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University of Leeds Oct 2023: Staff Roundtable Resources

Generation Delta Staff Roundtable Report 

2nd stage of the PGR cycle: Retention and Progression (RaP) 


Hosting institution: University of Leeds 

Date: Friday 8 December 2023 

Time: 1:00 pm to 4.00 pm 

Venue: Online 


  1. Introduction, goals and agenda 

This roundtable was offered to staff from the six Generation Delta institutions (Universities of Leeds, Goldsmiths, Reading, Sheffield, Plymouth and Sunderland). 


The aims/objectives for the session were to collaborate cross-institutionally to: 

a) Learn about the highlights of UUK’s Tackling racial harassment: progress since 2020 report
b) Brainstorm about how universities should respond to racism and sexism against Black, Asian and minority ethnic women on PGR courses
c) Brainstorm about what institutions can do to support the progression of Black, Asian and minority ethnic women on PGR courses 


The following was the roundtable agenda: 


Time/ duration  Activity 


1:00pm – 1:05pm   Welcome and schedule   Professor Iyiola Solanke, University of Oxford/University of Leeds 
1:05 – 1: 20   Project Introduction   Professor Amaka Offiah, University of Sheffield 
1:20pm – 1:30pm   Summary of Students Workshop   Professor Iyiola Solanke, University of Oxford/University of Leeds  


1:30 – 2.30pm   UUK’s Tackling racial harassment: progress since 2020 report (including Q&A)   Beth Cooper, Policy Adviser Universities UK 
2.30 - 3.10  


Breakout rooms: How should universities respond to racism and sexism against BAME female PGR students?    Generation Delta Team 



3.10 – 3.20  




3.20 – 3.50  


Breakout rooms: What can institutions do to support the progression of BAME women on PGR courses?   Generation Delta Team 


3:50m – 4:00pm   Wrap up   Professor Iyiola Solanke, University of Oxford/University of Leeds 


 2. Registration and attendees 

A total of 44 staff registered for the workshop and 32 attended the session, in addition to the Generation Delta team. 


3. Overview of Generation Delta 

By Professor Amaka Offiah (from the student workshop). Video: Professor Amaka Offiah.mp4


4. Summary of student workshop 

Professor Iyiola Solanke presents an overview of the key points raised by the students via the Mentimeter polls and the case studies the students discussed during the in-person workshop at Leeds earlier in the week: Gen Delta Leeds Staff Roundtable.pdf 


5. UUK’s Tackling racial harassment: progress since 2020 report (including Q&A) – Beth Cooper, Policy Adviser Universities UK 

To see the video of the presentation and the Q&A, follow this link Universities UK.mp4   

 6. Feedback from breakout groups Question 1 

How should universities respond to racism and sexism against BAME female PGR students? 


  • Things are going on such as awareness raising, workshops, but there’s a lack of impact, how do we quantify how the universities are responding? There should be mechanisms in place for PGRs when they bring up issues to the fore, so we know what’s the impact and how can it be measured in a way that we can see things have improved. 
  • Reporting mechanisms should be clearer, meaning more people are aware they exist and how they work.  
  • Allyship is also important in terms of reporting, because what I think XXXX was saying that, when more white colleagues start reporting things, then it seems to be something that is really powerful. But then an issue came up there as to whether why is it that when it's the white colleagues reporting it, it seems to be taken seriously. But when minoritised colleagues are reporting, it's not really taken as seriously. So there's a kind of power issue that even comes into the reporting mechanisms.  
  • It's not obvious what the consequences are for perpetrators of, you know, if you report something. It's not that obvious what the consequences are for perpetrators. Because, let's say, a perpetrator, might have disappeared because of something happening in reporting. Nobody really knows why that person might have disappeared. So it's not obvious that the university has actually taken any action against any perpetrators.  
  • And then there was a whole thing about safety numbers. If many people report something, then that might have more weight, that if one person reports it, and also, if people know that action is being taken, it might stimulate something like a kind of ‘me too’ movement, you know, when more people will come forward. 
  • It's quite difficult to evidence when there are microaggressions. Because sometimes that is not really all that clear as to you know, you might not have a specific evidence. I mean, obviously, people who suffer from racial and sexual discrimination actually know what they can identify, but it's very hard sometimes to articulate for example, in a reporting mechanism. 
  • Some of the instances that we were talking about were around staff, but none of us were able to think of an instance where there were particular targeted training or targeted discussions for PGR students. We talk about staff training, we talk about having these training sessions and so on, but in all the PGR training that we know that students undertake, none of us in the group, and that was basically us from Sheffield and Sunderland, none of us could really think about any training that had taken place that was targeted at PGR students, particularly given that many of them might have instances of racism and sexism from their own supervisors. You know, where is the training for that is targeted at PGR students, and perhaps even targeted at PGR supervision teams. Where is that targeted training?  
  • What we want to do is to get people early in terms of the training. Ideally from primary and secondary school. 
  • We started off by thinking about the thinking through what it meant to actually make an anonymous complaint, and whether actually colleagues in in human resources actually had training in how to deal with this because they're so used to not dealing with anonymous complaints. So maybe some time needs to be given to just think through how they could address this in a more systematic way, because at the moment they take a complaint which is based on one experience, and they try to address that one experience. But why could they not collate anonymous complaints to identify trends and patterns, and think longitudinally, and then address the issues arising from the complaint in a more general way. And then prompted a response that yes that the issue would do in that is that trust. Conversations with PGR students have shown that there's a lack of trust in this type of approach, because it's not clear who is accountable. The lack of trust is has arisen because of previous experiences where complaints have been made, and the response has been lacking.  
  • The solution was then for universities to embed reporting into the core of their business, so that it's seen as something that universities do in the same way that they do financial accounting, etc., they do reporting on racism and harassment, and that is, it is taken as seriously as a core part of the business. And in terms of who would do this, there was a suggestion that what universities need is a unit to oversee this this could either be in human resources or could be part of a separate unit focusing on equity. But importantly, the composition of this team would have to be people with lived experiences, so that those who are reporting the complaints knows that those who are listening to the complaints have a fuller understanding and a personal understanding of what they are hearing, and that would ensure that there was trust and openness in the university system. 
  • And then there was a comment about the time needed to build trust, and that brought us to a discussion then, about how the traditional disciplinary process really is insufficient when you think about it to work within the time frames that PGR students have. So, we all know that disciplinaries are a time-consuming process. And whilst that is ongoing, the student the complainant, is either in a limbo, or is trying to work in very difficult circumstances. And remember, the PGR programme is a time limited programme. So that means that whilst the disciplinary process is taking it's course, the student is then having to continue to work in perhaps hostile conditions or not work at all. And it's impossible for them to hang on for so long. And then, of course, there's the question of confidentiality that if something does happen, apparently the student isn't necessarily told of the outcome. So there's a disconnect between the policy, the process, and the student expectation, and that's predominantly because the process is not fit for this particular purpose.  
  • So, the suggestion there was that we need to think about a different type of process to deal with complaints from this particular cohort of students.  
  • And then the final comment was that actually, we need to also raise student awareness because there are many students who are coming to the university for the first time, and they just they're just not aware of the processes at all. 
  • We began by asking ourselves what training there was available for staff, but also for students. We did talk about the sorts of training there are, in particular in Plymouth. They have university level training that is mandatory face to face or online, ending with a quiz, and depending on how the staff do, they get a certificate. And then they have refresher sessions at various intervals.  
  • But training for students, what you could tell students is what to do if they felt that they are being harassed. But you can't really train a person on what is harassment because that is subjective to them.  
  • We focused quite a bit on actually wellbeing resources, and whether the reporting should be anonymous, whether it should be open and just in the same way that XXXX had talked about it, there was dissatisfaction. If you go ahead and report, what was the outcome? A lot of the students were personally dissatisfied with the outcome for themselves, but also, they had no idea there was very little feedback on what was the outcome for the perpetrator. And it's not necessarily that they want this to be punitive, but they need to know what has happened and will it happen again. 
  • We did talk about some self-care and ethics of care, not in the context of the student having to look after themselves if they'd been harassed, but in the context of having safe spaces and brave spaces, so that the students would feel encouraged to report what was going on, because there's a lot of under reporting as well. 
  • What came out actually was a lack of understanding within our universities, of what processes there really are. And maybe there should be more training for staff. 
  • I think that if we really want to create cultures of change, difficult conversations have to be facilitated. And just in same way that you would request mediation for other circumstances, I think there needs to be some kind of space created where the person who's experiencing it, if they want to, can actually have a conversation with the individual that is the perpetrator. And the basis of this is, I am thinking about like the truth and reconciliations processes that took place in in Africa. We have to have an environment where people are willing, where a space is created, where learning can take place around these issues and the actual real-life impact. And also, where we create space where people are fully supported to be able to voice exactly how the particular behaviour has impacted them. And I think unless we have sort of a shift of culture towards really creating opportunities where people can learn what they've done and how it's impacted, it's going to be really difficult sometimes to tackle these issues, because there's a lot of avoidance. I think there needs to be some sort of very specific focus training around, facilitating these types of conversations as a stepping stone towards resolving difficulties. If that's not possible, then I think there needs to be really clear robust mechanisms for tackling this, because if you say you have a zero tolerance for racism or discrimination, then there needs to be robust action taken when it has been made clear that this has taken place, if individuals don't want to engage in mediation or conversation. 
  • I think that ties in very nicely with the point that was made by XXX in my group, that the standard disciplinary process isn't working, and another way needs to be found. Because we're thinking particularly for Black, Asian, and minority ethnic women who are on postgraduate research programs. So it might be, as I showed in the case studies, that the conflict is with the supervisor, or the team leader, or the lab leader, and that is the kind of relationship that actually needs to be ongoing. So you don't necessarily want to destroy it. You just want to address the issue, and a more type of mediatory type process would be less confrontational and shorter than a disciplinary process, so that that might be a nice alternative route for institutions to take in relation to this cohort. 
  • I was actually just thinking when XXXX was speaking about in terms of what the disciplinary measures are. To what extent, if there is a perpetrator, to what extent is a disciplinary measure, actually sending them on a training program. And to what extent is that training? I feel that that discipline actually go on a 3-month or whatever training around you know, racism and discrimination. you know, is that some possibility within our universities? I mean, what are the different actions that are actually available. 


7. Feedback from breakout groups Question 2 

What can institutions do to support the progression of BAME women on PGR courses?  


  • We need safe spaces for postgraduates who have had to go through complaints, so that whilst the complaints might be being dealt with through disciplinary or whatever process, this individual will have a place to go to find community and be encouraged and reconnect with themselves, and feel validated during the process, because, you know, we all know doing a PhD is lonely enough, and if you're also trying to maintain your wellbeing during a complaint process, that can be even more isolating. So creating a safe space to protect and ensure the well-being of those who are going through these complaints is also important.  
  • Training for PGRs in relation to psychological safety, is also very important.  
  • And then we had a comment relating to culture change that we need to change the way in which we approach complaints so that complainants are empowered to come forward rather than feeling scared of coming forward, and part of that culture change is also to change the ways that institutions as a whole see complaints, not as something negative, or something that they should be punished for, but as something that they should be rewarded for, because if you feel confident to complain then that's an indication that the institution has empowered you, and that you trust the institution. So we came back to the issue of trust. 
  • And then we had a comment on the Generation Delta Network at Plymouth which was mentioned as good evidence of how important a safe space is, because it's already playing an important role in the life of the members. It's a place where they can get together and talk about some of their concerns relating to their studies, or just to life in general. 
  • And then there was a point that our institutions should also, in addition to creating the safe space, they should provide examples of how people have used the safe space and how that has helped them to progress. So the impact of the safe space would then encourage others to use it too. So there should be, I suppose, some positive stories provided of how the safe space is used and that could also be used as a forum for accountability. 
  • We then thought that the phrase ‘cultural competency’ was not precise enough. And we should use instead the idea of ‘cultural humility’. So cultural humility requires more than awareness. It requires the individuals to recognise their own culture, their own cultural limitations, and to be reflective and to do that and on an ongoing basis, so that there is ongoing growth and continuous education in relation to other cultures, because cultural competency can already seem like a bit of a a buzz word.  
  • And then XXXX told us about the process at Sunderland, where an EDI manager was appointed who was able to have some very immediate wins. So a couple of examples given about when the this person was contacted, and within a couple of hours could make a change that was very important to individuals. So ensuring that the structure where institutions do have EDI managers, EDI directors, EdI deans ensuring that they work within a structure that enables them to respond quickly to issues is very important, not only for individuals who might need their help, but also for the credibility of that role. 
  • And then XXXX told us about a new initiative in Leeds, where training well, the where the EDI team is talking about taking on training rather than human resources. So that would also make that would also create a different kind of slant to the training that is provided if it starts from an EDI perspective rather than a human resources perspective.  
  • What we were trying to think about was that some of the discussions that we've been having in terms of strategies and so on, have not necessarily warned in on the women who are racialised like some of the things are quite general strategies. So we were trying to think about, okay, how can we support racialised women through the PGR process. And one of the big discussions that we were having was around the fact that many of these women are older women. and they do have, you know, sort of childcare and caring responsibilities which would affect their progression and their experiences throughout their PGR programs. And we were trying to think of whether any of our universities actually had any sort of support for childcare, you know. Maybe if women had to, you know, go to conferences, or whatever.  
  • And there we spoke about at the fact that at Sheffield they used to have this program in place for early career researchers, not for PGR students. And they would provide these researchers with support such as childcare vouchers, or something like that would support them to go to these conferences, because that was seen as a barrier. 
  • We're talking about while we have meetings and so on for staff, we take account of not having meetings too late or not having meetings, you know, maybe in an evening or something, because we recognise that some people have these caring responsibilities. Do we do the same for PGR students as well?  
  • And actually, XXXX made an interesting comment there saying that it would be really important for us to have dynamic responses to people, taking account of their different needs. So, do we have this kind of dynamic responses, for example, to women from minoritised groups who might have these caring responsibilities, and as universities we should be agile enough to be able to support people with different needs.  
  • There was more of a responsive approach to the women that are currently sort of within the institution and sort of potentially seeking postgraduate support, support for postgraduate studies that really, you know, they're clearly identified because there is this under representation, and that the university has kind of measures in place to really identify who they are and support them through the different stages. So, for example, my encounter with Generation Delta, and then meeting the work with the women in the workshop was so refreshing. And I think that you know, if there is more of a joined up approach, and lessons are learned from the Generation Delta experience that can feed into the way that institutions respond to this under representation, then I think, you know, we're really laying the foundation and creating, you know, opportunities, more opportunities and possibilities for the women that need to know more need that kind of peer to peer support, and safe spaces to share their difficulties, and the barriers that they are facing, and the institution, you know, putting in measures to help them through those barriers or over those barriers, and then on to progress. 
  • There’s no culture of what happens after the PGR. So, you know, we don't really collect information on what happens with our PGR students when they finish, or even to collect information on what their experiences have been when they have finished their programmes. So that might be some useful information for us in terms of how do we address some of the issues? Maybe there might feel more comfortable talking about what happened to them after they finish rather than during, you know, when they're actually there, they might feel a bit more liberated to say you should have done that, so maybe that might be something that we can also think about to get some of this feedback from them after.  
  • There’s no ‘exit survey’ for PGRs. We have ‘exit interviews’ for staff but we don’t have the equivalent for students, when the latter are closer to being staff than students. We should have ‘exit interviews for PGRs. 
  • We had a really interesting discussion about kind of individualised support versus more institutional support. And obviously there were, you know, a mix of suggestions and the need for both. XXXX talked about the introduction of studentships at Sunderland, and how that is helping to sort of build role modelling as well as building community and, in the sense, that you know, there are groups that allow students to meet and provide peer support. And obviously we talked about Goldsmiths because we're 2 years in on our Generation Delta studentships, how the community is really building there. And there, you know, like XXXX group, we talked about the safe space and the peer to peer support, which has been really invaluable. And XXXX, you know, obviously, we're hoping to sort of widen that to make it more relevant to students who are thinking of applying. You know they are students are sharing applications as well. So I think that the idea is to really build that kind of support as well as building the community.  
  • They talked about sort of wider schemes that are being tried at Sheffield, including mentoring and also reverse mentoring, and the way in which that has really sort of opened up as been kind of eye opening for some people in terms of the issues that students and staff might be experiencing. I think XXXX and XXXX talked about the need for supervisors to have support, actually, a more awareness training connecting a bit with our day’s point, but also XXXX was talking about how the support is often very white, and how students need the lived experience of mentors also to be considered, and support for those staff to be made available, for institutions to really support the staff who are supporting the students. I think that is a real issue. I think XXXX had talked to as well about burnout for those who are often responsible for giving that kind of support. There was a recognition that institutions are changing quite slowly.  
  • And also, another point about not wanting to burden PhD students so networking and working collectively are really important. And it's really about sort of building that community, but having institutions get that focused support through schemes as well as supporting the staff who support students.