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London, United Kingdom
I am an engineering academic at University College London where I work on the sustainability of urban water systems. I am interested in the role of engineers and technology in sustainable cities.

Wednesday, 24 October 2012

If I were a senior manager and you were a lady

It is easy enough to complain and deconstruct, harder to make positive suggestions for change. Here are a few things I would try to improve the gender and race balance in my organisation if I was a senior manager:

1) Have a party. There is every possibility that I would be the first or one of the few to be in such a position. I would drink champagne and try to enjoy my achievement. I would now be a role model for younger women, and it is important that role models have fun.

2) Appoint a core team of advisors, from inside and outside the organisation. This would include experts in gender, race, technology, engineering and leadership. I would listen. I would pay them. I would ask them to work with me on devising new systems and taking action.

3) Take all my managers, heads of department, major groups and informal leaders on a one day retreat. This would include smart and interesting training presented by recognised leaders (not generic training consultants), and action planning for each of the participants' areas of accountability. I would audit progress and updates on action plans annually.

4) Create a special fund for recruiting women and people from minority racial groups. I would make it a requirement that every selection panel include at least one woman on the short list. If no decent women apply, then I would pay for a head hunter to find a suitable woman to be interviewed. If a woman or person from a minority race was selected as the best candidate I would provide additional resources to make sure we were in the best possible bargaining position to convince them to join us. I would ask my HR department and its lawyers to find a way to make this happen, not give me excuses why it couldn't.

5) Head hunt the best women and people from minority races in every field that was of strategic importance to my organisation. These would be the most outstanding people in their field. I would make my organisation the best place in the world for them to work.

6) Keep listening to the women and people from minority races who work in my organisation. I would do everything I could to address their concerns, make changes to accommodate their needs, and make my organisation the best place in the world for them to work. I would make strong counter offers should they be recruited elsewhere. I would arrange for exit interviews for every woman or person from a racial minority to find out why they are leaving, where they are going and what they thought of their experience with us.

7) Make paternity leave compulsory and provide the necessary support for this to have minimal disruption.

8) Devise a 'little sexism' and 'little racism' reporting scheme. This could be tricky given legal frameworks for bullying and harassment, but it would be a completely anonymous and confidential means for getting to grips with the culture of the organisation and everyday experience of discrimination on the ground. It would be a way for people to share their experiences without the trauma of adversarial complaints procedures. I would publish highlights and analysis annually, along with gender and race monitoring statistics.

9) Make gender a key focus for my media and publicity team. I would set targets for gender and race balance in media representation or press releases. I would ask them to make a big deal about the achievements of all women and racial minorities in my organisation. I would audit all websites, advertising and brochures for gender and racial representation.

10) Encourage known misogynists and racists to consider whether their skills might be more appreciated elsewhere, no matter how much 'value' they add to the organisation.

I am not a senior manager. I am just a senior lecturer. As I try to put my head down and get on with my work I hope others are willing and able to take up this challenge, to keep up the critique, and generate and implement new, practical ideas for change.

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