By Sarah Marten
Janine Chalmers works in the Policy, Planning and Governance section at the University of Aberdeen as Equality and Diversity Adviser. Under the legislation equality encompasses six strands: race, disability, gender, religion and belief, sexual orientation and age, and Janine helps the University ensure it is complying with all the necessary legislation, which is constantly changing. In the five years since she started this job, she has successfully built up the equality agenda within the University.
What is the main purpose of your role?
The main purpose of my job is to lead the equality agenda at the University of Aberdeen. This includes promoting equality and diversity within the University, ensuring that we comply with legal requirements and responsibilities, delivering training to staff and providing advice and guidance, both to staff and students. Developing the University’s policies in relation to equality and diversity is also my responsibility.
The Equality and Diversity Adviser role at the University is shared between myself and my job-share partner.
What does your job involve?
My job involves developing and monitoring our strategy for equality and diversity, and then promoting this within the University. We also must ensure that all new and existing policies are not directly or indirectly discriminatory – a big task! At present we are considering proposals for a reform of our teaching curriculum. I participate on several committees to ensure that any new proposals and policies are not discriminatory.
For example, a hypothetical proposal for new policy might suggest that all staff start work at 8 am. On the face of it this might not seem unreasonable as everyone would be treated in the same way and are being asked to do the same thing. However, we know that more women than men have caring responsibilities for children or others and this policy could indirectly discriminate against women. In this situation I need to ensure that the University complies with the relevant legislation, in this case the Sex Discrimination Act 1975.
How do you promote equality and diversity with the University?
Consultation and communication with staff is really important to us. Recently I sent a questionnaire to all staff to find out their opinions on equality and diversity within the University, the results of which are then used to influence policy. I also offer open sessions to staff and students, covering all the six strands of equality legislation, where they can ask questions and also give valuable feedback. This encompasses the whole university, but my role extends beyond this into the wider community. I also attend local equality groups to highlight the University’s commitment to equality and work in partnership with other organisations to organise events or raise awareness. I also sit on the Grampian Racial Equality Council.
What else do you do?
Writing succinct reports for the University Court and Senate is another aspect of my job, where I outline progress and developments in any new policy areas. This job also allows me the opportunity to develop new ideas and initiatives with the University of Aberdeen.
At Aberdeen we have a Harassment Advisers’ Network, which comprises a group of around 20 members of staff who provide support to other colleagues who may be experiencing bullying. As well as managing this group, I also co-ordinate the Annual Network Event for members where we discuss relevant issues and provide updates on legislation or policy.
Keeping in touch with other colleagues is important, and I attend regular meetings with ‘Equality Forward’, along with representatives from every university and college throughout Scotland. This provides a forum whereby staff working in the equality field can keep in touch, share ideas and best practice and support one another.
Are you involved in training staff?
At present we are developing an e-training programme in equality and diversity, which we hope to make available to all staff. I will work closely with staff from across the University to implement this exciting project, which will also involve customising the training to fit in with our requirements here at Aberdeen. Planning and delivering general equality and diversity training to all staff is also my responsibility, which includes preparing training materials using Microsoft PowerPoint.
Who do you work with?
My job-share partner and I work together to ensure a consistency of approach – we always make sure that we have a hand-over session once a week. A University Vice- Principal has overall responsibility for equality and diversity and we work very closely with him. The job also involves liaising with a wide range of university staff at all levels as well as students. We share a secretary with other staff in the Policy, Planning and Governance section.
How do you keep up to date with recent legislation?
This is a vital part of my job, as the legislative framework is constantly changing and expanding. At present there are about 300 pieces of existing legislation concerning equality and diversity, but hopefully the new Equality Bill should harmonise much of this. As a University we are regarded as a public body, and therefore take a lead role in government consultations. I am personally required to respond to these reviews and formulate our response from the University of Aberdeen.
I keep up to date by attending conferences and forum groups, and also by reading legal email bulletin alerts, journals and websites. As well as legislation, it is important to keep up to date with relevant case law.
Describe a typical day
There is no typical day as such, although I tend to find most days divide into two. I often spend half the day at my desk and computer, developing policies, undertaking committee work and writing reports. The other half is spent meeting and advising people. I also spend a considerable amount of time attending conferences and special events.
Why did you choose this work?
During my law degree here at Aberdeen I specialised in employment law and my final year dissertation was about disability discrimination. The whole area of equality and discrimination greatly interests me.
What are the hours/working conditions?
I work three full days from Monday to Wednesday and my job-share partner works the remainder of the week. The hours are usually 9.00 am to 5.30 pm, although I occasionally have to work in the evenings if I have a special event or committee meeting to attend. Time off in lieu is given for this, and there is a degree of flexibility with the job. There is a generous annual leave entitlement, which works out at about six weeks’ holiday each year pro-rata.
The University of Aberdeen is a flexible employer, and it is a very friendly place to work. Everyone also works hard!
Which of your qualifications have you found the most useful?
A law degree helps you to think about things analytically and prepares you to present a good case. It is not essential for this job, but is a big advantage. I completed the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD) qualifications in my previous job, which included learning about equality, and this has also been very beneficial. The practical experience and people management skills I gained whilst working in the HR department for Somerset County Council have also helped me in this role.
What skills and personal qualities are important?
A confident approach with excellent verbal communication skills is important in order to give advice to people at all levels. You also need to have good writing skills, to write documents of all kinds, including concise and accurate reports for senior management. The ability to think analytically about proposals and to interpret complex guidance and legislative documents is important. This job also requires you to be resilient to deal with sometimes conflicting demands.
What do you enjoy about your job?
I consider myself very lucky to have a job that I both believe in and am interested in, as many people are not in that fortunate position. I enjoy the communication and consultation that this job offers, especially when I sit down with staff and obtain feedback. The strategic part of the work, developing action plans and monitoring those is also very enjoyable. I also find writing proposals for new initiatives interesting and stimulating. One of the best aspects of the job is that there is the opportunity to make a difference, and the diversity field is becoming increasingly more important.
Keeping up to date with all the latest legislation can be a challenge, as can juggling work and home life.
What prospects are there and what ambitions do you have?
I am really very happy in this role for now, although generally within the University there would be lots of opportunities for advancement if I wanted to pursue them. The job itself offers great potential for development.
How does this job fit into your work-life balance?
I have a small son who is two years old, so working three days a week in a job-share arrangement works very well indeed. It was important to me that I did not miss out on time with my child, but at the same time I have been able to continue with my career.
What do you know now that you wish you had known before you started?
You need to be able to work within the culture you are in, and tailor proposals to your audience. Within a university, this means being aware of the time constraints academic and other staff face.
What advice have you got for people interested in this career?
You need to passionately believe in what you are doing and be very positive about equality and diversity. This area of work will give you the opportunity to help people realise that diversity is something to be celebrated.
If you weren’t in this job what do you think you would be doing?
If I hadn’t done Law at the University of Aberdeen I probably would have studied English and Drama, but I have no idea where that would have led! At various points in my life I have wanted to be anything from a vet to a lawyer but I’m glad I took the route I did!
Janine has Highers in English, Modern Studies, Biology, German, Chemistry, Drama and History. She then went on to study Law at the University of Aberdeen, although during her degree realised that training as a solicitor or barrister was not for her. Upon graduating, Janine joined Somerset County Council on their Graduate Management Scheme, working in Human Resources. Janine became closely involved in equality work, and also gained very broad experience of working in a large organisation. When she moved back to Aberdeen after four years in Somerset Janine was ideally placed to be considered for the newly-created position of Equality and Diversity Officer within the University of Aberdeen.