Is it too late to wish everyone a happy new year for 2019? I hope not.
To my embarrassment I see that the last entry on this blog was at the beginning of the Autumn term. In my defence it was a busy period, with teaching duties, an intense effort on the Athena SWAN application in the Department of Life Sciences, and work on several fronts across the EDI agenda.
In October, the College’s new EDI Strategy document was published. We were delighted on launch day to welcome Chi Onwurah, Labour MP and alumna of Imperial, to talk about the importance of diversity in STEM. If you missed her personal and insightful talk, you can watch it here.
Another significant event that took place in the Autumn was the second meeting of the College’s working group on sexual harassment. Having received, digested and discussed the report and recommendations of an external review that was conducted over the summer, the group is now working to revise our policies and procedures for dealing with incidents of sexual harassment to ensure that they are truly fit for purpose. These will be examined at an upcoming meeting of the working group with the aim of having clear proposals to present to Provost’s board later in the Spring.
Autumn also saw the inaugural meeting of the Race Equality Charter Self-Assessment Team (REC SAT). This group will be taking a long look at the experience of Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic (BAME) staff and students at the College. The surveys of staff and students that are the required first step in this process were completed in November and December. We got over 1500 responses from staff and over 500 from students and these are now being analysed. We are very grateful to all who participated in the survey. The data will help us to identify those topics we need to explore in more depth in focus groups. They will also inform our action plan to tackle structural barriers that may be preventing BAME staff and students from making the most of the opportunities on offer at Imperial.
Six departments across the College (Bioengineering, Life Sciences, NHLI, Physics, School of Public Health, Surgery and Cancer) submitted applications for Athena SWAN awards in November, an unusually high number. My congratulations to all those who worked so hard to meet the deadline. I now know from personal experience of working on the Life Sciences application the scale of the effort required.
That scale is increasingly a concern across the higher education sector and is something now being considered in a review by AdvanceHE, the body that runs the Athena SWAN award scheme. Imperial will certainly be providing input. We got our first chance to do so in early December when Professor Athene Donald from Cambridge University – a member of the review team – came to Imperial to run a focus group session. Staff involved in preparing Athena SWAN submissions were able to share their experiences – good and bad – of the scheme. While it has certainly helped to raise the profile of gender equality, it is less clear that Athena SWAN is as effective as in could be in producing change on the ground.
And so to the new year. Already in January, the second meeting of the REC SAT has been held – to have an initial discussion of the results of the staff survey and get insights from a colleague from UCL with experience of using the REC to implement. I have also chaired what I think may be the last of the planning meetings for this year’s Women@Imperial week. We have a great roster of events planned that we will share with you very soon.
Last week the NHLI held their Athena Lecture: “How can we celebrate and support diversity in STEM: a younger perspective”. There were in fact three excellent presentations on the importance of gender equality, race equality and neurodiversity from Jess Wade, Faith Uwadiae, and Siena Castellon respectively. Each spoke with knowledge and passion, unafraid to challenge and provoke the audience. The video (available here) is well worth watching.
I’m very grateful to Prof Sarah Rankin for organising the lecture. In line with the aims of the EDI strategy, we need to have an ongoing programme of such events to keep the importance of equality, diversity and inclusion at the forefront of everyone’s mind at Imperial.