cc REF Equality & Diversity Advisory Panel,
We write to you from Goldsmiths College, University of London on behalf of concerned female members of staff and members of our local branch of UCU (University and College Union) at what we consider to be unfair treatment of women staff. Last Friday January 22nd, Goldsmiths announced via a ‘Staff News’ memo that the government furlough scheme, which has now been extended to include parents and carers when schools are closed, would not be offered to staff undertaking legal ASOS (action short of a strike). This was reported on in the Guardian here. Goldsmiths UCU is currently undertaking ‘action short of a strike’, a limited form of industrial action, in response to the substantial cuts to staffing underway since May 2020 and the College’s failure to carry out Equalities Impact Assessments on those measures.
Parents and carers undertaking homeschooling since school closures on January 5th, wrote and then met with the Deputy Director of HR on January 13th to encourage the College to offer furlough along similar lines to UCL, Kings and other universities across the UK. It has been well-documented by now that the lion’s share of home-schooling has fallen on women workers, and after almost a year of long-term, then intermittent, school closures, so many female members of staff are at breaking point. The designation of university staff as key workers to enable access to school places is of little use as many schools limit places to dual parent key workers and other criteria, and many members of staff want to play their part in protecting teachers and keeping infection levels down in London during this acute phase of the crisis.
It came as a shock to members when the College finally announced that there would be a flexible furlough scheme, but that it would not be offered to the large number of staff undertaking legal and legitimate action short of a strike. Goldsmiths has a very high density of union membership, increasing each week since the Covid crisis, so this affects a significant number of female staff on Grade 6 and up. It was very difficult news to read also because the dispute leading to this action was partly in response to the College’s failure to carry out Equalities Impact Assessments on a range of staff cost control measures put in place during the summer of 2020. Cuts to casualised members of staff had unequal impacts across categories of race, gender and disability, and the blanket cancellation of promotions and cuts to research leave will only exacerbate inequality in our research environment and in senior staffing gender balance – an issue documented and flagged already by Athena Swan in the Goldsmiths submission for a Bronze Award.
Reaching out to HR in January on this issue was not a first for female parents of staff who are parents or carers. In July 2020 a carefully conceived and researched memo on how to support parents and carers through Covid-19 was written by female staff members and included reflections on how research, Athena Swan and long term equalities commitments could be mitigated throughout this crisis period. This memo was ignored by HR and our senior management and none of the suggested actions were taken up.
We are extremely disappointed that the college has knowingly taken actions that will be clearly detrimental to gender equality in our institution. Parents and carers are at significant and sustained levels of stress, and there are government schemes in place to support us and to help get levels of infection down in our communities. Staff are perplexed at this seemingly cruel decision to be strategic with the internal eligibility criteria of the governments’ scheme, which should be designed to support us. We do not understand why equalities are not being monitored throughout this period, or why our proposals and concerns are being ignored. Some of the children of our members have underlying health conditions or special educational needs, so the more options for support for them, the better.
Quoting the Athena Swan Charter, we believe that the refusal to offer furlough to parents and carers is not a sign of ‘inclusive working practices’ that will ‘increase retention of valued academics and professional and support staff’ and does not demonstrate Goldsmiths ‘commitment to an equitable working environment’, but rather its opposite.
We urge you to write to our Warden Frances Corner about this matter and are happy to meet to discuss these issues further. Thank you for your time and attention,
GUCU Branch Officers