NUS’ Black Staff Group interviews Simon Blake

Tuesday 06-10-2015 - 17:34

NUS’ Race Matters report on the experiences of Black staff in the student movement states increasing Black representation and creating organisational change requires leadership. To explore this, the NUS Black Staff Group interviewed NUS’ Chief Executive Simon Blake as a part of their Black History Month programme of work.

What are your reflections on the Race Matters report?

Race Matters is a really important report. Important that it was done, important in the evidence and insights it provided, and important in the recommendations it set out. But probably most important is the discussion it has generated since it was published. 

Having recently joined NUS, the report appears to have opened up new space for important conversations about what needs to happen next to ensure that in ten, twenty and thirty years’ time both NUS and the whole student movement has a sabbatical, officer and staff profile, including people in the most senior positions, reflecting the diversity of the population across the UK. I am really pleased that following the publication of Race Matters the first Black Leaders' Conference will take place on Wednesday 11 November (you can register for the conference here).

As NUS Chief Executive, what do you believe your role is in promoting race equality and increasing Black Staff Representation?

Firstly, it is part of my job to ensure NUS is an inclusive and welcoming place for everybody to work in at levels within the organisation. It is also part of my job to champion race  equality within NUS and across the student movement and continually ensure that promoting race  equality is on everyone’s agenda. 

NUS has an equality and diversity strategy, and within NUS the HR Sub Committee has been discussing our aspirational goals for improving Black staff representation at all levels within the organisation. It is my job to ensure we continually nurture, develop and evaluate our policy, practice and culture to be able to deliver those goals.

Race equality, Black staff representation and leadership is, and has to be a priority for NUS and the movement; and NUS must provide clear leadership; ensuring sufficient time and resource for positive action to be taken. 

Why is it important to you to have a diverse workforce?

All of the evidence, backed up by my personal experience, demonstrates that a diverse workforce makes an organisation a better place for employees to work, enables a better understanding of the diversity of 'customer needs' and boosts creativity, innovation and delivery. 

Leaders within civil society organisations working for social justice, which students' unions and NUS are at the forefront of, must walk the talk actively seeking to break down barriers and ensure that, as individuals and organisations we experience and demonstrate the benefits of a diverse workforce.

In five years how would you like to see the movement looking in relation to Black representation, not just in NUS, but across our member unions?

I would like to see NUS and member unions be much more reflective of the diversity of the population including at the very senior levels. Therefore, I would like to see an increase in the number of Black staff and officers working across the movement. It will require commitment and focus to increase the levels of Black sabbaticals, officers and staff across the movement.

How important is solidarity across different liberation groups in ultimately defeating oppression, domination and discrimination?

Solidarity is very important because although the experiences and lived realities will be different there will be shared experiences of oppression, domination and discrimination which can provide support, as well as ideas and strategies that create change. It is also crucial in all social justice work that we recognise people have multiple dimensions to their identity and experiences, making solidarity across liberation groups vital.

The NUS Black Staff Group works to ensure Black staff are at the centre of the work NUS does to challenge inequality and promote race equality; with the aim to create an inclusive organisation. To find out more please contact the Black Staff Group Chair and Equality and Diversity Consultant Mandeep Rupra-Daine.


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