Academy of Management recognition for Jeanette

Congratulations to Jeanette Hartley who has had a paper accepted for the virtual 81st Annual Meeting of the Academy of Management (AOM) on 29 July – 4 August this year. Her paper, ‘Management Consultants Navigating Competing Systems of Engagement’, was judged by AOM’s reviewers to be one of the best accepted papers in the programme. This entitles the paper to be published in the Proceedings of the 2021 Academy of Management Meeting.

Jeanette is a full-time PhD student who is supervised by Professor Richard Holti and Dr Giacomo Carli and is also an Associate Lecturer (B207: Shaping Business Opportunities).

A letter to First Years

Open Justice student and regular blog contributor Dona Mclachlan shares her experience of studying law at The Open University with students who are first starting out on their OU journey.

As you stand at the foot of the mountain of higher education, some of you may be on a familiar climb others new to the experience. Looking forward to the summit at the top may seem a daunting task, a seemingly impossible, long, difficult feat. Gain comfort from the knowledge that many have gone before you and succeeded in their endeavour. Some of you will sprint through in three years or less, others will take six years or longer. Timing matters not, this is your journey, enjoy it. You are about to embark on a life changing experience, embrace the challenges, you will overcome each and every one, celebrate the victories no matter how small.

There are numerous things you can do to assist yourself, start by not looking at the entire course syllabus for the degree, focus instead on what you can do today to further your studies. Today is all we have make the most of it even if it is just reading on your way to work, or spending 30 min after putting the children to bed. Every minute counts towards the climb to the finish.

Learn your way around the OU website, that is your campus, walk around virtually, know where to find things. Familiarity leads to calm assurance you can access your first tutorial ‘room’ or student services when you need some IT help. Make sure your technology is up to the job of finishing your course with anxiety free ease.

Most importantly join in, don’t be bashful. You will find the first face to face tutorial that took so much courage to attend is not full of glamorous super smart people who know all the answers, but individuals exactly like you with just as many uncertainties. You are not too old, too young, or too anything,  you are just perfect as a student. Those tutorials are not mandatory but so important to success, the data supports the fact students who attend and contribute to tutorials both face to face and online are more likely to achieve higher marks. Plus it is fun and  fantastic to meet other like minded students who you can study with. These fellow students are your network and can be support as you progress through the degree.

Get involved with the University, run for student office, join the law society, moot, mentor. The more you get involved the more you learn about the University, the tutors, the heads of the different departments. These individuals will assist you with personal references in the future if applicable, or offer guidance through some tough decisions about your future career. They have insight into many things and are accessible if you only just step up and make yourself known. Additionally you will feel a connection to your university and your peers that rivals a bricks and mortar university, a pride of place.  

Embrace the library, you are a university student now, develop a haughty disdain for google, you are above that. You will be given access to some very comprehensive databases. It is important you learn how to research in these databases with speed to not only to complete your degree but prepare yourself for the working world in your chosen profession.

Believe in yourself, you have got this. Everyone suffers from self-doubt particularly in that first module. Know the degree programme has been designed for success, the OU want you to succeed, your tutor wants you to succeed. 50 years of remote teaching experience and delivering material has gone into your course of study. You will be a success if you put the effort in.  

One day seemingly soon you will realize you are at the summit of achievement having accomplished with relative ease a feat you thought so daunting an impossibility at the beginning. You will have become not only more educated and more employable but a supercharged version of your former self, the best you can be. As you look from your summit the vista will reveal other mountains to climb only this time self-doubt and trepidation are absent because you know how to succeed, you are an Open University graduate!

Dona is an OU law student who is currently studying W360 ‘Justice in action’ and regularly contributes to the Open Justice blog. As well as blogging, Dona enjoys cold water swimming.

New Director of FBL’s Research Degrees Programme

The new Director of the FBL Research Degrees Programme is Dr Nicoleta Tipi who will work with incumbent Prof Emma Bell over the next few months before taking up her role on 1 August 2021. The Senior Lecturer in Operations and Supply Chain in the OU Business School was appointed following interviews at the end of February. Prior to joining the OU in October 2020, Nicoleta gained extensive experience with all aspects relevant to the role, working with students and colleagues across different discipline areas including management, leadership, law, accounting and marketing. She was Deputy Director of Graduate Education for the School of Applied Sciences at the University of Huddersfield for five years.

Viva success for Akash

Congratulations to Akash Puranik who passed his viva with very minor corrections on Wednesday 10 March 2021 with his thesis, ‘The Human Work of Collaboration: Towards an Understanding of Informal Unstructured Collaborative Projects’. The panel was chaired by Dr Anja Schaefer, the internal examiner was Dr Nik Winchester and the external examiner was Dr Christina Schwabenland (University of Bedfordshire). Akash’s supervisors are Prof Siv Vangen and Dr Carol Jacklin-Jarvis.

Resetting equality in work

At the start of the first UK lockdown, way back in March 2020, it became rather fashionable to reflect on how we were ‘all in this together’, all impacted by the coronavirus pandemic.

It didn’t take long for the cracks to show. What soon became painfully, obviously, clear was that while we might all be in the same storm, we are in very different boats – and some have sprung a leak. Inequalities weren’t exactly hidden pre-COVID, but the pandemic has exposed just how deep and entrenched they run in society.

It’s not hard to find stark evidence for this. The Institute for Employment Studies recently revealed that the UK’s lowest-paid workers were more than twice as likely to have lost their jobs in the pandemic than higher-paid employees. And research from the Joseph Rowntree Foundation has found that the pandemic has hit the lowest paid hardest financially too.

Meanwhile, black and ethnic minority workers are not only a staggering 26 times more likely to have lost their jobs than white employees, according to the TUC, but people from ethnic minority backgrounds are also twice as likely to die from COVID. That’s partly due to being overrepresented in lower paid, frontline jobs: people in some of these roles are more than three times more likely to be killed by the virus.

What is the point of our being applauded in the streets when the companies we work for pay us poverty wages and treat us as disposable? Being able to work-from-home or shield is not a privilege afforded to the lowest paid workers in our society

And then there’s the impact the pandemic has had on young people and women. An LSE study found that young people have been hardest hit by COVID-related job losses, potentially leading to damaging long-term unemployment. Women have been forced back into more traditional caring roles, either working from home while juggling home schooling and caring responsibilities or because many of the hardest hit sectors provide ‘service’ jobs more often filled by women.

“It’s plunged a lot of women in particular into the ranks of the working poor, while the working poor who were already in that category have become poorer,” says Jo Brewis, professor of people and organisations at The Open University Business School and a member of the research cluster Gendered Organisational Practice which sits within the academic centre of excellence REEF (Research into Employment, Empowerment and Futures). 

“Women are over-represented in sectors like personal care which cannot always be done from home. Some have been able to furlough but that isn’t always economically sufficient. And then the notion that somehow the domestic division of labour has changed dramatically over the last few decades – well, the data just does not bear that out at all. We’ve got a lot of catching up to do.”

What is the point of our being applauded in the streets when the companies we work for pay us poverty wages and treat us as disposable? Being able to work-from-home or shield is not a privilege afforded to the lowest paid workers in our society

In addition, she notes, the pandemic has highlighted how complex and varied experiences of inequality are. More than 30 years after Kimberlé Crenshaw, law professor at Columbia and UCLA, coined the term intersectionality as a way of seeing how various forms of inequality often operate together and exacerbate each other, the pandemic has shone a spotlight on how some people are subject to a wide range of inequalities.

“For example,” says Brewis, “if you look at data on women employees during the pandemic and the data on employees of colour during the pandemic, you can see that women of colour have been worse off as a result of the intersection of race and gender than either men of colour or other women.”

Meanwhile, if you add in having a disability the picture is even bleaker. A survey by UK disability charity Leonard Cheshire in October 2020 found that 71% of disabled people in employment in March that year were affected by the pandemic through loss of income, being put on furlough or being made redundant. This rose to 84% of those aged 18-24. Moreover, 42% of employers polled said a barrier to hiring disabled workers was the concern that they would not be able to properly support them through the pandemic, while 20% admitted they would be less likely overall to hire someone with a disability. The report said not only were many disabled people clinically at high risk from the virus, but many also worked in sectors hardest hit by the outbreak, including retail and hospitality.

The lowest paid take the highest risks

However, alongside this exposure of inequality has come a recognition of just how essential the services provided by key workers are. Without the carers, the supermarket workers, the refuse collectors and delivery drivers, society would have ground to a halt. As Brewis says: “The pandemic has surfaced our awareness of a wider range of key workers, especially people who work in care homes, who I think were largely invisible to the public beforehand”.

Sharon Benson, HR director at Sunrise Senior Living and Gracewell Healthcare, agrees that the pandemic has changed perceptions of care workers and the social care sector, putting it on a par with the much-loved NHS. “Frontline care workers have finally been acknowledged and praised for the work they do, for their bravery, passion, commitment and selfless acts of kindness as they look after the thousands of vulnerable people in our society,” she says.

Yet unfairness is baked into this system. As Kate Guthrie, CPO of Virgin Money, puts it: “It’s the people who are the lowest paid that have been taking the most personal risks. Why is it the roles that have been so crucial throughout this pandemic are the ones we value the least?”

And while courier Ethan Bradley, an elected rep of the IWGB, the UK’s leading union for precarious workers, has also seen a change in attitude towards gig workers like himself – “instead of being ‘unskilled’ workers, the pandemic has shown that such workers are essential for society to function, and to allow people to stay at home” – he notes that such workers are still regularly denied basic rights, such as sick pay and PPE provision.

“What is the point of our being applauded in the streets when the companies we work for pay us poverty wages and treat us as disposable? Being able to work-from-home or shield is not a privilege afforded to the lowest paid workers in our society,” he says.

Indeed, the mixed reaction over the resurrection of the UK’s ‘Clap for Carers’ movement (rebranded ‘Clap for Heroes’) gives some indication of a growing realisation that recognition alone is not enough. As Brewis says: “You can’t eat claps and neither can you use them to pay the rent or household bills. I’m not persuaded by the hero discourse. I don’t think a lot of people in those occupations want to be described as heroes. The heroic discourse almost makes it harder for them to say, actually I feel really unsafe, or I’m really worried about my kids. Yes, these workers are so much more visible. But we haven’t taken anything like enough steps to value them properly and to create a much fairer way of working for them.”

We need a fair work ecosystem

So when we finally come out of this crisis, is it possible to use our experience as a catalyst to redefine what ‘valuable work’ is, and examine how it should be rewarded?

Neil Morrison, HR director at utilities provider Severn Trent, believes this issue is about more than just pay. “It’s about societal value,” he says. “How do we look after these [essential workers]? We need to build a world of work that is based on them and their needs. What is a fair deal for those people? How do we create a society that recognises the value they provide for us?”

The “fair work ecosystem” he envisages goes beyond pay, encompassing security of employment (Morrison references the recommendations made in 2017’s Taylor Review of Modern Working Practices, aka the ‘Good Work Plan), autonomy and freedom within work, pensions and retirement plans, and increased regionalisation of employment (rather than people having to travel or move to find work).

At Sunrise, the HR team has changed several policies and introduced new rewards and benefits, in recognition of just how tough it has been to work in care during COVID. Pay has increased to £9.10 an hour minimum, the sick pay policy has moved from statutory sick pay to full sick pay and staff in homes are being provided with free hot meals. Benson says she is “constantly” thinking about how to evolve reward strategies to better recognise frontline staff. “This won’t just apply to financial rewards but in all other areas too,” she says. “We will be looking at the free meals on shift and whether we can make it a more permanent offering, [as well as how we can enhance] transport allowances.”

While it’s encouraging to hear from responsible employers, it cannot be overlooked that many living in poverty in the UK are the working poor, in precarious and low paid employment, often working more than one job and relying on food banks and Universal Credit to top up their income. “We typically think of poverty as something that happens to people not in work but this is an issue that’s affecting our workforce,” says Norman Pickavance, an independent advisor and founder of the Financial Inclusion Alliance. “You can’t have a fair society if you don’t have fair jobs. We continue to operate in a society where the minimum wage is insufficient to support a working family.”

While this is evidently a systemic issue requiring a response at the very highest levels (Pickavance advocates a profound rethink of the UK’s economic strategy, investing in technology and “restoring the dignity of working people”), there are steps organisations can take to reset fairness. Pickavance recommends paying a living wage and providing “living hours”, examining whether the “push for agility has gone too far” through the use of zero-hours contracts, for example, and providing access to low-cost credit and debt management services. Stability is key: “People feel out of control when they don’t know how much money is coming in every month, and 50% of all workplace absences are caused by financial stress.”

To support all this, he believes it would be “beneficial for businesses to think more constructively about the future of trade unions”, as well as encouraging HR professionals to consider models like employee ownership. After several years of decline, union membership appears to be growing again, according to government data, boosted by more women signing up and their increased political capital during the pandemic. IWGB’s membership has surged by 40% since COVID struck. “For frontline workers marginalised by society and abandoned by government during this crisis, unions have stepped up to provide support and representation,” says Bradley.

Post-COVID must be more, not less, inclusive

Beyond redefining the value of low paid roles, the HR profession and business more broadly also need to take steps now to ensure post-COVID workplaces are more genuinely inclusive, not less so. The stats highlighted earlier show just how real the risk is of the diversity and inclusion agenda slipping backwards. However, while acknowledging that women are bearing the brunt of home schooling and that black, Asian and ethnic minority workers are more exposed in frontline roles, diversity and inclusion (D&I) expert Charlotte Sweeney is cautiously optimistic about the potential for improved inclusion in the long-term.

“I was initially nervous that D&I would fall off the agenda,” she says. “However, given the combination of COVID and the death of George Floyd, I see that the D&I agenda has increased in prominence. Many more companies are saying it’s important to them.” But, she caveats: “Let’s see how that translates into meaningful actions.”

Julie Humphreys, head of D&I at publisher Reach PLC, recognises a clear link between wellbeing and inclusion, and wants to see a more holistic approach to both post-COVID. “Mental health is an increasing worry; I am concerned the UK is heading for a real spike in people taking their own life,” she says. She adds that HR professionals need to have the potential impact of long COVID, where people suffer debilitating symptoms for months, if not longer, after becoming infected, on the radar: “There are so many implications, including for D&I…is the Equality Act fit for this new development in disability?”

She also wants to see measurement and reporting come back on the agenda (gender pay gap reporting was controversially scrapped in 2020 thanks to the pressures of the pandemic), with ethnicity pay gap reporting coming into force, and social mobility reporting included in legislation too.

While vaccines offer light at the end of the tunnel, we likely still have many dark days ahead. But this time could be used to radically and genuinely rethink what work could look like for those groups who have suffered the most.

And there is precedence for HR. Brewis says her experience researching menopause and work demonstrates the active role in resetting inequality that HR leaders can play if they listen to employees in their own organisations as well as taking inspiration from other employers: “What I’ve seen time and again is that there’s a viral thing that happens in this space. First movers bring in some form of supportive intervention, not necessarily a policy. Then you begin to see a ripple effect where other employers look at what they’re doing. I don’t really care what their motivations are, if it’s all some form of CSR washing or just a way to make them look good to their customers and employees or to attract new talent. The fact they are doing something to address the issue is good enough and the viral effects can be really quite extraordinary.”

Sweeney urges the people profession to involve everyone in discussions about what the future of work can and should look like.

“Make sure you really do listen to the usually unheard voices,” she says. “Part of this should be renewing the psychological contract with work. Resist the temptation to ‘get back to normal’. We can create great change in times of disruption – take this opportunity with both hands to really push your companies to be more inclusive.”

The Research into Employment, Empowerment and Futures group (REEF) is proud to be partnering with The People Space. This article was originally published on The People Space website; click to read the original article.

The post-Brexit amendment to Public Procurement Law: transformative or unchanged provisions?

Dr Miriam Mbah, who joined the OU as a Lecturer in Law in September 2020, has both a LLM and a PhD in Public Procurement Law.

The UK Government published a Green Paper on Transforming public procurement in December 2020. This Green Paper, which proposes to amend procurement law in the UK, was prepared in anticipation of the UK’s departure from the European Union (31 December 2020). In addition to the publication of the procurement Green Paper, a public consultation was issued, inviting comments on the proposal. In this piece, I share my response to two crucial proposals in the Green Paper. This is part of my 10-page response to the public consultation, which closes on Wednesday 10 March, below.

Historically, the regulation of public procurement from 1973 originated from the EU procurement directives and the UK obligation to transpose the directives into national law. Thus, when the end of Brexit was in sight, it was fitting to propose changes to what was the EU approach to procurement regulation. The post-Brexit changes would enable the UK to deliver value for money and meet national objectives that should not conflict with the Government’s obligations to the World Trade Organization Government Procurement Agreement and the UK/EU Trade and Cooperation Agreement.

Agreeable transformative proposals

The 82-page Green Paper proposed changes that aim to simplify procurement processes, maximise value for money, and unleash opportunities for small businesses, charities and social enterprises to innovate in public service delivery. Divided into eight chapters, the Green Paper tackles issues such as the principles underlining procurement regulation (chapter 1), the regulatory frameworks (chapter 2), procurement procedures (chapter 3), contract award process (chapter 4), commercial purchasing tools (chapter 5), ensuring open and transparent contracting (chapter 6), procurement challenges and remedies (chapter 7) and contract management (chapter 8).

Overall, I welcome the intention of ‘transforming’ the current procurement regulations to a regime that provides flexibility, equality and is progressive with societal sustainable objectives and technology. The Green Paper represents crucial changes that will advance these objectives and modernise public procurement outside the European Union direction. For example, the proposal to create a single uniformed law will bring together four separate public procurement laws in the UK – the Public Contracts Regulations; Utilities Contracts Regulations; Concession Contracts Regulations; and Defence and Security Public Contracts Regulations. This proposal will provide legal certainty by avoiding duplication of provisions and reduce confusion in understanding and applying the procurement rules.

Other transformative proposals include reducing procurement procedures available to buyers from seven similar choices under the current Public Contracts Regulation (PCR) to three procedures. While the reduction will lead to a simplified procurement process, the proposal’s information is not enough to determine the efficacy of the proposed procedures.

Extreme urgency and crisis, two peas in a pod?

The Green Paper’s ambitious objectives were initially approached with enthusiasm and great interest as the proposed reformation represents a divergence from the EU approach. My enthusiasm was met with concerns as I read the proposals from chapter to chapter because some proposals are vague, unnecessary, repetitive, lacking transparency, confusing and not fit to be included in the proposed new regulation.

The Green Paper includes several provisions that are similar to current provisions in the PCR without any new additions or transformative changes to the proposal. For example, in addition to the existing Regulation 32 that enables buyers to disregard the procurement rules in extreme urgency cases brought about by unforeseeable events (for example, Covid-19), para 78-80 of the Green Paper proposes to include a new ground of ‘crisis’ procurement.

There are no significant differences between the existing extreme urgency ground and the proposed crisis ground. Arguably, the crisis ground spells out what the extreme urgency ground is about. For example, extreme urgency is widely drafted to include ‘unforeseeable’ events. In contrast, the proposed crisis ground covers harmful events in everyday life, measures which will protect public morals, safety and human, animal or plant health. Instead of implementing two grounds that mean and achieve the same objectives, the Government should amend Regulation 32 to include these criteria.

Furthermore, the proposed crisis ground does not address crucial issues highlighted during the Covid-19 extreme urgency procurement. For example, lack of transparency as supported in the recent High Court ruling was not effectively addressed, leaving rooms for future poor emergency procurements.

Most economically advantageous tender and most advantageous tender, what’s the difference?

Additionally, chapter 4 of the Green Paper proposes to change the criteria for awarding public contracts from the most economically advantageous tender (MEAT) under the current Regulation 67 to the most advantageous tender (MAT) in para 99-102. So what is MEAT and MAT?

For public buyers to obtain value for money when awarding contracts to suppliers, they should evaluate submitted tenders to determine the price and quality that meets their needs. Under Regulation 67 MEAT criteria, buyers can consider matters such as technical merit, functional characteristics, environmental and social characteristics, after-sales service, technical assistance, delivery date and delivery period or period of completion. In contrast to the proposed MAT criteria, the Government states that buyers ‘can take a broader view of what can be included … in assessing value for money including social value as part of the quality assessment’. From the analysis of both criteria, it is unclear what additional benefit the MAT criteria have over the existing MEAT criteria. Again, these two issues are effectively two peas in a pod as social value explicitly included in Regulation 67.

These examples of unchanged and unnecessary proposals are the tip of the iceberg. The Government should carefully study the consultation responses before implementing any of their proposals to the new public procurement law.

Research into extent and nature of dog theft in the UK

Dog theft has featured heavily in the media recently, with victims sharing the distress of having a much loved pet stolen.

It’s an issue that hit the headlines last week when singer Lady Gaga had two French bulldogs stolen, with her dog walker actually shot during the robbery in Los Angeles.

DogLost, a UK charity that helps victims of dog theft, recorded a 170% increase in the crime, from 172 dogs in 2019 to 465 dogs in 2020.

It appears to be a growing problem, but what can be done about it?

Dr Helen Selby-Fell, Senior Lecturer in the Department for Policing Organisation and Practice (POP), who works closely with the Centre for Policing Research & Learning (CPRL), together with Dr Daniel Allen from Keele University, have come together to formulate plans for collaborative research to explore various facets of dog theft. They have also recently been joined by Professor Ken Pease, Visiting Professor at University College London.

The team is examining the extent and nature of dog theft in the UK, triangulating police crime data with various other sources. They are also in the process of analysing qualitative data (interviews with victims of dog theft) to explore ‘victim impact’.

It’s hoped the research will then be extended to explore prevention opportunities and to better understand the profile and behaviours of offenders, such as possible links to organised crime.

The team will be formalising their plans for further research over the next few months. The researchers are keen to design and conduct the research in collaboration with UK police forces, animal charities, and other related organisations with relevant expertise or interest.

Despite the wide media reporting of the problem, the full extent and nature of dog theft is not yet clear, and there is limited research exploring it. Our research will help to provide a much better insight into the extent and nature of dog theft in the UK.

Ultimately, we hope that the research will help to build the evidence base and inform the development of the policing (and wider) response to dog theft in the UK.

Dr Helen Selby-Fell, Senior Lecturer in the Department for Policing Organisation and Practice (POP)

An article, including a summary of the researchers’ early findings and plans for further research, has been posted on the Pet Theft Reform website.

Dr Allen created this volunteer-led campaign, in collaboration with the Stolen and Missing Pets Alliance (Sampa), in 2018. Since their launch in 2014, Sampa have been lobbying to make pet theft a specific offence with tougher sentences.

This article originally appeared on the OU News website. Click here to read the article.

The value of small and local charities …. in a big crisis

The Centre for Voluntary Sector Leadership (CVSL) is part of the research team, funded by the Lloyds Bank Foundation for England and Wales, which has launched The Value of Small in a Big Crisis report. Against the backdrop of the pandemic, this builds on and expands the findings of the original The Value of Small research in 2018.

The new report finds that it is the distinctiveness of small and local charities which makes them best placed to respond to the Covid-19 crisis. They have used their position of trust within communities experiencing complex social issues to support people, contrasting with parts of the public sector which were slower to react, before informal support and mutual aid has dissipated over time.

It calls on the government, funders and the wider voluntary sector to recognise the value of small charities and foster a thriving and resilient population of small and local charities. They will be central to rebuilding after the pandemic, contributing to the transformational change needed for society and the economy to fully recover and prosper.

The project is led by Sheffield Hallam University and also includes the Institute for Voluntary Action Research (IVAR) and the University of Wolverhampton. Baroness Diana Barran joined colleagues from the various partner organisations to discuss their findings on Tuesday 23 February and reflect on how small charities have been responding to the challenges of the pandemic.

OUBS expert speaks to House of Lords Covid-19 Committee’s inquiry

Dr Jamie Woodcock made several recommendations when he was invited to give oral evidence at the House of Lords Covid-19 Committee inquiry. The focus of this session in early February was understanding the impacts on work, within the context of increasing digitalisation and automation, with the long-term impacts on wellbeing.

The Senior Lecturer in Management’s recommendations drew on his previous research, as well as his involvement with the Research into Employment, Empowerment and Futures (REEF) academic centre of excellence in The Open University Business School.

His first point was that the impact of Covid-19 and the use of technology is different across the workforce. Jamie stated:

There is a risk, particularly in speaking to a committee on Zoom, of imagining that everyone is working from home during the pandemic and has access to a computer and reliable internet connection. For this inquiry, this means considering the shifts with office work that have been widely noted; for example, in the idea of ‘The Great Work Reset’. However, it also means considering the impacts on health and social care workers, as well as other frontline workers like cleaners and delivery drivers.

Dr Jamie Woodcock, Senior Lecturer in Management, OUBS

Jamie argued that there are some clear policy recommendations on the subject of technology and work. The first is that the existing employment statuses should be effective to protect the rights of many workers currently categorised as self-employed independent contractors. He recommended that Uber drivers and other gig workers should be reclassified as worker status, something that the Supreme Court ruled in favour of for Uber drivers a few weeks later. He also suggested that if algorithms are to be used to make management decisions at work, employers must be held accountable for their use, building from UNI Global Union’s demands. As increasing evidence shows the bias of these technologies, employers must be able to explain how they work. If they cannot, it is not appropriate to use them at work.

The other main area that Jamie made recommendations about involved employment and trade union rights.

Given the large numbers of redundancies and health and safety issues during Covid-19, the full suite of employment rights should be granted to workers from day one, rather than after two years. The lack of these protections puts pressures on workers not to exercise their rights.

Similarly, the Employment Tribunal service now has waiting times as long as two years, meaning that many breaches during the pandemic will not be resolved through this route. There have been delays in establishing the single labour market enforcement body, creating a lack of effective regulation for many workers.

There are two suggestions for how to address this: first, increasing access to justice through these regulatory means with an effective enforcement body; and second, facilitating workers’ access to justice through organising with trade unions, particularly by repealing anti-trade union legislation.

Dr Jamie Woodcock, Senior Lecturer in Management, OUBS

In conclusion, Jamie warned that a failure to address these problems would lead to greater polarisation of society, particularly as so many low-paid workers have been put at serious risk during the pandemic. Instead, there is an urgent need to collectively work through these issues and find a way to shape work that protects and supports a fair society.

There has been a lot of discussion about the “future of work”, often as a point on an imagined horizon. However, there are changes taking place right now, including the use of new digital technology, the growth of the gig economy, and new forms of worker agency that will shape what future we get, for better or worse.

Dr Jamie Woodcock, Senior Lecturer in Management, OUBS

You can listen to Jamie discuss these issues and speak about platform workers, the gig economy, and the future and equality of work here.

Empowering female electrical engineers in the Middle East and Africa

MBA alumnus Ahmed El-Hamaky is Regional Manager – Middle East, Africa and Turkey, for OMICRON and is based in Bahrain.

When I was studying the change management module with The Open University back in 2013, specifically the six-step model of change, I wondered if I could inspire huge change with one step and then others would follow. Here’s how I applied my thoughts, in practice.

MBA alumnus Ahmed El-Hamaky

I felt a genuine sense of urgency to empower female electrical engineers, in the Middle East and Africa. Since graduating in 2000 from the Faculty of Engineering at Cairo University, I noticed that the ratio was six men to one woman in the workplace and that cultural aspects did not support female engineers going to sites and learning practical aspects following their academic studies. I have met professional female electrical engineers adding great value to the industry who are patient team players and inspiring leaders, who are both creative and also pay attention to detail.

Unfortunately, there are a lack of statistics and facts about the number of active female electrical engineers in the Middle East and Africa. However, walk into a classroom of architectural engineering students and the odds are a substantial number of them will be women. Now head next door to an electrical engineering class and you’ll likely find many more men than women. I believe the gap is not only from being empowered in universities or workplaces but also with family perceptions and pressures for a girl who dreams of becoming an electrical engineer.

In September 2020, we decided to be proactive in the region and initiated an event supported by my own organisation. OMICRON Energizing Women (OEW) is a purpose-driven initiative undertaken by OMICRON MEA to energise young female electrical engineers and help pave their way to success. OEW hosted four pioneering electrical engineers from the UAE, Kenya, Nigeria and Austria who took part in an inspiring panel discussion attended by 31 of their peers. They discussed the challenges of being part of a male-dominated field and industry perceptions, as well as the struggle of balancing their personal and work lives. The four panellists shared their own struggles and journeys to success.

In future, and to create a better environment for women engineers, OEW, male professionals and decision makers from the industry will all be invited to share insights and suggestions. I believe that our contribution will inspire and motivate the community and decision makers to continue the whole change management cycle and to empower female electrical engineers in the Middle East and Africa!