Shades of Noir in Conversation with Deputy Vice-Chancellor & Race Champion Stephen Reid

Courage , Leadership & Role-modelling is what I suggest are the three important features. –  Stephen Reid

Photography by Jay Lee.

Shades of Noir caught up with Stephen Reid, the Deputy Vice-Chancellor – Chief Operating Officer and Race Champion of UAL, University of the Arts London in his office in High Holborn.

Stephen’s key responsibilities as Deputy Vice-Chancellor – Chief Operating Officer includes guiding recruitment, estates, IT, communications, fundraising and alumni strategies, and overseeing aspects of the University’s commercial activities.

Stephen has a background in business at Harvard University and holds an MPhil in Politics from Oxford and joined UAL in 2011 from previous Imperial College Business School, where he was Director of Operations. 

We spoke about his previous experience working as the General Manager of BBC Wales and Controller of BBC Regional Resources. He spoke with a sense of nostalgia and fondness for those he worked with and talked about his upbringing in Brighton. Shades of Noir wanted to find out a bit more about his role as Race Champion and his thoughts on the changes happening within UAL at present.

SON: Since joining UAL back in 2011, how has UAL’s educational landscape changed from your perspective?

SR: ‘The evolution has been one of an awareness of the increase in costs for the students. The prime factor being tuition fees, alongside the cost of living, housing costs, I think these are the most notable features.

Secondly, for me is the expectation of students, they are consumers, they aren’t customers, they are consumers of what is offered meaning that they are very careful about what they consume and they expect high quality. I think there is one other factor that has noticeably changed and that is the use of measurements. Everything is being measured now. TEF, REF, NSS, anything that comes along now has some sort of metric associated with it, and that places a big demand on students expectations of us, and on the university itself.’

SON: Could you speak to us a bit about your role as Race Equality Champion: How long have you been race equality champion for?

SR: ‘It was originally created 3-4 years ago now, and each member of the executive board was asked if they wanted to become a champion of one strand of the universities activities and I actively wanted to be a champion for Race, so we outwardly created the Race Champion Forum.

The role as I see it is associated with doing things like using my DVC job to influence the way in which we handle Race matters, it’s also to do with the way in which I can shout loudly and therefore get things done; but it’s all predicated on something I’ve talked to Aisha Richards about, is that in my view there are, in most establishments (universities are not exception to this) there are practices, procedures & processes which could rightly be labelled as discriminatory and they work to the disadvantage of some groups, and sometimes it’s a product of conscious bias & sometimes it’s a product of unconscious bias. However, it is discriminatory and BAME staff are one of these groups, in my view, that can easily suffer at the hands of such practices and so the Race Forum and my role as a Race Champion is all about highlighting where we can make improvements and stop that degree of injustice.

‘Almost anyone who is conscious of what you read in the paper or what you see in the street .. you can’t help but notice that there are these degrees of injustice.’ –

I’m always surprised when people say isn’t it surprising? And I think well it’s all over the world & it’s certainly all over Britain. Why are you surprised by this? It’s simply uncovering what is commonplace.’

SON: What changes have been implemented since your role as Race Equality Champion?

SR: ‘Well, I think that through pressure, not only from me I might add but from Shades of Noir will be one such group, GEMS will be another such group, the END Department will be another such group..so it’s not me alone by any means, but it’s a combination of the pressures that have been applied, such as :

  • Anonymous Shortlisting.
  • Mentoring Schemes. For ex: The en>route Mentoring Scheme
  • Having BAME representatives on the appointment panels
  • Looking at the membership of academic committees, looking at whether it’s fairly representative, etc.

There’s a whole stream of single, not necessarily big events in themselves but that’s the way in which change will occur, it will occur incrementally, there’s no single solution, but lots of little things will help. I think it’s identifying what those small things are and getting them remedied, shaking the tree if you like, to make these things happen.’

“The fact that’s it’s not just me, it’s a whole group of people. You share information, you build understanding, then that’s a good step in itself I think it needs lots of steps like that.”

SON: What does this role mean to you?

SR: ‘For me personally, within this role, I think that there are some people that don’t agree with me on some issues, they think I’m wrong and they would think that I shout too loudly or complain too frequently about what it is that I see needs to be remedied. But then such criticism only makes me stronger, so I might pursue it more vehemently as a result of people saying ’there’s something wrong with what you’re doing’.

“Let’s not see everything through the eyes of the white male.”

SON: How do you think we will change the landscape and culture? What advice would you give to students (mainly overseas and those of colour) if they are aiming for executive positions to be change makers themselves?

“It starts with changing simple things like the imagery that we use and the language that we use.”

SR:  ‘I was asked a similar question at an event which involved Shades of Noir a couple of weeks back, and the single word answer to what do potential students need to have or actual students have to do? That’s to have courage. They must have courage because they are going to have to force their way through the existing arrangements and they are going to need to do that. But to do that you are going to need to be courageous. And when it comes to the institution itself, the organisation, like UAL or people like me,  then I think there are some relatively simple things we can do, the first thing we need to do is to create a vision informed by those that have knowledge and experience, then you need a group of people who, like a coalition, will be pursuing that vision and that’s rather like the Race champions Forum. The third is to recognise those people that are champions of this vision, and they can be all over the institution, communicating what you need to do, setting targets about what it is and finally to celebrate successes, so when you have a win you celebrate it and publicise it.’

SON:Since the Arts SU event Working through the gaps, what is your view on the place for cultural awareness in our institution for both staff and students?’

SR: ‘I would say that we need to offer up opportunities for people to become aware of their own cultural sensitivities, of the way in which we may stereotype others according to certain images that we have, and that’s the sort of unconscious bias online training that we’re exploring at the moment and we hope to launch next year. Because that will identify the way or help identify the way we tend to have certain pictures of people, and therefore follow a particular path and image that we have of them and we need to question those images.’

SON: Aisha speaks very highly of you as an ally, what would you say are the three most important things senior management should be considering to be part of the changes they want to see or need to see?

SR:Courage isn’t restricted to the students, so the management has to be courageous, firstly. The second being that they need to be a role model and the third is that they have to lead, and as I say, it’s not just them, they have to grow this sense of awareness and participation throughout the organization and if we could do that we would be very successful.’

Words by Tiffany Webster.

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