Interview : Gill Cockburn & Cath Rose, n-able Co-chairs

Interview : Gill Cockburn & Cath Rose, n-able Co-chairs

Photo : Cath Rose, Jane Kenyon (of Girls Out Loud) and Gill Cockburn at the Inclusive Networks Awards 2015

Gill Cockburn and Cath Rose are the Co-chairs of n-able, the disability staff network at the University of Bradford. They have both taken the network to new heights, supporting lots of their members and beyond, as well as playing a significant role in making the university an employer of choice for many. In recognition of their great work, dedication and impact, they won the ‘Network Leader of the Year’ award at our inaugural Inclusive Networks Awards in 2015. We caught up with Gill and Cath to find out more about their awesome network.

WHEN WAS THE NETWORK GROUP FOUNDED AND WHAT WAS THE CATALYST FOR LAUNCHING THE NETWORK?

n-able (originally known as Disabled Staff Network), was founded in 2006 by Gill with the support of the Pro-Vice Chancellor. The first meeting was six people in a small room who discussed how to take forward the agenda for disabled staff at the University of Bradford. At that time, there was no formal support in place for disabled staff which was inconsistent with the University’s excellent reputation for disabled student support. Our network wanted to mirror this support for disabled staff and take the University forward as a sector leader in disability support.

WHAT’S THE PURPOSE OF THE NETWORK?

Initially n-able’s purpose was to provide a voice for disabled staff in all matters that affected them across the University, including influencing policy and practice. Over the past 10 years, n-able has evolved and now encompasses many things including advocacy, HR support, training, ensuring accessibility of the campus and delivering events. We are utilised as trusted consultants on disability discrimination and the Equality Act. Our members were originally disabled staff only, but we now include anyone who has an interest in the disability agenda at the University.

HOW IMPORTANT DO YOU THINK NETWORK GROUPS ARE TO SUPPORTING, AND DEVELOPING, MORE INCLUSIVE AND DIVERSE WORKPLACES?

Staff network groups are essential to the development of diverse workplaces. The support and advice they can provide to each other, colleagues and the organisation through first-hand experience and joint expertise is beneficial to all.

n-able holds a pivotal role in supporting the University’s strategic objective of Equality and Diversity and by supporting and promoting our work, the senior management team are able to demonstrate that the University is fulfilling part of its duty.

n-able were instrumental in creating the University’s Disabled Staff Guidelines which have formalised the procedure that line managers and HR must follow. Our network group has not only increased the confidence of disabled staff, it has provided a resource for all staff to use, to ensure that they are providing an inclusive and diverse provision throughout the workplace.

“Our network group has not only increased the confidence of disabled staff, it has provided a resource for all staff to use, to ensure that they are providing an inclusive and diverse provision throughout the workplace.”

IF YOU HAD TO CHOOSE TWO NETWORK GROUP HIGHLIGHTS, WHAT WOULD THEY BE?

n-able were the instigators of the University of Bradford’s Diversity Festival, held in April 2016 as part of the our 50th Anniversary celebrations. The festival provided staff with the opportunity to embrace their individuality in a safe and celebratory platform. The events highlighted the positive impact that disabled, LGBT+, religious, black…staff have within the University’s community, succeeding in ‘normalising’ and celebrating individual difference. A unified community was created where staff felt confident in accepting their individuality and embracing others. The events broke down barriers, challenged common myths and allowed staff to network and collaborate with new found peers and allies.

Another highlight was being awarded the ‘Network Leaders of the Year’ Award at the Inclusive Networks Awards in November 2015. We were up against well-established and large networks and it came as a complete and utter surprise to us (hence our lack of speech and totally surprised faces!!). This was the first awards event that we had attended and it set off a cycle of applying and being shortlisted for other awards. This vastly improved our confidence in our abilities and the network’s impact. It also gave us a platform to further our agenda at the University.

HOW IS THE NETWORK COORDINATED?

n-able is coordinated mainly by the co-chairs Gill and Cath. We hold n-able meetings four times per year and organise awareness raising events. The co-chairs also chair the Diversity Staff Forum, where the chairs from all equality networks at the University meet with the Equality Lead and the Vice-Chancellor. We then take forward a formal report to the Equality and Diversity Committee which is chaired by the Vice-Chancellor.

Photo : Cath and Gill are named ‘Network Leaders of the Year’ at our Inclusive Networks Awards 2015

Photo : Their names in lights – Cath and Gill are featured in our Inclusive Networks Awards programme

WHAT TYPES OF EVENTS AND OTHER ENGAGEMENT INITIATIVES DO YOU HOST AND ARRANGE FOR YOUR MEMBERS?

We design and deliver annual events for Disability History Month and International Day of Disabled People. We co-hosted an inclusive Guinness World Record attempt in December 2016, inviting staff and students and the local community to get involved. n-able was key in the design and delivery of the Diversity Festival where we hosted the National Association of Disabled Staff Networks (NADSN) Spring Conference 2016.

n-able works closely with the University’s staff networks and contribute to / get involved in their events where we can. We also have a really good relationship with the Student Union and the disabled student representative and work collaboratively on raising awareness.

We use Facebook and Twitter to reach members and a wider audience with a shared interest in equality and diversity. We have just launched a Twitter campaign #UNITEDatUOB where we hope to showcase our unique diverse staff and student demographic.

DO YOU HAVE SUPPORT FROM SENIOR FIGURES WITHIN THE UNIVERSITY AND HOW IMPORTANT IS THIS SUPPORT?

n-able has fantastic support from senior figures. The Vice-Chancellor championed the Diversity Festival and sourced funding for it. The Deputy and Pro Vice Chancellors are all aware of our work and we work closely with the Director of Human Resources. Our events have engaged support from the Director of External Affairs who promotes our work within and outside the University. This support has helped to advance our reputation, our influence and provides us with opportunities to get involved in high level business. Through these contacts, we are invited to consult on policy and procedure, ensuring that disability is considered.

THE NETWORK HAVE BEEN BESTOWED WITH A NUMBER OF AWARDS (AND NOMINATIONS) OVER THE LAST FEW YEARS, A HUGE ACHIEVEMENT. WHAT ROLE DO YOU THINK REWARD AND RECOGNITION INITIATIVES LIKE THE EUROPEAN DIVERSITY AWARDS, INCLUSIVE NETWORKS AWARDS AND OTHER AWARDS PLAY IN MOVING DIVERSITY, INCLUSION AND EQUALITY IN THE WORKPLACE AND BEYOND FORWARD?

The awards have had a huge impact on our network. The publicity generated following our success has assured our position as a necessary and vital support network. It has also highlighted that even a small University network can have a loud and relevant voice. n-able has featured in the local press and we have been interviewed on local radio. Our success at the European Diversity Awards meant that we were listed as one of the top disabled networks in the UK on the Global Diversity List. As a result of this we are being approached by external organisations who would like our expertise in setting up their own disabled staff network. This has significantly contributed to advancing diversity, inclusion and equality in the workplace as we are viewed as a reliable and accredited source of information. We contribute to the advancement of disability protocol and practise due to our national and international success.

“This was the first awards event that we had attended and it set off a cycle of applying and being shortlisted for other awards. This vastly improved our confidence in our abilities and the network’s impact. It also gave us a platform to further our agenda at the University.”

HAS BEING RECOGNISED IN THIS WAY SUPPORTED THE DEVELOPMENT OF THE NETWORK?

n-able has an excellent reputation across the University and the recognition gained has strengthened this. The support that n-able provide for individual disabled staff has increased by 50% each year since winning the Inclusive Networks award. Being viewed as a reliable source of information attracts more members who can see the positive outcomes of our work and our achievements. HR and Occupational Health recommend our network to staff who may be struggling with a health condition or disability as they are supportive of the impartial yet excellent support we provide.

DOES THE NETWORK COLLABORATE WITH OTHER NETWORKS OR COMMUNITY GROUPS?

n-able works closely with all of the staff equality networks within the University and we share good practice and ideas. The staff networks joined together to deliver and fund the Diversity Festival of which we are very proud of. This collaborative approach ensured that we celebrated all of the protected characteristics within the Equality Act. We also work closely with the Student Union group Choices 4 All who provide inclusive sports, volunteering and events centred around disabled people.

Externally we are a member of NADSN and our role is regional lead for West Yorkshire. Through this we have made links with West Yorkshire Police Disabled Staff Network and helped them to advance their agenda.
In August 2016, we were invited by an organisation of disabled people working with the National Media Museum, to consult on access for disabled people to the new interactive gallery.

“Having a visible network which is recognised and promoted for their excellence is very attractive to disabled people and advances the reputation of the University.”

DO YOU THINK HAVING A VISIBLE NETWORK IS POSITIVE FOR ATTRACTING STUDENTS AND STAFF TO YOUR UNIVERSITY?

Without a doubt! Having a visible network which is recognised and promoted for their excellence is very attractive to disabled people and advances the reputation of the University. We are visible on the University webpage and our success is promoted internally and externally, which hopefully contributes to attracting disabled staff and students to our incredibly diverse University. Bradford has a unique demographic and the University strives to ensure that inclusion is one of the key objectives of their provision. We have recently been listed as second in the world for supporting International disabled students, of which we are incredibly proud.

WHAT IS YOUR BIGGEST CHALLENGE AS A NETWORK?

Our biggest challenge is encouraging disabled staff to share that they are disabled or identify themselves as a disabled person. While we have increased staff confidence in some areas, this is the one thing that we continue to struggle with, possibly due to the stigma surrounding disability. Some staff feel that if they ‘disclose’ then they will be targeted by their managers, HR and Occupational Health and have their sickness levels monitored more closely. The Disabled Staff Guidelines were introduced to compensate for this and have helped, n-able championed disability related sick leave which is now incorporated into the Attendance Management Policy. However, we are still finding that disability data for staff is not reflecting the numbers of people that are in need of support. Disabled people have the added pressure to prove that they have their protected characteristic, which is unique to their trait.

Photo : Cath and Gill at the 2016 European Diversity Awards. n-able was awarded ‘Highly Commended’ in the ‘Outstanding Employee Network of the Year’ category

Photo : Snap happy – Team n-able having fun in the photo-booth at our Inclusive Networks Awards 2015

WHAT’S NEXT FOR THE NETWORK?

We are currently in discussions with senior management on how to take the network forward as the impact of our success means that the work and development of n-able is unmanageable alongside our day jobs. We hope that consideration of a disability project officer will be tabled who can take on the individual case work and development of the external opportunities.

n-able will continue to have the disabled staff agenda as its core business and continue the day to day opportunities that this brings. n-able will take the lead in the next Diversity Festival pencilled in for Spring 2018 and we will continue to influence policy and practice. Most importantly of all we are committed to demonstrating that even the smallest of networks can make a massive impact and noise!

KEEP CONNECTED WITH THE NETWORK :

Nobody is more influential when it comes to communicating your company’s brand and workplace culture, than the employees themselves. If you’d like to share your workplace, employee and community engagement and network group news and updates with our readers, then we’d love to hear from you. You can contact us here!

About The Author

Thomas Anderson

Founder and MD of Inclusive Networks. Thomas was Chair of the award winning LGBT network for The Co-operative Group, ‘Respect’ (2011-14). Thomas named the network and designed and managed all of the branding, communications and engagement until he stepped down from the role of Chair in March 2014. He also created the branding, name, was Editor of the quarterly magazine and developed the launch of the UK’s first Inter-Retail LGBT network ‘CheckOUT’. He contributed to the Stonewall Workplace Equality Index 5 Year review. In recognition of his work in the diversity field he was shortlisted for ‘Diversity Champion of the Year’ at the 2013 European Diversity Awards, shortlisted for ‘Role Model of the Year’ at the 2012 Lesbian & Gay Foundation Homo Heroes Awards and shortlisted for the ‘Positive Action’ award at the 2013 Asian Fire Service Association Fair & Diverse Awards. He also won the 2012 ‘Pride of The Co-operative’ award. He was a judge for Scotland's biggest diversity awards, The Icon Awards in 2016, 2017 and 2018.

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