Diversity Digest

Diversity & Inclusion at King's College London

Author: k1644944

Digest Double Feature: Disability History Month – Sarah Guerra

So, it’s UK Disability History Month? I feel this is probably one of the lesser known history months!


What is it? Or perhaps the better question might be, why does it exist? As with most history months, it’s an attempt to generate a public focus on the history of equality and human rights with a specific focus on disability. Disabled peoples’ contributions and achievements are often overlooked or undervalued and disability history month provides a platform for changing these attitudes and showcasing success. The Month is in its 8th iteration this year and there has been a steady increase in interest and activity.

Disability History Month runs from 22nd November to 22nd December and covers the scope of HIV/AIDS Day (1st December), the International Day of People with Disabilities (3rd Dec.) and International Human Rights Day (10th December). It also follows on directly from Anti-Bullying Week (19th to 23rd November) which is an important parallel as it has been reported that up to 2.5 times as much bullying is recorded towards disabled as compared to non-disabled young people and that some 70-80% of young disabled people claim to have been bullied in school and college.

King’s is showing its support for Disability History Month and this year’s theme, art, by holding a breakfast short film screening. We have carefully selected a range of short films that feature people’s experiences of visible and invisible disabilities.

As we talk about History Month’s as a platform for social change, I would like to extend that to this blog and use this space to talk about the ethos we will be pursuing here at King’s, a lot of which is rooted in the principles of the social model of disability. The social model of disability proposes that people are disabled by the barriers imposed by society that preclude their participation in social life and the workplace. These barriers can be physical and attitudinal and by identifying and challenging them we can ensure full participation, to everyone’s benefit. Attitudes based on prejudice, stereotypes or ableism also affect disabled people and can act as a barrier to having equal opportunities to participate in society. The social model locates ‘disability’ in the way society is organised – that is, in its physical and attitudinal organisation, disables certain people. This is in contrast with medical model of disability which has faced criticism for classifying people as disabled because of their individual conditions or impairments.

Seeing disability through the social model allows us to see the benefits of removing impediments that restrict life choices for disabled people so that disabled people can be independent and equal in society, with choice and control over their own lives. The social model of disability was developed by people with disabilities, frustrated by the fact that a traditional medical model did not explain their personal experience of disability or progress more inclusive ways of living.

As employers and providers of education, we have clear moral and legal responsibilities for supporting staff and students with disabilities. The Equality Act 2010 makes very specific reference to what is required for universities and other public bodies, which entail making adjustments, as are reasonable, to avoid disadvantaging disabled colleagues and students, to allow them to participate in work and education to the same extent as their peers. This obligation applies to policies as well as physical features of our environment and the provision of information.

Alongside these specific legal requirements, we are also bound by Public Sector Equality Duty which I have discussed in previous blog posts. This requires universities to

 Give due regard to the need to eliminate discrimination, harassment, victimisation


Advance equality of opportunity between persons who share a relevant protected characteristic and persons who do not share it

And to

Foster good relations between persons who share a relevant protected characteristic and persons who do not share it.

As an education provider and employer, we are expected  to do this by removing disadvantages experienced by disabled people and encouraging participation where representation and engagement are disproportionately low.

Having worked in a number of contexts, government, third sector and now education, I have seen the benefits that inclusive workplace practices can bring. Dismantling barriers effectively and sensitively leads to a far more positive experience for individuals as well as a better functioning, dynamic and productive organisation.

King’s has just completed its first organisation-wide baselining exercise, a self-assessment on our disability support and provision, with our partners the Business Disability forums. We are now analysing the results to see what we are already doing well and where we can improve. This assessment is a really great way to celebrate Disability History Month as it shows a firm organisational commitment and will lead us to tangible action and improvement for all staff. Focusing on our working environment, and developing tools and practices in linen with best practice shows that improving the accessibility overall has benefits everyone – whether currently impaired or not and enables those with impairments to give their best.

That is the crux of our legal responsibilities and of the social model – to recognise and change our thinking (and doing) around our physical and social environment and remove the barriers that these create, rather than narrowing in on the impairments on individuals.


Digest Double Feature: Disability History Month – Barry Hayward

For Disability History Month, the Diversity Digest is featuring two not one, but blogs! Our first comes from your regular writer, D&I Director, Sarah Guerra, and we’re also featuring a special guest blog on Everyday Ableism from Barry Hayward, Deputy Head of Student Disability at King’s Disability Advisory Service.

Laura Bates started up Everyday Sexism to record the day-to-day experiences of exclusion and discrimination faced by women and and it occurs to me that there is everyday exclusion under every “ism” you can think of. My aim here is to highlight some of the everyday discrimination, or ableism, faced by disabled people and I invite others to share their experiences to throw a light on this area.

May I start by acknowledging that we have come a long way in the last ten years or so and it could be argued that universities have been at the forefront of inclusive practice, especially around disability.

Ten years ago, the number of students who would disclose to a university that they had a disability was around 7%. Now that figure is closer to 15% of students declaring a disability. It was not uncommon ten years ago for universities to state that it is not recommended that a student study there if you use a wheelchair due to the inaccessibility of their buildings.

Following the extension of the Disability Discrimination Act to apply to universities in 2003 as part of the enactment of the Equality Act in 2010, the right of disabled people to an equal education has become a reality but, exclusion around disability still exists and like sexism and racism it is now commonly carried out in much more subtle and indirect ways. Methods that are much harder to challenge than overt discrimination or abuse.

I’m sure you’ve all heard some of these phrases before:

“We are all disabled in some way aren’t we?”

Heard that one? This really rankles if you have plucked up the courage to reveal an impairment or health condition in the hope you might negotiate some accommodations at work. What this really means is “I don’t take this as a serious issue”

“I don’t need to use a microphone”

You may think that but some of us can’t hear unless amplification is used

“Cheer up, it might never happen”

How do you know it hasn’t already happened?

“Can you take minutes of this meeting?”

Dyslexic staff asked this on the spot will be challenged. Advance warning would mean they could record the meeting (or seek a reasonable adjustment).

These examples may seem minor and that’s the point really. There’s no malice intended, but a lack of thought can be very damaging to the recipient of such careless talk.

I could go further and discuss issues such as asking for reasonable adjustments and getting a furrowed brow in response (not a “no”, but not an overwhelming “of course”) but I thought I’d start with these examples. Please comment if you have similar experiences to share.

Barry Hayward, Deputy Head of Student Disability at King’s Disability Advisory Service.

Trans Matters

As part of Trans Awareness Weeks and the Trans Day of Remembrance which both take place in November, King’s launched it’s Trans Matters guidance documents to provide support to trans and non-binary members of the King’s campus community, as well advice and guidance to those staff supporting these individuals. The launch included key staff and students who worked on the documents, Riley B and Dr Elliot Evans, as well as prominent trans activist, Jacqui Gavin.

King’s has recently become a member of Stonewall and Pete Mercer, the Head of Public Sector Memberships kindly agreed to feature as a guest blogger for our November post on the importance of trans support and allyship for our November post.


Under UK law, public and private sector bodies alike are required to observe and protect the rights of trans people. Following extensive consultation (rightly), KCL’s new ‘Trans Matters’ policy and guidance is therefore a response to both their legal and moral obligations to support their trans staff and students. As with all policies though, this document has the most impact when it’s put to use! – so it’s imperative that everyone takes time to consider its content and its significance.

While organisations are rightly taking action to meet their responsibilities, it’s important to also point out that the existing legislation (the Gender Recognition Act 2004) that allows trans people to legally change their gender is deemed by many to be deeply inadequate and obstructive. As things stand, trans people are forced to endure a highly medicalised, bureaucratic and demeaning process. It’s also designed in the image of a strictly binary conception of gender, leaving non-binary individuals without any legal recognition of their gender identity.

Globally speaking, the vast majority of countries in the world only permit people to legally change their gender if they have undergone sterilisation, including in 20 European states. More broadly, persecution of and discrimination against trans people in everyday life is commonplace across many cultures and societies.

In some parts of the world, in Latin America particularly, the threat is devastatingly acute. This Monday (the 20th Nov) was Transgender Day of Remembrance, a day that commemorates the many lives of trans people across the globe that have been lost to hateful acts of murder. This year alone, that figure stands at over 270 – this doesn’t include those that didn’t attract any media coverage, so the real figure is likely to be much higher.

The UK, of course, is also certainly not free from transphobia by any stretch of the imagination. According to our brand-new research ‘LGBT in Britain’, two in five trans people have experiences a hate crime or incident because of their gender identity in the last 12 months. And while there’s danger in steeping awareness of the trans community exclusively in victimhood, at the same time it’s also important to recognise where the rights of trans people are under attack so that we can work to prevent it.

If, like most people, you pay attention to the news, you’d be hard pressed to not notice the intense media obsession on trans identities right now. It’s every day. This relentless media onslaught is perpetuating harmful transphobic slurs, myths and outright lies about trans people and their needs. It’s taking its toll on the collective mental health of the trans community, within which many already face every-day prejudice, and further invalidating their identities and esteem.

This is why it’s important right now for you to come out as a trans ally. The task of beating transphobia must not just be left on the shoulders of trans people themselves exclusively. So whether it’s on social media or in your local community, we need as many voices as possible to come out in support of truth, dignity and basic human rights: for trans people to live their lives freely and be accepted without exception.

Pete Mercer

Head of Public Sector Memberships, Stonewall


Waking up to my Black History

As Director of Diversity and Inclusion at King’s College London here for my first Black History Month – the 30th anniversary of Black History Month in the UK, no less  – I thought it would be timely and pertinent to provide some personal and professional reflections on my own ‘black’ history as part of this month’s blog post.

I’ve spoken at several events this month, most of which focussed on the themes of ‘being a BME leader’ or ‘My Personal Journey’ as a BME senior figure. As part of my preparations, I put together this mindmap culminating the trajectory of my thoughts and experiences. I find mindmaps a helpful tool to clarify and visualise my thinking, although in this case its really more of a  a spider’s web because everything is interconnected.

When reflecting on my life story, I’ve tended to be humble and played down certain aspects, however now that I’ve been asked to consider and speak about myself as a BME leader I have reflected on how unusual and frankly remarkable I am. I don’t say that to ‘big myself up’ but more as a sad reflection on the under-representation of people of colour in the senior echelons of British workplaces.

Why do I say I am unusual and remarkable?  I was born in Tottenham. I was state educated. I am ‘Black’. These are the fragments of my identity and how I have come to identify myself. Growing up I struggled to identify or describe myself – I’m not technically black – I am brown. But then I discovered ‘blackness’ as a political concept and it felt right and empowering to adopt that label.

Following my graduation, I joined the Civil Service fast stream in 1995. There were thousands of applicants and I was one of the very few people of colour selected. In my particular cohort at Inland Revenue, out of the 20 people selected to work there, I was the only one who was BME – and now here I am, working in a position of influence at a globally renowned institution.

That’s rare!

Reading the Guardian the other week, it was reported that  out of 535 senior officials within British universities who declared their ethnicity, 510 were white, 15 were Asian and 10 were recorded as “other including mixed”. I probably wasn’t here when that data was collected so let’s say its 11 now. 1 out 11 – notice any patterns? In 2017 we should all be shocked at that data! I shouldn’t be or feel unusual or remarkable simply because of the colour of my skin.

Before I go further it’s important to recognise – because it is easy to lose this – people of colour bring enormous talent and positive contribution to the world (see the talent sector in my mindmap). I have a range of personal strength and professional talents: strategic thinking, understanding how organisations work, enabling change in a way that is  effective and sustainable, listening to people and translating their words into meaningful organisational actions.  I have particular characteristics and qualities – I’m curious, I care, I’m determined and I work hard.  I’ve worked hard on myself through professional development, feedback and therapy.  If I don’t understand something –  I work to or if I think something isn’t working, I work to fix it. These are skills and capabilities – they make me effective. They make me a leader, role model and well worth employing. What these qualities don’t do is  make me that special. Many, many people of all shades have these qualities. However in the past, my particular shade has held me back. How do I know? Of those 20 people who joined Inland Revenue back in 1995, I was pretty much the only one who wasn’t promoted into the Senior Civil Service. And yet, as King’s has proven, it’s clear I have senior leadership ability.

It may be uncomfortable for some to think that in this society, race remains a factor that can hold someone back professionally, however I do think my identity has had a big impact on how successful or not my career has been and how I have ended where I am

So, obviously as with all of us, I am all sorts of things (see the identity section of my mindmap) – but when thinking about ‘who’ I am it condenses into a few clear categories:

A black woman and a working parent from a working-class background.

Whilst I no longer see being black or from a working-class background, or a working parent, as things that hold me back – the fact is they absolutely have the potential to in any given situation. Key to where I am now was the juxtaposition between my own drive to succeed and the high aspirations and expectations set for me by my parents and the contrastingly low expectations held by practically every other institution I encountered – school, sixth form, university and Civil Service.

At the age of 16, I was told at that A Levels weren’t for people like me, despite being top set. At 18 I was told that university wasn’t for me and that I should consider something more practical and vocational. After university I applied for thousands of jobs in the legal profession to no avail… these are just a few of my war wounds.

Realising the contrasts of the expectations that were placed on me and the impact of this in overcoming barriers and confounding those expectations have personally driven my passion for challenging injustice, working to ensure that others do not have to face the same frustrations. Just as importantly, I’m committed to working to change systems that discriminate or marginalise (intentionally or otherwise) and to helping organisations recognise what they are missing and create solutions. These are a key part of what led me into diversity and inclusion work.  It’s trite but I really do want to make a difference and want the world to be fair!

For me, I don’t like to lose or to be told that I can’t have what my talent deserves. The experience of having to fight  and having nothing come easy has shaped my whole life experience, and I believe, has made me a far more engaged and valuable employee.

I started work at 13. I’ve always had the emotional support of my family but they weren’t always in a position to support me financially. That early life experience of having to ‘get by’ and work in all sorts of places was invaluable to building my empathy and resilience. The Civil Service gave me so much opportunity, the ability to try all sorts of roles  – maybe at least 4 different ‘professions’, learn and develop and test out skills. It was also an amazing grounding in the value and impact of public policy and how ‘systems’ really work. Following the Civil Service, I worked for a Trade Union which unleashed my passion, my campaigning and organising spirit and at the same time developed my technical knowledge around every aspect of employment law. I trot you through that, I guess, to show that you don’t know what experience someone has or what they can do- by simply looking at their wrapper.

Black History Month helps us realise that many, many people’s contributions are unseen, unrecognised and undervalued. That we have been socially conditioned to see the world through certain lenses and we need to be able to see so much more in each other, which is what I see as the heart of diversity and inclusion work.

There’s a section on the mindmap that I’ve labelled ‘random things’. I’ve called them random but really they aren’t, rather they’re well known issues and quite obvious ones for us to address! Especially during Black History Month.

Racism and sexism are prevalent everywhere.

They manifest differently and aren’t always obvious or in your face – but they are there. I could tell countless personal stories, both from long ago and in recent years, all of which have had an impact on the way I face the world as a black woman.

Those of us that have been victims hold the scars and they run deep. A single negative experience casts a long shadow. In addition, it erodes trust and goodwill. It leads people to interpret things that happen differently – through a different less forgiving lens.

Would it shock you to hear that in coming here to King’s I spent as much time thinking about how to ensure I wasn’t cast as the ‘angry black woman’ or the pink and fluffy inconsequential D&I diva? That on a regular basis I consider what I say and how it might be interpreted and what possible unconscious/sub conscious/stereotyping reaction people may have towards me? As I do about what needs doing?

The weight of these various considerations that I have to make on a daily basis is something I think those in the majority and those that have always been accepted find difficult to comprehend or believe. This is really the heart of what institutional racism and sexism are. I see a big part of my role here at King’s and my contribution to ‘history’ being to help the institution understand that as individuals and understand how we mitigate it to create the extraordinary student and staff experience Vision 2029 articulates.

I’d like to reflect on the difference I feel working at King’s College London compared to the previous employers and why I am so hopeful for the future. The very fact that my post has been created and been given such a platform and power is a huge step and demonstration of institutional commitment. It contrasts directly to a similar role I held at the Ministry of Defence where – recruited to similar portfolio, I sat at a more junior level, with no resources to speak of, limited organisational support and crucially ‘people like me’ weren’t supposed to speak to the most senior leaders. Those initial barriers just haven’t existed at King’s.  Autonomy to set the agenda – the positivity with which my expertise is welcomed and the leadership endorsement and support I have been given means I feel so motivated and hopeful for the future. Every day I feel valued and valuable, I see and feel the impact of my work and the difference I am making.

To sum up, my personal journey has led me to recognise my strengths, know who I am and what I stand for, led me to apply myself and take opportunities and I don’t pretend the world is fair. This Black History Month I’d urge everyone at King’s and particularly leaders and managers to do all those things and also examine how you interact with people – who you know, who you listen to, who you favour – you can address the unfairness – you can help it but you have to notice and act.

Happy 30th Black History Month. Maybe one day we will get to the place where all cultures and identities are given equal focus in the way history is recorded and we won’t need the ‘special’ focus.

Equality, easy as PSED 

So, I’ve been here at King’s almost eight months now and I’ve penned a few blogs, featured in a range of articles and made the odd public speech. It’s been a really positive experience and I’ve been pleased with how progressively receptive I have found the audiences at Kings and Kings overall as an institution. However, two recent occurrences have forced me to reflect on the fact that I have taken for granted a basic understanding of the legal foundations of equality, diversity and inclusion and  that my assumptions are unsound.

The first of the incidents took place when King’s  hosted the annual Times Higher Education Summit, a large-scale event attended by senior figures in higher education from around the world. Louise Richardson, the Vice-Chancellor of Oxford University, the THE  top ranked university in the world, gave a keynote speech which later made headlines for comments about senior leadership salaries and the current government.

In addition to there were some other comments which particularly grabbed my attention:

“I’ve had many conversations with students who say they don’t feel comfortable because their professor has expressed views against homosexuality. They don’t feel comfortable being in class with someone with those views.

And I say, ‘I’m sorry, but my job isn’t to make you feel comfortable. Education is not about being comfortable. I’m interested in making you uncomfortable.

If you don’t like his views, you challenge them, engage with them, and figure how a smart person can have views like that.

Work out how you can persuade him to change his mind. It is difficult, but it is absolutely what we have to do.”

While her comments regarding salaries and politics had obviously ruffled enough feathers to made headlines, looking over the morning front pages there was little to suggest that what she had said about ‘being comfortable’ with homophobia had received the same level of public outcry. In smaller pockets of the internet, the Oxford SU LGBTQ+ Campaign openly challenged and criticised her comments saying that they were “angered and dismayed” by the remarks, however aside from this there was to, my surprise and disappointment, very little external attention paid to this statement.

On one level, I found this disconcerting due to a wealth of evidence that LGBTQ+ people can and do suffer all sorts of discrimination, bullying and harassment in the home, at school, university and the workplace, which can culminate in higher rates of depression, anxiety and even suicide. On another, I found this unacceptable because I feel that it contravenes the requirements placed on her by the law.

There is a line, in my view, between individuals being entitled to personal opinions, and what they choose to express and is deemed to be permissible in different contexts and specifically a university learning context.

The second of the incidents which got me thinking about where people’s tolerance/ignorance/knowledge levels were, was a student event at Loughborough halls which included as part of the festivities, organizing a slave market as part of “Fresher’s entertainment’. Following this, Times Higher Education magazine published a cartoon making light of this.

So, it strikes me that it would be helpful to cover some of the basics of our legal obligations as a university, a public institution, an educator and an employer. Vision 2029 clearly sets out an ambition to be extraordinary but it is, I think, useful, to remember the basics upon which that ambition rests – the legal requirement to be accessible to and inclusive of everyone.

Let’s start with Public Sector Equality Duty…

The Equality Act 2010 holds that all public authorities including universities, must uphold the Public Sector Equality Duty. This means that in addition to their duty not to discriminate against you, public authorities are required to proactively work to ensure that their services, policies and practices do not enable discrimination and or disadvantage people who have ‘protected characteristics’.

These are characteristics that are protected in relation to the public sector equality duty:

  • age
  • disability
  • gender reassignment
  • pregnancy and maternity
  • race
  • religion or belief
  • sex
  • sexual orientation.

Marriage and civil partnership are also protected characteristics under the Equality Act but it’s not covered by the public sector equality duty.

The Public Sector Equality Duty  means that King’s must take into account the impact a policy or decision might have on people who are protected under the Equality Act. Which is basically everyone in one way or another!  If we don’t and discrimination occurs, we can ultimately be challenged in the courts and for an institution such as King’s, there would be a lot at stake and immediate reputational consequences.

So what does that mean we here at King’s have to do?

When we carry out our functions, we must, the law says, and have ’due regard’ or think about how we also proactively:

  • eliminate unlawful discrimination
  • advance equality of opportunity between people who share a protected characteristic and those who don’t
  • foster or encourage good relations between people who share a protected characteristic and those who don’t.

What does it really mean?

Some groups of people who share a protected characteristic, like race or sexual orientation, may suffer a particular disadvantage or have particular requirements.

To address inequalities that exist outside of the institution, institutions may take legal action and treat some groups more favourably than others to ensure that their experience within the institution is more equal.

Legally, this duty means that King’s must:

  • remove or reduce disadvantages suffered by people because of a protected characteristic
  • meet the needs of people with protected characteristics
  • encourage people with protected characteristics to participate in public life and other activities.

To bring this back to the Loughborough student event, Times Higher Education and Louise Richardson’s comments. Times Higher Education are not bound by the PSED – so whilst they are hugely influential I can’t hold them to account using the legislation. The position in relation to the student society is also more ambiguous and something to explore in the future.  But the position with the Oxford VC leaves me wondering how, or if, she thought about how her statements matched with this duty? I really can’t see how her comments fit with the requirement to – eliminate unlawful discrimination – which treating people differently because of their sexual orientation is. Or how it advanced equality of opportunity or fostered good relations. Her comments at best placed the responsibility of challenging homophobia on the shoulders of those who suffer it and at worst condoned homophobia.

Some might say I am taking this too literally, that she sought to make a general point and perhaps chose a poor subject to illustrate it. However, I don’t let her off that lightly. She is powerful and privileged woman who has a responsibility to recognize the legal duties by which she is personally and professionally bound.

So to be clear, in my professional view, as well as my personal, human one, identifying homophobia as something that is ok to express as part of an everyday educational experience, even if it makes others uncomfortable and then relying on others to challenge you to help you see the error of your ways is not acceptable under the law as it stands.

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