Dr Dominik Jackson-Cole, Equality, Diversity and Inclusion Learning Adviser at SOAS University of London talks to us about his career in the HE sector.
Name, role and university
My name is Dominik Jackson-Cole, I work as the Equality, Diversity and Inclusion Learning Advisor at SOAS University of London.
Please could you tell us about your role at the University?
I’m based in HR, but I work on issues of equality and diversity and sometimes my role is based in different universities, based in either HR or in equality and diversity or in staff development, I’m in HR and staff development. And my role is to basically train staff, academic and non-academic staff, around issues of equality and diversity. So, things like the equality law, things like unconscious bias, harassment and so on. As well, I work with academics specifically on making their teaching more inclusive.
How did you come to work in higher education?
I’ve always worked in Higher Education. I didn’t know I would work in Higher Education to start with. I did my undergraduate degree in Geography, thinking I would be a Geography teacher, but then I thought, no, I don’t want to be a teacher, it’s a bit too bureaucratic, so I’m going to go and do something more suited for me and I started with widening participation, so encouraging people from all backgrounds to go to university. So, that’s how I ended up in higher education. I’ve always had an interest in training, I did an internship at the European Commission in the Staff Development Unit and HR Admin DG, which is Director General, in the European Union Commission. And from widening participation, I noticed that I wanted to work not just on getting students into university, but also on what’s happening within university, and then I realised that that requires me concentrating not on students but on the staff. So, that’s how that led me to equality and diversity and that’s set in HR. So, I’m a bit different from your ops, from your recruitment people, but we are all connected because we need to work together to make sure that our staff are developed to bring the best service to students and other staff members.
Would you say your role is purposeful and meaningful?
I’d love to believe that I have some kind of impact on people. The whole idea of training people in equality and diversity is to improve this world, to equalise opportunities between different groups of people and to foster good relations. So, I definitely feel that working in higher education allows me to do that. What I really love about higher education is that, to me, it raises the next generation of people who will be making this country a better place and the world a better place, because SOAS is such an international university. So, yes, it definitely makes me feel that I have some small input into people’s lives and just through actually direct contact with people, I get a lot of positive feedback saying, you’ve really made me think about things that I’ve never thought about, you really made me question my assumptions and that’s good because change happens through questioning ourselves. So, I definitely feel that I have some kind of impact is definitely important for me.
How do you think working in higher education compares to working in a commercial environment?
I haven’t worked in a professional role in private sector, I worked during my undergraduate studies, I worked in the hotel industry, so that’s something completely different, so I can’t really compare. What I know from my friends, they have a lot more perks, be it financial or better coffee in the office or stuff like that. But, you know, I think that in Higher Education, we care about each other, so we may not have a lot of money to spend on our staff as people would be paid in the private sector, but we care for each other for one another. Sure, I get massages every now and then as part of wellbeing, there was a wellbeing week or wellbeing fortnight this year we had at SOAS, which was just full of really nice events, trying to make us feel better at work. So, there are perks, there is work/life balance, maybe academics have it a little bit harder when it comes to the work/life balance, but I leave work at four, I come in early, I leave work at four and I don’t think too much about work afterwards and I know that in the private sector people complain about working really long hours and that’s not the case for me. I really enjoy my work/life balance.
Please tell us about your experience of the facilities on campus for university life/wellbeing?
SOAS is part of the University of London and therefore we have a whole network of facilities that we can access. So, there is discounted gym membership if we want, there’s obviously cafes all around our location with discounts because of being at SOAS or even within the buildings themselves, we have cafes which are quite cheap. For me, the biggest perk is a bit geeky because, as a staff member, even though I’m not employed on an academic contract, I have access to all the knowledge, I have access to the library, I have access to all the journals and so on, so I always have access to knowledge and I can learn and continue learning and that’s amazing. And, I guess, back to think about the perks, being sent to a lot of conferences and having the freedom to decide what conference I want and my manager is really understanding and my role, the better I can do my role, my manager’s understanding that it really takes a lot of my own learning to then improve how I perform my role. So, the freedom to go to conferences, to seminars, and that’s really encouraged, so that’s a big perk as well.
What are the most notable experiences you’ve had whilst working for a university?
Some of the opportunities, last year I was sent on the Erasmus training week, which was just an amazing week in Portugal, so that was great, all paid for by the European Union Erasmus Scheme, hopefully we will still participate in this. And that allowed me to network with people around Europe and compare ourselves, how we approach things in HR with other people around the continent and see where we are lacking, see where we are actually good at and start some cooperation. So, that was a brilliant thing. Another amazing thing is the kind of flexibility of work. So, you don’t have to work full time always, so I was actually studying and working, so for a long time I was working part time because I was doing my PhD and that really fitted nicely and my PhD was really connected to my work, so it was a mutual benefit for both my employer and my PhD because I was learning about things and applying those things and then applying those things and learning from that and so on and so on. So, that was pretty amazing.
What has been your career highlight working in higher education and why?
I think the biggest highlight of my career is the fact that I was able to shape my own post. So, when I started working at SOAS, I started working just as a general equality and diversity officer, advisor, but because people noticed that my strength was in training, they allowed me to kind of morph my role into training. So now, basically, the job that I am in is kind of created for me. So, I think that’s great. And the things that we’re doing really at SOAS right now are really impactful, we are really trying to improve how we do a lot of things, how we teach, how we assess students, so that we can make sure that we’re giving everyone the same opportunities for success and that’s really impactful and, for me, that’s a highlight. In my previous role, I worked at Kingston University and I worked on closing the racialised warning gap over there and we were, I mean, Kingston still is at the forefront of that work, so working in a team which is nationally recognised as being leader in a field was a big highlight for me, so that was a great experience too.
What are your tips or advice for those considering a career in HR at a university?
It’s difficult to give a tip on how to shape your career, because when I talk to my colleagues in HR, not all of them have HR qualifications, HR degrees and so on, because there’s such a variety of skills that is used in HR, where you can actually come from almost any background. So, I guess, depending on the role within HR, you have to be passionate about people. If you’re passionate about spreadsheets, that’s also good because that’s also needed. But I would say don’t let the image of HR as just people who are processing payroll stop you from applying there because it’s a much more varied department with a lot of roles and a lot of skills needed, like I am in HR but I don’t know anything about payroll, to be honest, and a lot of people on payroll don’t know a lot about equality and diversity, so we complement each other. So, don’t let that image of HR as the people who are bad and very admin focused scare you because that’s not exactly how it is. There is admin, but there is also a lot of fascinating roles.
This interview was conducted before the Coronavirus Pandemic. Working arrangements on university campuses may have changed due to social distancing measures.