StellarHE: Bridging the Training Opportunity Gap for Racially Diverse Staff at City University

City University

We created the StellarHE programme to support and develop Black, Asian, and ethnically diverse leaders across higher education institutions. How? By equipping leaders from all backgrounds with the unique leadership competencies and strategies they need to respond to the challenges and opportunities they face within the world of HE.

A critical ambition of StellarHE is to lift and shift the higher education system by developing agents of change who challenge the status quo and contribute to creating high-performing, inclusive organisations.

The Leadership Challenge is a key vehicle to support our StellarHE leaders in this ambition by galvanising them to undertake a project of strategic significance to their institution.

In this blog, we introduce you to four StellarHE Fellows from City, University of London – Kiren Chima, Head of Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion; Shannon Zoe Precilla, Senior Student Success Officer; Lauren Regan, Digital Literacies Coordinator; and Mohan Sodhi, Professor, Operations & Supply Chain Management – who came together to launch a collective Leadership Challenge.

Tell me about the genesis of your collective Leadership Challenge

We all found StellarHE really impactful. And we thought: how can we share this knowledge? How can we share what we’ve learnt? How can we make a real difference within our institution?  Despite being in different Impact Pods, we were all motivated by similar thoughts.

The Line of Sight activity was an opportunity to undertake research internally by speaking to staff about their lived experience at City University – and the findings were so insightful. It became apparent that:

  • The racial diversity of staff declined at higher grades
  • Only a few racially diverse staff are in leadership positions
  • Staff in lower grades are often unaware of and /or face challenges when applying for management training opportunities

These insights really galvanised us around the issues of representation at senior level and the opportunity gap faced by staff at lower grades. Collectively, we began to consider:

  • How do racially diverse staff, grade six and below, have the opportunity to move upwards within the organisation?
  • How do staff access relevant training or experience if it is not available at their current grade?
  • How can we work towards bridging this clear gap?

The StellarHE session we had on ‘Cracking the Corporate Code’ was a real turning point in our thinking about access to opportunities for certain staff.

“It’s one of those chicken and egg situations: there’s all this leadership and management training if you’re grade six or above but for all the racially diverse staff at grades four to six, how do they actually get to that point in the first place?”

It became clear that trying to bridge that gap is where we could make a real impact, informed by these conversations to really understand the obstacles and barriers for staff who aspire to leadership. It was great to put our heads together and explore how we could empower staff here at City who might get a learning opportunity like StellarHE later down the line.

Talk me through moving from exploration to the design and delivery of Career Odyssey

We had many conversations about running a pilot workshop and then we just went for it! Shannon booking a room gave us a hard deadline and helped set the wheels in motion.

Once we had our initial plans in place we then worked closely with our Organisational Development Team to ensure our objectives aligned with City values. We also worked with the Brand Team and Comms Team to get the messaging out across the university; and the result? We welcomed 16 people for this pilot session and the feedback was extremely valuable and positive!

This collaboration worked so well because, on top of our shared vision, we all bring such different talent bases: Mohan delivers lectures, Shannon and Lauren have backgrounds in lesson planning and training, and Kiren’s work is focused on Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion (EDI).

Did you encounter any challenges in launching Career Odyssey?

As we came out of the programme and started to have discussions, we were able to tap into support from the Office for Institutional Equity and Inclusion (OIEI). As Kiren says, “ultimately, the OIEI is able to share the value that the Career Odyssey  programme adds and that it speaks directly to the institutional Charter Mark frameworks including the Race Equality Charter and Athena Swan.  There is really clear evidence behind what we’re doing and why, which we are able to promote as a real positive at City.”

The reality is that the associated costs and budgets for professional development within any HEI will always need to be used to support a wide variety of areas and initiatives. So, disseminating elements of our learning from StellarHE through the Career Odyssey programme for staff was fully supported.

Creating this in addition to our day-to-day roles proved to be a little bit tricky though, such as getting dates in the diary with everyone! However, we all took ownership of different areas and, and ultimately we all have a genuine passion for this work and the desire to make a positive change and lasting impact – that is why we’ve been able to move so quickly.

As Lauren shares, “for me, StellarHE was massively life-changing. So, I want to show the ongoing impact for the university, and the potential and power in handing this initiative over to future StellarHE cohorts. It doesn’t end with us.”

Continuing to create value: what’s your ambition for the programme?

The feedback we received from staff who attended the pilot has been so positive, and there are key elements we can utilise to shape and strengthen future sessions. We are excited to see this becoming a standardised part of City’s personal and professional development offering delivered on an annual basis.

As Kiren shares, “people have been curious to learn more about the programme, and more and more is being shared across City and with leadership teams including at our Race Equality Advisory Board. So, I think it’s already started to embed itself as a given that we’re going to have more of this.”

Right now, we’re thinking about the long-term: how do we keep Career Odyssey going alongside our day jobs? Do we pull in the next cohort and pass on the baton once their programme ends? What’s the best way to sustain what we’ve built?

The pilot was just the beginning. Career Odyssey is a vehicle for creating StellarHE cross-cohort connections, building a legacy at City, and developing agents of change committed to creating high-performing organisations.