I’d highlight is our Positive Action Campaign which launched last year. As a starting point, we conducted an inclusion staff survey, but we are also looking at other areas of focus such as a Staff Recruitment Strategy to increase the number of applicants from under-represented groups.

I think that the Black Lives Matter protests back in 2020 created an increased level of awareness and education for many of us, and within WMG started some conversations that, really, we’ve been needing to have for a long time. And, for the first time in WMG’s history we are an all-white Exec team at the moment, and we were very aware of that as a team. So we wanted to reach out to colleagues, hear about their experiences, and do some listening activity. The survey was very much the first part of us wanting to listen and understand.

In total 223 colleagues took the time to complete the survey, that’s about 30% of staff, so we’ve got a good amount of data and information from it.

And we had a mix of multiple choice and written response questions, and that qualitative data has been really valuable for giving examples that bring the data to life. So it’s been a really useful start, but we will need to do more listening, this survey isn’t the end, we now need to build on that.

In terms of the responses, of course there are some negatives in there, it’s not all positive. But the reassuring thing for us was that right at the end we asked a question about whether or not staff have confidence in WMG to actually take action on any issues, and overwhelmingly the answer to that was yes. So that gives us confidence that staff know we are taking this seriously and we will do something about it.

 

What positive outcomes are you seeing in WMG from this work?

Colleagues are starting to talk about inclusion issues, are attending the Challenging Inappropriate Behaviours training and are now able to use what they learn from the training. I know of at least two colleagues who used the skills to challenge some behaviours – thankfully these were not major issues, but some slightly careless comments that in the past would not have been challenged. However, these colleagues felt emboldened and equipped because they’d done the training, so they did call them out. And it worked, in both cases the colleagues who had made the comments reflected and apologised. So that is a great start! And those are just two examples that I personally know of, but with that happening all around the department that is going to change the culture.

 

Find out more...

Read more about Warwick's commitment, progress, and areas for improvement on social inclusion in our Report on Progress. Celebreate staff contributions to making Warwick a better place to live, study, and work on our Social Inclusion Award pages. And, discover more of the work we are doing to become an internationally recognised leader in inclusion on our Projects page.

You can read more about WMG's social inclusion work on their Athena Swan pages.