Most institutions find it difficult to change their prevailing cultures. It is all the more challenging for the University of Cambridge, with roots in a male monastic culture extending back 800 years, and with an exceptional record of success as traditionally defined. So why change now? One simple answer to that question is that the world around us has changed, and is changing, very fast; if we do not respond then we shall be left behind. It would be churlish not to recognise the progress made in recent years, partly in response to external legislative pressures. However, the stories in this book give us more powerful, and more humane, ways of thinking and acting. They show us that if we learn from these, we can do better: we can create a workplace and an environment that encourages and allows a diverse set of individuals to flourish and contribute in a wide range of different ways that enrich the experience for both women and men.
As Pro-Vice-Chancellor for Institutional Affairs, I am responsible for the wellbeing of all 10,000+ University employees. I chair the Human Resources and Equality & Diversity Committees, ably supported by the staff of the Human Resources Division. So I have formal responsibility for the matters that concern this book and for pursuing the agenda that it sets out.
But I also bring to this role a personal commitment and perspective. Some of the feelings of exclusion (implicitly from a boys’ club) that come through the experiences uncovered in this project resonate with me: as a Jew, growing up on a council estate, educated at a comprehensive school in Wandsworth and with no interest in either pubs or sport, I felt an outsider even before I arrived in Cambridge as a PhD student. It is still easy to feel excluded by the casual conversations of senior colleagues about rugby, cricket and rowing. Some who start as outsiders make the (possibly unconscious) decision to become ‘one of the boys’ as quickly as possible, and that includes some women too. I did not take that route, but I now realise that not conforming actually demands a lot of self-confidence and also usually another support group, in my case my wife and family, and the research group that I lead: my academic family. We have all had experience of being an outsider, or in a minority, in some part of our lives – and whilst we have different ways of coping with this, my hope is that Cambridge will become increasingly inclusive, so that difference is embraced and celebrated and the effort that is expended on fitting in or conforming can be used to more exciting and productive ends.
The natural bonding between those who share common backgrounds and interests need not be criticised, and can be hugely supportive: what matters is that important decisions are not taken informally by a group of insiders, but are the result of rigorous, accountable processes and good governance.
Cambridge is an academic-led university, with excellence in its teaching and research as key priorities. This has – too often – meant that managerial and administrative excellence have been seen by academics as less important. They have not always recognised the key contribution that good management, by them and by their administrative colleagues, makes to enabling that academic success. However, I am clear that it is only through bold leadership, excellent management and administration, and by providing the most supportive environment for all of our staff, that we shall be able to maintain our outstanding academic standards in a rapidly changing world. This means recognising and applauding excellence in all aspects of our activity, and at all levels. This book’s open enquiry into an inclusive definition of success is one way we can do this. The Employee Recognition Scheme for members of the United Administrative Service, launched in 2012 by the Registrary, is another great example of this way of thinking.
However, recognising and embedding different types of success is not necessarily easy: as we strive to make our appointments and promotions processes more objective, fair and open to scrutiny, the temptation is to become more quantitative in our assessments. That might lead us to measure more and to feel less. There is clearly much work still to be done in this area; the questions raised in this conclusion provide us – both individually and institutionally – with some direction for our next steps.
I hope that the publication and wide distribution of this book, and the success stories that it celebrates, personal and professional, will contribute towards the changes that are still required, ultimately inspiring women and men to work together to help redefine success – not only in Cambridge, but everywhere.
Professor Jeremy Sanders FRS
Pro-Vice-Chancellor for Institutional Affairs
University of Cambridge