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Judith Whitaker, Executive Director of Human Resources, shares her plans for developing the University’s HR service and some of the highlights from her recent EB Lunch session on equality and diversity.

The idea for this update came about as a result of the Executive Board lunch session that I hosted on equality and diversity last month together with Professor Judith Rankin, Dean of Diversity. On that occasion, I made a commitment to share the high level discussion of the group with the wider University, so this seemed to be the perfect opportunity to introduce myself properly to those of you I haven’t yet had the opportunity to meet and to share the highlights from the session and my priorities for human resources over the coming months. 

As you might expect, my first few months have been spent learning about the University, how HR operates at Newcastle, and finding out more about the culture of the University. By that I mean the way things are done here that makes it distinctive –  I wanted to understand not only where we are getting things right but also where we might need to make some improvements. 

At the heart of this review are three key principals that I always try to work to.

  • Firstly, customer service – the service we provide for all of you - should be at the heart of everything we do in HR.
  • Secondly, I want to move us towards providing as much of the service as possible online, reducing both paper and processing time, which in turn facilitates a much more efficient, quicker and more effective service.  
  • Last, but by no means least, I believe in a mantra of ‘once and done’: that is, that we get it right first time, which again links straight back to great customer service. I’m hoping you can see the recurring theme in all of this. 

To help us put these principles into practice, I have identified some priority areas for improvement. Our recruitment process needs to be more customer focused, both from your perspective as the recruiter and that of the candidates who are our potential employees.  If we want to attract the best people to work here, we need to have an attractive offer supported by an intuitive recruitment process. 

Linked to this will be a review of job descriptions. We currently have over 900 different job descriptions, so we will be looking at job design and job evaluation with the aim of reducing not only volume but also complexity.  

Supporting our academic and professional services colleagues to be the best they can be is another priority.  We intend to review the performance management system to ensure that it is genuinely able to support all our staff to be the best they can. 

Running alongside this work is the review of our Equality and Diversity Strategy. Recently, I hosted a lunchtime session on equality and diversity, and I said that I would share the key themes that arose. The discussion was wide ranging and covered a multitude of topics including: the review of parenting needs and the provision of nursery facilities; the need for parity of esteem and mutual respect for both our early career researchers and Professional Service staff; and the challenges of racial and disability equality. 

One of the key messages that I took away from the session was the consensus that equality and diversity should be integral in everything that we do. This is something that I strongly believe in, and you can help us to achieve this. We know at the moment that there are gaps in our knowledge of the diversity in our staff community. 

None of this work is an end in itself: it is about providing effective support for the University and its people as we embark on the process of refreshing our strategy, vision and values. Essentially, a University’s business is its people and we need to nurture them so that we can all achieve our full potential. 

On a personal note, I am passionate about both HR and this University. It is a fantastic place to work: the people and opportunities that come together provide a dynamic and exciting work environment, and I’m still new enough to the role to be in awe of the truly amazing work we do here. So I want to ensure that the quality of our HR Service reflects that of our world class teaching and research and to that end I will be working with my excellent team to deliver a modern service that supports our University’s future ambitions.  

Judith Whitaker, Executive Director of HR 


published on: 15th May 2017


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