Communication, communication, communication. You might think that with staff briefings, news articles, social media feeds, an ever-expanding website, emails and regular newsletters, there was no shortage of communication at Imperial.
And you’d be right. But despite the profusion of information channels, it is hard to keep track of everything that is going on. That can lead to frustrated communications within our community, especially if people feel caught unawares by new initiatives or activities.
The original purpose of starting this blog was to open another channel of communication to keep people in the loop about the various EDI activities that are going on across the College. But given that the last entry was dated June 2020, I have been neglecting my duty.
As an excuse for my failure, I can of course plead the many demands of living under Covid-19, which has disrupted all our lives, at work and at home. I have been feeling its effects more and more of late, particularly in a growing sense of the detachment from the pulse and variety of life on campus. When every activity is reduced to an interaction with a computer screen, a deadening monotony sets in.
I can’t do much about that, but I can at least try to return to my purpose here. So, let me commit to at least a weekly post – well, maybe fortnightly – to let people know what is going on across a range of EDI matters at the College. A blog post might still mainly be a one-way flow of information, but I hope it signals an openness to conversation. I retain my faith in the necessity of people talking to people as the best way to change the world.
To keep things manageable, I will try to keep these posts short. For this week, let me just remind you that February is LBGT History month. The roster of events lined up by Imperial600 and the students’ union is already well under way but there are still things you can sign up for.
And coming up from 8-12th March will be Women@Imperial Week 2021. The programme is being finalised and will be advertised this coming week.
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.
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.
Over the past several months, I have been drafting Imperial’s first Equality, Diversity and Inclusion Strategy.
In this work I have benefitted enormously from discussions with many people at the College and from debate within the EDI Strategy Group and the EDI Forum. The draft strategy has improved significantly from the rough framework that I first sketched out at the beginning of the year. It has a more coherent form, even if it is still unfinished. The latest version is now being circulated to various committees, but I wanted also to open it up for comment and criticism by everyone at the College.
I would therefore invite you to download the draft document (available here as a PDF) and let me have your comments or suggestions. Please feel free to contact me by email – you are not obliged to comment in public here! The plan is to have a final version ready for approval by the Provost’s Board by the end of June so I would be grateful to receive any feedback by Friday 18th May.
The aim of developing a strategy is to identify the College’s priorities and define how we – staff and students – will set about achieving them. The strategy has to be ambitious but it will only succeed if it is grounded in reality and earns widespread support within the institution. Ambition and reality can be hard things to balance, not least because equality, diversity and inclusion raise matters that are sometimes contested. But I hope that by opening up the conversation we will be able to plot a more optimal course to a more diverse and inclusive future.
I’m determined to keep these posts brief and informal so here are just a few scribbled let notes on what I’ve been up to lately.
The three days before the start of the Easter break were a busy time for meetings. I won’t bore you with all the details, but on the Tuesday I chaired the second meeting of the EDI Forum. The main item of business was a thorough-going discussion of the strategy which will shape the College’s approach to all aspects of equality, diversity and inclusion over the next five years. The Forum represents a wide cross-section of views and provided some very useful critique of the draft strategy. I am aiming to broaden the consultation in the coming weeks before we finalise the strategy. Watch this space…
The following day there was the first gathering of the Working Group which will conduct a root-and-branch review of the College’s procedures and policies for dealing with sexual harassment. Our aim is to develop a robust and credible mechanisms to which students and staff who are the victims or harassment can turn for support and redress. Recent surveys of the extent of the problem at Imperial and across the UK higher education sector highlight the importance of completing this work as quickly but as thoroughly as possible. Anyone wishing to comment or contribute should get in contact.
Over the six days of the Easter break I enjoyed some family time in and around London. We visited my sister and caught up with a noisy and fast-paced production of Julius Caesar that I had been looking forward to for a couple of months. I managed to steer almost completely clear of work apart from reading Harvard’s new Inclusion strategy, which was a thoughtful and honest document, and reading Kalwant Bhopal’s provocative new book: White Privilege: The myth of the post-racial society. There’ll be more to say about that another time – I’m still cogitating.
Last week I returned to College to start the interviews for the new part-time Coordinator who will be helping us on our application for the Race Equality Charter. Work starts in earnest very soon! The week rounded off with a discussion with Imperial600 and EDIC on of how to use the feedback from Stonewall on our Work Equality Index application to prioritise improvements in the experiences of LGBTQ+ staff and students at Imperial. As with everything else on my plate right now, this is a work in progress but I’m optimistic about making some positive changes in the coming months.
And finally, on Friday afternoon I spent a few hours of marking some of the coursework from the students on the final year Science Communication course in Life Sciences. I have not lost touch with my departmental obligations!