Diversity Digest

Equality, Diversity & Inclusion at King's College London

What it’s like living in a world not built for you

Kendall Robbins is a first-year student nurse at King’s who has Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome (Hypermobility Type). Reflecting on 10 years working in the Arts, she considers how Disability Arts and the Social Model of Disability can contribute to future healthcare practice and the building of an inclusive world.

5 illustrations showing an elbow, a pinky finger, a thumb and a knee hyperextending and a person touching their hands flat to the floor.

An illustration of the Beighton Scoring System, a screening system commonly used to assess joint hypermobility. Illustration by Aleksandra Lacheta

Ehlers-Danlos Syndromes (EDS) are a family of 13 inherited conditions causing weakened connective tissue. Connective tissues are the building blocks of your body, supporting your skin, blood vessels, organs, muscles, tendons, ligaments and bones.  If those building blocks are faulty or weak, they can cause widespread issues. In EDS this manifests as a range of symptoms and comorbidities – additional conditions that frequently co-occur with EDS – ‘double-jointed’ or hypermobile joints, stretchy skin and poor wound healing, disabling and chronic musculoskeletal pain, frequent dislocations, dysautonomia, cardiovascular problems, gastrointestinal disorders, anxiety disorders, swallowing and throat dysfunction, mast cell activation syndrome and urological dysfunction and prolapse – just to name a few.  

The average diagnosis period for EDS is 12 years from the onset of symptoms. I remember it starting when I was 5. My mom took me by the hand, and my arm just dislocated. It was at the age of 28 that more limiting symptoms began to appear, sometimes so badly that I would need to lay down under my desk at work. My friends and family thought I was a hypochondriac.  One doctor told me it was stress and I needed a life coach. Eventually a diagnosis of ‘Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome – Hypermobility Type’ from a renowned specialist gave my pain and discomfort credibility. I was told I was considered disabled under the Equality Act, a 2010 UK parliamentary act that names 9 ‘protected characteristics,’ including disability, sexuality and race, to legally protect people from discrimination in the workplace and in wider society.

At the time that I received my diagnosis I was working at the British Council, managing global cultural projects in architecture, design and fashion. I was a design expert and had led projects which looked at the problem-solving power of design. Through my job, I started to work with the Unlimited disability arts commissioning platform, who first introduced me to the Social Model of Disability. Before, I had understood disability through the Medical Model, which suggests a person is disabled by their impairments or differences, and it is the role of healthcare professionals to ‘fix’ this. According to the Social Model, someone is disabled by barriers created by society rather than by their impairment or difference. This changed the relationship I had with my condition. 

I left my job at the end of 2019 when I became physically unable to continue working in an office.  I wanted a new career in which I could explore concepts of care with others experiencing barriers. This is how I came to join King’s as an Adult Nursing student. Sometimes I feel like a spy listening in on lectures describing conditions and hearing future healthcare professionals being taught to interact with individuals experiencing illness. It can feel very othering to sit through a lecture describing orthostatic hypotension, while in my head I am screaming ‘I know what that feels like!’

Since starting my Nursing training in September last year, we haven’t talked about disability in depth or explored concepts like the Social Model. Perhaps this isn’t surprising given that 2.9% of non-medical/dental clinical staff, 1.2% of non-consultants, and 0.8% of consultants in the NHS have declared a disability.  If these self-declarations are accurate, then there’s actually very little lived experience of disability within the NHS workforce. Alexandra Adams, who will be the NHS’s first deaf-blind doctor, has spoken out about the discrimination she has faced whilst training to become a medic. 

Indeed, the Social Model was developed by disabled people who suggested that healthcare was trying to fix them, unhelpfully framing disabled bodies as the problem, and not accounting for the agency of disabled people. I strongly believe that the Social Model of Disability should be explored in healthcare education; healthcare practitioners need a toolbox that helps them to understand the experience of illness and connect with disabled people in a collaborative way to identify barriers.  

A woman laying on her back on the floor next to a lamp.

Raquel Meseguer / Unchartered Collective – A Crash Course in Cloudspotting (the subversive act of horizontality)

Alongside the activism out of which the Social Model developed, Disability Arts emerged, encompassing art practices in wide-ranging media that focused on telling human stories about disability. Disabled artists continue to offer up their experiences of healthcare and illness, giving visibility to some of the perspectives of the 18.4 million people across England with a long-standing disability or illness.

Dolly Sen’s Mental Health Signposting work takes viewers on the journey of being signposted to mental health services. Raquel Meseguer and Unchartered Collective’s A Crash Course in Cloudspotting challenges the social conventions around rest in public space by inviting audiences to partake in public rest and experience the stories of those who need to do it. Christopher Samuel’s Welcome Inn invites visitors to sleep in at the Art B+B Blackpool and experience inaccessibility firsthand.

A hotel room with a bed frame too high to climb into and a lamp too low to the ground.

Welcome Inn, a sleep-in installation that is difficult to stay in by artist Christopher Samuel. Photograph by Claire Griffiths.

Projects like Visability93 challenge stereotypes of disability, while Sport England’s Mapping Disability: the Facts gives a clear picture of the spectrum of barriers people are facing.  

Graphical user interface. Description automatically generated with low confidence

A typeface created for the Visbility93 campaign designed to represent the 93% of disabled people who do not use a wheelchair.

I think many people still imagine disability through the narrow perspective I previously did. The Social Model of Disability opens discussions about how we care for each other as a society, and how we might do this better. It makes space to unpack individual experiences, whether already diagnosed or not, and to consider the pains and pleasures of disabled life in three-dimensional social reality, going far beyond  the medical mitigation of symptoms. Alongside a critical understanding of disability models, disabled artists can offer future healthcare workers a different understanding of the meanings of disability and care. Embedding this approach early on in medical education could help to ensure that care and interventions start from the point of recognising barriers and collaborating to build a world that includes everyone. In my opinion, this would transform the experience of disability.


Further reading: 

Targets, Quotas and Money – Just as Bad as Lions, Tigers and Bears – Oh My!

This blog is part of a series from Director of Equality, Diversity and Inclusion, Sarah Guerra, where she will be addressing the ‘whole picture’ of EDI, why it is important, and how we go about making effective, systemic change.

Discussing EDI reward, targets and quotas are some of my least favourite topics, second only to terminology. It is like quicksand. Setting EDI targets is always controversial. Should goals or targets be set? Which behaviours do they lead to? What kind of backlash might be set in motion? How do you set the target? How do you account for all the nuance within each protected characteristic?    

On the other hand, what gets measured gets done. Organisations have measures for all sorts of things they care about – why not EDI?  And since the law has given us the ability to take Positive Action recognising imbalances in the system,’ why wouldnt we use all the tools and levers available? 

Section 159 of The Equality Act defines Positive Action, and it can be summarised as follows: positive actioninrecruitmentand promotion can be used where an employer reasonably thinks that people with a protected characteristic are under-represented in the workforce, or suffer a disadvantage connected to that protected characteristic.  

The critical thing about a good EDI strategy is that it demonstrates that everyone in an organisation is valued. It expresses that, to be truly successful and reap the benefits of a diverse workforce, it is vital to develop and sustain an inclusive environment in which  everyone feels able to participate and achieve their potential. Targets and Quotas only work when it is clear how they relate to that overall aspiration. (See my recent blog The Drive for Data).  

It is important to understand the baseline and find ways of measuring progress and effectiveness. This necessarily requires setting targets and goals against key processes and behaviours. These can be identified through employee data and feedback and should align to the organisations culture and employee engagement approach. They can then be embedded in recruitment, induction, talent management and career advancement.   

Targets can be set for the whole organisation, for constituent parts of it, or for individuals, be that via everyones PDR (Personal Development Review), or by being included in the personal objectives of members of the Executive and Leadership team

There can be a lot of confusion in these discussions. In some places targets are just not part of the culture of an organisation and so setting them for EDI can be very jarring. Positive action is often misunderstood and felt to be positive discrimination. There is a fear that by setting targets you are creating unfair advantage – essentially choosing someone for their characteristics rather than their fit for the role.  For many there is real concern and fear of setting targets due to uncertainty as to how they will be met. Any measurement can result in perverse behaviours, outcomes, or a tick box’ mentality that undertakes the letter of the target, but doesnt understand the spirit, purpose and ethos.   

In deciding whether to set targets it is important that your EDI strategy clearly articulates what you are trying to achieve. Then you can define the purpose of a target. Is it trying to change behaviour, and fundamentally develop a different culture? Is it trying to show the efficiency of a process? These are very different things!   

At Kings we have a number of key performance indicators – they can be found here – and we also seek to measure our success via external charter marks and benchmarks, including the Athena Swan and Race Equality Chartermarks, The Stonewall Workplace Equality Index, and the Business Disability Forums Disability Standard.   

Falling into a similarly, easily misunderstood and controversial category are quota shortlists. This is a positive action measure; a mechanism and a proactive practice that is intended to increase diversity across an organisation.   

Positive Action effectively means that for any recruitment process you identify a minimum threshold for whatever area you are targeting, e.g % of women on the shortlist for leadership roles if your data shows an underrepresentation in this area. It is sometimes referred to as The Rooney Rule, borrowing this name from a high-profile use of Positive Action in the USA. 

The Rooney Ruleis an American National Football League policy that requires league teams to interview ethnic-minority candidates for head coaching and senior football operation jobs. It is an example of affirmative action, even though there is no hiring quota or hiring preference given to minorities, only an interviewing quota.  

Positive action measures, like quota shortlists that are based on good evidence, like employee data analysis, and are supported with the right training and guidance as part of an overall strategic approach, can support the recruitment process. They can help in identifying and developing diverse talent. These shortlists can be used to track progress in improving underrepresentation. Quotas can demonstrate real insight and commitment from an organisation and a determination to address their diversity representation.    

Equally all processes are still operated by people, so the organisation and its people need to fully understand why this is being done and how to implement it effectively.  Without enough understanding of how disadvantage and underrepresentation occur it is easy for others to assume that candidates coming through on quota shortlists do not meet the standard and are not succeeding on merit. The bad feeling that can result is one of the biggest dangers with targets and quotas. The reciprocal pitfall for those who are talented and from underrepresented groups, is the feeling that they have somehow been tokenised, or the internalisation of the belief that they are less than worthy.  

Turning to money, organisations need to provide adequate financial reward to their people (I also discussed pay gaps and pay transparency in The Drive for Data). Ideally this is based on a clear reward strategy involving policies and practices that support organisational objectives. It should aim to enable a motivated, valued and effective workforce. Depending on the type of organisation, reward policies might implement benchmarked benefits, bonuses and pay incentives. These can encourage loyalty, and, by offering competitive terms, conditions and benefits, attract new, diverse talent.  

At Kings a fundamental part of our reward approach is ensuring everyone is paid a living wage. The living wage is a UK wage rate that is voluntarily paid by 7,000 UK businesses, set by the Living Wage Foundation to reflect and meet everyday needs – like the weekly shop, or an unplanned trip to the dentist. The London Living Wage is currently £10.85 per hour. 

The Living Wage Foundation logo.

One of the things we talk about in HR circles is the psychological contract.   

Thepsychological contractrefers to the unwritten set of expectations of the employment relationship, as distinct from the formal, codified employmentcontract. Taken together, thepsychological contractand the employmentcontractdefine the employer-employee relationship.  

Included in this is trust which I discussed in an early blog in this series, The Trust About Trust. In essence it sets out the expectations around the organisational culture, what will be required from an employee and what they will get in return.  

Ensuring there is a positive psychological contract allows individuals to appreciate the total reward package. It also allows for all positive action, targets and quotas to be understood and bought into. Where the psychological contract is weak there is a tendency for employees to easily believe the worst of their organisation and to fall into distrust and cynicism.  

Organisations that ensure everyone understands expectations, and what it will take to be a successful employee who is rewarded, are the ones that see the most success. To do it well, this information should be documented and shared as part of employees inductions.   

So, these are all tools available to us. It is critical that EDI practitioners work with leadership and communications colleagues across the organisation to continuously demonstrate and explain how and why these measures increase fairness and make the organisation a better place to be.   

Liberation for All: Building Inclusive, Intersectional Queer Spaces

For LGBTQ+ History Month, KCLSU LGBTQ+ Officer Martina Chen writes about intersectional identities, this year’s LGBTQ+ History Month theme, and the importance of amplifying QTIPOC voices and addressing discrimination in queer spaces. 

As a queer, secondgeneration Chinese Italian, my life has always been shaped by a complex web of clashing cultures, values and communities.  And because of my multilayered identity I have experienced interlinked forms of discrimination and marginalisation;  not just from wider society but also the communities that I am part of, whether that is the Italian community, the Chinese community or the LGBTQ+ community.   

When I first came to King’s, I felt a strong sense of acceptance for being queer and found my new environment to be generally more welcoming, multicultural and inclusive than Italy. However, I noticed that intersectional issues and identities were not so visible. As someone whose experience is not informed by solely BAME / POC challenges or queer challenges or gender challenges, but by an interaction and mixture of all of them, found that the tendency to look at these issues in an isolated manner erased the experience of those, like me, whose identity is more complex and subject to the challenges implied by all of these positions. 

In my role as KCLSU LGBTQ+ Officer, my priority has been to uplift and amplify intersectional queer identities and experiences  which are frequently neglected and overlooked. From the moment I started organising this year’s LGBTQ+ History Month, my priority was to centre queer, trans+ and intersex people of colour (QTIPOC) and their experiences, as they are the most marginalised group and experience oppression at the intersection of  queerphobia, transphobia, interphobia and racism. 

Other central focuses have been amplifying nonWestern queer voices and experiences; exploring the relationship between colonialism, gender and sexuality, and fostering dialogue about decolonising queer history and our understanding of queerness and gender identity. National LGBTQ+ History Month celebrations and queer movements continue to be Eurocentric, whitecentric and ciscentric.  

With the rising racism, transphobia, hate crimes and far-right narratives around the world, it is more crucial than ever to create visibility for those who have been historically erased. We need to acknowledge and address the different forms of discrimination happening not only in wider society but within the queer community as well. 

It’s time to ask: who is benefitting from LGBTQ+ laws? Who is being excluded? Who is included in the calls for LGBTQ+ equality? Whose stories are being told? There might not be a simple answer, but what is certain is that queer, trans+ and intersex people of colour have been left behind.  

We have made huge progress, but queer spaces continue to be white, cis and male dominated, and queer culture is still frequently  understood to be a cis, white, gay male culture. Although we might all be part of the same community, cis white queer folks can still be complicit in sustaining white supremacy and transphobia, and the harms that POCs and trans+ folks are subject to. Cis, white, gay privilege is real. 

It is striking that, whilst trans, non-binary, black and POC queer folks and their experiences have been excluded, marginalised and erased, queer liberation movements were historically led by QTIPOCs. Trans+ black women led the Stonewall Riots and paved the way for our rights today, yet they were subject to hatred, discrimination, erasure and violence from some cis white queer folks. This persists today through organisations such as the LGB alliance, trans-exclusionary feminists and elitist white, gay groups, who continue to perpetuate hatred and violence against trans women and queer people of colour, especially Black trans women.  

I hope that this year’s LGBTQ+ History Month, together with the global conversations  about racism and transphobia, encourages us to break down the mirage that there is a united queer community. It’s time to start addressing the division, hatred and violence that is still perpetuated by our own members, so that we can build a truly intersectional, inclusive and united queer community and call for the liberation of all queer folks, not just white, cis, gay men 

White, cis, queer-presenting men dance on the tip of an iceberg. Feminine-presenting and gender non-conforming queer people of all skin colours hold onto the much larger portion of the iceberg, submerged under water.


Inclusion Audits  

This blog is part of a series from Director of Equality, Diversity and Inclusion, Sarah Guerra, where she will be addressing the ‘whole picture’ of EDI, why it is important, and how we go about making effective, systemic change.

An Inclusion or Diversity audit helps an organisation to understand both the culture and demographics of their employees. It enables you to see the breadth of diversity, and which factors and activities are needed to help increase inclusion across the business.  

An audit can include a variety of diagnostic tools and activities, such as gender pay gap analysis, supplier diversity audits, or equality impact assessments or as we call them at King’s, since the 2010 Equality Act – Equality Analysis. King’s uses  Equality Analysis (EA) to systematically analyse the potential impacts that new policies, practices, projects, or services might have on different groups within the King’s community. 

Diversity audits should be seen as, and feel like, positive activities towards building an inclusive culture. They can be powerful in bringing together data and analysis through consultation with employees. They should provide a holistic view of the organisation in terms of diversity, equality, and inclusion, enabling the creation of focused, clearly evidenced strategies to achieve improvements.  

As well as generating valuable data, one of the key benefits of carrying out these audits is to show staff that their views and opinions on how we become a more inclusive employer matter. Depending on the number of employees involved, this can generate many ideas, sometimes too many for the organisation to cope with. So, when starting out, the parameters or ambitions of the audit need to be clear, and everyone needs to be ready for the volume of information and action it might bring. This being so it is important to have a clear way of feeding back how community input and ideas have been reviewed, actioned, or not taken forwards – and why. Every step of this process should be part of building that overall trust I talked about in my blog-post The Truth about Trust 

In higher education (HE) there are two clear and familiar audit frameworks: Athena Swan and the Race Equality Chartermark. (Though perhaps many people haven’t thought about them like that.) 

The Athena Swan and Race Equality Charter logos

The Athena Swan Charter framework supports and transforms gender equality within higher education (HE) and research. It was established in 2005 to encourage and recognise commitment to advancing the careers of women in science, technology, engineering, maths and medicine (STEMM). King’s has been a member since its inception and was awarded  Bronze status in 2016. 9 of Kings’ 18 academic departments have achieved Silver awards, and in December 2020 we submitted an application for a whole university Silver award – you can read more about this here.

Advance HE’s Race Equality Charter (REC) is a framework through which institutions work to identify and self-reflect on institutional and cultural barriers standing in the way of Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic staff and students. King’s was an early adopter and joined the scheme at its inception. We recently renewed our Bronze award – you can read more about our plan and findings here.    

As well as the two well-known HE frameworks recognising our determination to be intersectional in our approach, we also take part in the The Stonewall Workplace Equality Index, and the Business Disability Forum’s Disability Standard

The Stonewall Workplace Equality Index and Business Disability Forum’s Disability Standard logos

The Stonewall Workplace Equality Index is a way of measuring progress on LGBTQ+ equality. King’s first submission to Stonewall’s WEI was in 2019. The scheme was in its fifteenth year, and 445 organisations from diverse sectors – spanning banking to healthcare, education to law and retail to government – participated.

The Disability Standard is a tool developed by the Business Disability Forum (BDF) to monitor the accessibility of an organisation across all aspects of its business, including products and services, recruitment and facility. We undertook this standard in 2017 and scored less than 50%. Hence disability inclusion became one of the areas specifically identified in our EDI strategy for improvement. 

In 2020 we also took part in the Working Families benchmark. This  is the only tool available that measures all aspects of flexible working and work-life policies and practice. It evaluates how well these are integrated into your organisation’s values and culture, and looks specifically at how well you support and engage with parents and carers. 

So, wow that is a lot of audit. They have all been so valuable but also SOOOOO much work – and I thank all of those who  helped us to undertake them. I really look forward to the day we have a combined intersectional benchmark. 

It is easy to see these charter marks and measures as a bureaucratic exercise. Indeed, recently the government characterised much of this in just this way. However, it is essential that we recognise that for organisations to thrive; to attract and retain the best people, and forge conditions in which those people can be successful and healthy, we need to undertake these kinds of detailed investigation. To understand the range of our communities’ experiences, we need to see through the eyes of individuals, as well as the big picture that data reveals. This enables us to identify overall themes that we can address to help everybody, as well as issues which may seem smaller because they only impact a few people but can make such a critical difference.

I urge you to browse all our ‘audits’ and reports – you can get a summary in our Annual report and then dig deeper. 

‘hOmOsexual Armageddon’: Mark Tricklebank on being gay before and after decriminalisation

Mark Tricklebank is a Wellcome Trust Career Reentry Fellow in the Department of Neuroimaging Sciences. He is a committee member for Proudly King’s. For LGBTQ+ History Month, he writes about his experiences coming to terms with his sexuality before and after decriminalisation.

The greatest achievement for the LGBTQ+ movement has undoubtedly been the decriminalisation of sexual relations between consenting adults. As a young boy enrolled at a C of E school, trying to come to terms with same-sex attraction, the path to damnation was clear enough. The glint of golden hairs on the suntanned arm of a classmate that made me feel deliriously happy and incredibly curious about what the sun reflecting off his delicious legs would look like, were dangerous dreams that at this age would only introduce me to the word “pervert”. My headmaster committed suicide in his study for “interfering” with his pupils.  

The word homosexual was muttered with emphasis on the “O” in the BBC English of the time. My world was a world of spies and Germans. Philby and McClean were ‘hOmOsexuals’ who were intent on surrendering our country to the evil Russians. My aunty was a nurse in Winson Green Prison, and she had spoken with the spy Klaus Fuch who had warned her that Armageddon would soon be released on the West whose governments were full of traitors and upper-class hOmOsexuals. But what was a hOmOsexual? I had no idea until puberty was released on me. At ten I realised that my perceptual set was tuned to pick up the slightest hint of sexual interactions between men. The occasional television play that carelessly incorporated a hint of something not quite right in the interactions between male characters; an insistence for shirt cuffs to be folded absolutely properly; the Brylcreemed hair and perfectly chiselled features all provided an aura of things not being quite right.  

The idea that hOmOsexuals were perverts who hid their true nature and desires – like Soviet spies – was common sense. Handsome police officers were stationed on watch outside public toilets, ready to catch out returning commuters lingering at the stall for the briefest sight of a male member gloriously standing to attention. Avoiding the glances of Constable Dixon, ready to exert the full force of the law on anybody showing interest, these men scurried off home to wives, families and the safety of their typical British sanctuaries, content with their Philby-like performances. 

There was no need to label yourself a pervert when it was easy to obtain training to hide your deviant desires by simply reading the newspapers or watching the television. If the keeper of the Queen’s pictures could do it, why not Joe Bloggs on the 5.30 to Effingham Junction? That way, Winson Green’s promise of hOmOsexual Armageddon could remain safely out of sight, hidden by the chimneys still belching smoke. Until an episode of intense temptation would defeat even the most stalwart of spies, and the whispering would start: “I always thought there was something odd about the way he dressed,” or, “he always needed to visit the gents before getting on/off the train”. Deceit and denial were the order of the day until the door closed and relief could be obtained in private behind the locked door. The scrawled messages on the walls and doors of what others could provide serving as pornographic stimulation to ensure relief was rapidly achieved.  

Yes, things have changed so much for the better. Now, we can just say, “so what I’m gay, just get over it.” But even today some cannot. It might be incredibly easy to hide your true desires from family, friends and employers, but at what cost? Those adverse childhood experiences will return to impede our achievements of happiness and contentment in the form of midlife depression, anxiety and stress-related illness. And what about those coming from environments where Colonial-era laws are still rigorously applied? What about the refugee children imprisoned, separate from any role models or positive adult interactions to offer advice and support. Those adverse childhood experiences will come back to limit and harm all of society with a vengeance.  

This blog is part of a series from Director of Equality, Diversity and Inclusion, Sarah Guerra, where she will be addressing the ‘whole picture’ of EDI, why it is important, and how we go about making effective, systemic change.

EDI is underpinned and driven forward by good quality, broad and deep data. Data is the starting point and can often be the biggest barrier to progress – whether you have it or not.

The critical role of data collection and analysis is to understand current challenges and opportunities in terms of EDI across the organisation. Data helps us to address questions and look at how we should be planning for the future. It empowers us to understand what we don’t know and so encourages credible research to clarify and demystify the current reality. It also serves an important role in evaluating outcomes – is what you are doing making any difference? Are you being successful?

Getting and using data involves a variety of aspects:

Systems: having the ability to collect the data safely and efficiently. If you are a staff member at King’s, have you checked out our PowerBI dashboards?

Expertise: once you have it, being able to analyse and understand what it means. At King’s we have many amazing teams to help us do this – People, Data and Analytics and EDI in HR, our Business Analytics colleagues and the What Works Unit to name a few of the key players.

Disclosure – getting people to give trust you and give you their data. Check out this short video that helps you understand how and why we collect data at King’s.

Reporting – telling people what you have found out. The EDI team makes regular reports to Council, SMT and our Equality, Diversity and Inclusion Committee and Forum (EDIC & EDIF). Additionally, we also have our Annual Reports – check out our most recent one.

When pulling these together, it is important that we are clear about why we are collecting data and what we are going to do with it. Being explicit about our purposes means people are more reassured and trusting. We must show that we have learnt something from the data and importantly that we have done something. Feedback and communication are essential here.

The various charter-marks we use can seem unbelievably laborious and indeed recently, the government has called into question their ‘unnecessary bureaucracy.’ However, they help us gather relevant data, help us understand it and identify actions, and force us to assess what the impact has been. Charter-marks warrant a blog of their own, so watch out for that one!

My practitioner experience tells me that it is all too easy to put any number of programmes and initiatives in place to show that something is ‘being done’ by an organisation. Spending the time diagnosing the problems, thinking through options and designing solutions takes longer and is harder – but the focus and clarity it provides is worth it. It also requires patience and self-belief because it can feel like you are talking about the ‘doing’ for a long time. This diagnosis and design are so much harder without good foundational data.

It is critical to start by understanding where you are now – the baseline – to determine targets and areas to improve. This is why one of the first things I did when I arrived at King’s was work, in partnership with our amazing Business Analytics colleagues, in particular, Richard Salter, to create the PowerBI diversity dashboards referenced above. These dashboards capture and bring together all sorts of EDI data on staff and students, for easy comprehension and interrogation. It also collates data, such as who has joined us, either as a staff member or a student, when, to do what, under what terms, how successful they are and when they leave.

Diversity and Inclusion dashboard on PowerBI

Another element of data which provides insight is equal pay analysis and transparency on pay gap reporting. At King’s, as required by law, we report on our gender pay gap annually. Organisations are required to publish their gender pay gap analysis annually in the UK if they have more than 250 employees, concerning data collected in the same year. The requirement is to calculate and publish statistics on pay gaps between male and female employees, measured by hourly pay and bonuses, as well as the proportion of male and female employees in each pay quartile. In recent years, we have also chosen to calculate and report our ethnicity pay gap using the same method, as far as is possible.

Being transparent and sharing this analysis provides a clear measure of how fair our workplace is. Understanding whether the pay gap is rising or falling helps us determine whether our EDI programmes are helping to create a fairer, more inclusive workplace. Pay gap transparency is an opportunity to listen to ideas from across the organisation, hear about things people have learnt from elsewhere and enable our community to feel they are contributing to changes for the better.

Monitoring of starting salaries is a critical and straightforward tool in pay transparency. Most organisations, and certainly we here at King’s, have a minimum and maximum (or band of) pay rate for employees performing a particular job or function. However, as people join, local managers have some flexibility as to what rate of salary people are appointed on, often taking wider factors into consideration. There is quite a lot of research that shows women and people from certain cultures or backgrounds are less likely to feel confident to negotiate on starting a role. So, where there is discretion and flexibility, it is essential that what is happening is monitored.

The pay gap is not a perfect measure. There may be instances of the pay gap widening, or of no improvements being made across the year despite several activities being in place. This doesn’t mean they are the wrong actions, but perhaps that they need longer to take effect or they need more commitment behind them. It is critical to be open about pay gaps, where they are in the organisation and what causes them.

A critical area to capturing data in is recruitment. This provides a wealth of information, including: helping us determine where most candidates are entering the recruitment process; what job boards, social media sites, mobile hiring apps or referral approaches are the most effective; what resources are bringing a greater diversity of candidates. The introduction of our new HR Digital services has been a game changer for us at King’s in terms of being able to get this kind of information. Once we have had it up and running for long enough, we will have a veritable gold mine of data to access and learn from.

An example of the Equal Opportunities form through HR Digital Services

In addition, data collection during each stage of the recruitment process provides an in-depth look into the hiring process. Looking at proportions in terms of applicants from diverse backgrounds applying, compared to the number of interviews, or the number of interviews compared to the number of jobs offers across the organisation and within each function, highlights any issues that may be occurring in the process. If you read our Race Equality Chartermark application, you will see that we have a lot of improvement to make in terms of the noticeably clear and disproportionate reduction of BME candidates from application, to shortlist, through to appointment.

There are many different types of data and many ways to collect it. It is important to collect qualitative data through: employee feedback surveys; focus groups; 1 to 1 interview; competitions and awards; staff and student networks, as well as the quantitative methods described above.

The best EDI practice allows us to create a baseline and then carry out a review after programmes have been put in place to validate changes or improvements made. As I have outlined, getting good data is not easy. You need the technical tools and the expertise. You need good governance to ensure data integrity and protection. The main purpose of collecting data is to answer questions, so it is critical that the data is correct and reliable. One of the approaches we take at King’s is making use of a balanced score card, which utilises a wide variety of agreed-upon measures to evaluate organisational success, ensuring that it covers the right measures for the organisation.

Balanced Scorecard on PowerBI, which summarises KPIs and targets at King’s

Without a doubt, data is one of the most important tools we have for EDI. It helps us build understanding of the starting point, helps us measure progress, and brings greater objectivity when making decisions on where to invest time and action. However, we should not be fooled into thinking data is neutral. It is actually something that can be very emotive, easily manipulated and provide distorted perspectives (to think further about this, I’d highly recommend Invisible Women by Caroline Criado Perez).

In being a massive data advocate and always prioritising evidence-driven EDI activity, my toolkit includes 3 things. Firstly, with any data, notice what emotions it provokes, so you can be clear as to your own objectivity and bias. Secondly, examine the context – where has this data come from, from who, and why? Finally, be curious – what does it not tell you?

Please take some time to look at our dashboards and to fill in your own information on Core HR so that we have the most up-to-date and most reliable data possible.

We Will Ride: Making Transport Accessible

This week, we share a blog from Savitri Hensman, Patient and Public Involvement Coordinator for Applied Research Collaboration (ARC) South London, based at IoPPN, which details a look back at the Campaign for Accessible Transport protests in London in the 90s. Thanks to Ruth Bashall for images.

‘We will ride’: making transport accessible

Getting to King’s College London, and around our city, is easier for many disabled people than it would have been a few decades ago. Public transport is far from fully accessible, especially the underground. The pandemic has added to problems. Yet much has changed, thanks largely to direct action by disabled campaigners.

Thirty years ago, buses were generally impossible to use if one was unable to climb on board and were without written and audio announcements of stops. Even the limited access to the tube which now exists was not in place. Though members of the public, many disabled people could not get around on what was meant to be public transport. Calls for change were largely disregarded. But in 1990, the issue became hard to ignore, as protests brought traffic in parts of central London to a halt!

Wheelchair users waiting to board buses as part of the protests to make London more accessible

The Campaign for Accessible Transport (CAT) protested in high profile locations such as Oxford Street, for instance halting a bus as a wheelchair-user symbolically tried to get on. They explained to impatient passengers that, while their journeys were delayed, some people had been waiting for years to get to their destinations.

Activities were carefully organised, with plenty of photo opportunities for the media. Some protestors chained themselves to buses. A number of people were arrested; being willing to take this risk often involved a fair deal of courage, especially since police tended to have no training in how to move disabled people safely and getting into police stations and courts often meant being carried up flights of steps.

I was young and non-disabled back in those days. But friends who were involved in organising the events roped me in to be present as one of the legal observers. I was not part of the protests but was one of those who observed, kept note of who got arrested and police behaviour and, in general, helped to protect the rights of protestors. I had no legal training but I did have experience at anti-racist demonstrations, which offered useful opportunities to practice staying calm amidst often violent chaos. So on perhaps a couple of occasions, I showed up, looked on and kept jotting, on the sidelines of the action.

Image of protestors

Wheelchair users waiting to board buses as part of the protests to make London more accessible

Singing was often a feature, including a song by an American activist, ‘We will ride’, which was adapted to the UK context.

These protests contributed to a broader shift in how disabled people were viewed in Britain, as those previously seen as helpless took bold action (though there is still a long way to go in tackling negative and disempowering images). In other ways too, disability rights activists – some of whom involved in diverse social movements for justice – were changing attitudes and practices.

Change did not happen immediately. But after CAT came DAN (Direct Action Network), with some overlap in membership. Newsworthy events happened in London and elsewhere, drawing attention to injustice in transport and other areas of life.

In 1995 a Disability Discrimination Act was passed, though tackling lack of access in transport through the law was a slow process. However some transport authorities were improving access; it was clear that disabled potential users were not willing to let the issue be forgotten. From 2000, the new Mayor of London introduced what was, for a while, probably the largest accessible low floor bus fleet in the world. Changes were also introduced in the underground and overground train network, though a new leadership did not keep up the momentum. Nevertheless the improvements had major effects on people’s ability to study, work or volunteer and be part of the community.

Making change happen often involves much lobbying and negotiation. But sometimes direct action may be needed, as happened so memorably all those years ago.

Map of the London Underground showing step-free and wheelchair accessible stations

The Significance of Sponsorship

This blog is part of a series from Director of Equality, Diversity and Inclusion, Sarah Guerra, where she will be addressing the ‘whole picture’ of EDI, why it is important, and how we go about making effective, systemic change.

Senior level sponsorship, sometimes called ‘championing,’ is a critical step in ensuring sustainable change when working toward EDI goals; without this support organisations would not be able to sustain changes made in their behaviour.

A wide range of research  plus my personal experience tells me that is the number one indicator of the success of any equality, diversity, and inclusion activity in an organisation. The phrase can make some feel uncomfortable, with concerns of patronage or nepotism, but the reality is far from that. Executive sponsorship simply recognises that what those in charge of an organisation care about and put their energy into, gets done! This is because those across the organisation also then see the work as important, and that they will be rewarded or better regarded if they too care about it.

Executive Sponsors have several duties in demonstrating active support. They are people appropriately placed in an organisation, who have significant influence on decision-making processes or structures. They can advocate for, protect, and positively drive EDI activity, and act as inclusive role models for the organisation.

Executive (sometimes called Programme Sponsors) provide visibility and access to decision-making environments and reduce the risk that individuals from underrepresented groups face. Sponsors can provide challenging conversations to support new and progressive activity. A key part of their role is to demonstrate their belief in the potential of the programme outcomes and help build that belief in others and so act as ‘the face of change’ for the organisation. They will utilise their voice to champion the activity in question challenge bias, as well as shield those in less powerful or more vulnerable positions from harm or undue criticism. A Sponsor’s role is to demonstrate the case for change, and to always champion building a positive culture.

Sponsors can help ensure that the equality, diversity and inclusion activity relate to the organisation’s overall aims. They can help by helping others see the connection between the EDI goals and the organisation’s wider goals. They can use their personal skills, positions of influence and power to overcome resistance from others or to help unblock tricky areas. Sometimes it is a question of resources and sometimes it is a question of organisational culture or attitude.

At King’s we have a whole variety of sponsors and champions. Some of particular note have been: Prof.  Ed Byrne in his overall sponsorship of EDI;  Prof. ‘Funmi Olonsakin and Prof. Evelyn Welch, who have both taken positions of leadership for REC and Athena Swan;  Prof. Reza Razavi, who has really pushed to improve the work culture in our research areas. Recently, Prof. Richard Trembath has become the sponsor for our programme of work around disability inclusion. The work of all these as Sponsors has included: chairing working groups; advocating very powerfully across King’s to get things moving; working quietly behind the scenes to lend their expertise and knowledge; providing mentorship, coaching and importantly access to themselves as a means of opening doors for others. They and many others have demonstrated a willingness to speak out on issues and educate others. They consciously sponsor employees from different backgrounds and challenge their peers to do the same.

Programme sponsors at King’s, who sponsor a range of programmes, including race equality and disability inclusion

The heart of executive sponsorship is realising and taking the many opportunities you have to highlight issues - be it at team meetings, executive meetings or during one-to-one discussions - to help ensure actions are in place, to raise awareness, to support diverse progression, and to mentor and coach others.

Programmes for inclusion work well when they are driven by senior leaders and shaped by their people. A successful cross-cultural sponsor relies on mutual understanding on matters related to race, culture, and inclusion. Therefore, they need to be visible, and willing to have sometimes challenging conversations about race with honesty, understanding and courage. We are helping build our SMT’s capability to be great sponsors and champions with our Mutual Mentoring programme sponsored by SVP Operations Steve Large. I am planning a separate blog on mentoring and reverse mentoring, so look out for that.

On the flip side, it is important to remember that equality, diversity, and inclusion is incredibly people-focused, and can raise a lot of sensitivities. A Sponsor’s presence at programmes and events will not only attract more employees, but it also speaks volumes about the importance of the issue on the organisation’s agenda. However, they must be people who others trust and feel comfortable with otherwise their presence and sponsorship may not have the positive impacts that are needed.

I would like to thank all our Sponsors at King’s. They exist right across the gamut of King’s. I would like to urge all of those in a senior leadership position to consider – what are you seen as sponsoring? If you cannot answer that question, then let’s have a chat as I have a long list of ways in which you can help advance EDI at King’s!


The Demand for Difference

This blog is part of a series from Director of Equality, Diversity and Inclusion, Sarah Guerra, where she will be addressing the ‘whole picture’ of EDI, why it is important, and how we go about making effective, systemic change.

Yesterday, I had the pleasure of opening our Network summit in partnership with Radius, and earlier in the week, the privilege of attending the launch of our new Mutual Mentoring scheme. In doing so, I was able to reflect on how essential building empathy and understanding are, and the role which staff networks play in EDI success. Celebrating diversity and difference and building community is a critical component of our EDI strategy here at King’s. It is one of the reasons we have made a conscious and proactive effort to develop and support staff networks, partner with KCLSU, broaden our development approach to  More than Mentoring, and ensure that we continue to support network development and wellbeing via events like the Radius summit.

Celebrating difference is about recognising that each employee or student is unique and valuing that individual difference. It is about understanding each other and moving beyond tolerance, to fully embracing and celebrating the rich dimensions that a truly diverse community can bring. Celebrating cultural events across the year, whether it be Pride, Black History Month, Trans Awareness Week, or Disability History Month, which we are currently celebrating, helps to unite and educate, and allows us to better understand each other’s perspectives.

King’s College London’s Proudly King’s Network at London Pride

Through understanding a range of diverse backgrounds and experiences, we can all gain a sense of pride for the diversity of our culture. Celebrating and understanding varied backgrounds is crucial to personal and community growth.

There are so many benefits of celebrating differences and enabling people to be their true selves at work. For example, doing this helps us and our organisations overcome stereotypes.

‘A stereotype is an over-generalized belief about a particular category of people. It is an expectation that people might have about every person of a particular group’

Stereotyping, whether it be conscious or unconscious, is too commonplace. It has a negative impact on the way people see and behave with others who they perceive (consciously or unconsciously) as different. Stereotyping encourages us to make assumptions about others, which can be incorrect and hurtful, as well as hindering collaboration and teamwork. When an organisation celebrates differences, it encourages the dissolution of preconceived notions, breaks down stereotypes and helps us to see people for who they are.

Celebrating difference and counteracting stereotypes discourages racism, sexism, homophobia, and ableism, to name but a few key things we must combat. These are often borne out of fear and ignorance. In the workplace, it could be a subtle joke or simply leaving someone out; either way it is not something we want to persist. With increased awareness and appreciation of different cultures and races comes increased respect for other people and their differences. Prejudice and stereotypes are removed through education and celebration and their removal is a necessity to discourage the ignorance that supports these ‘isms’.

People tend to surround themselves with people ‘like them’, as it is familiar and safe. Therefore, it is important to actively build cultural awareness of difference. Encouraging working with different cultures and backgrounds not only helps to educate others and build appreciation of other cultures and their histories, but it can also prevent ‘groupthink’.

Groupthink is a phenomenon that occurs when a group of individuals reaches a consensus without critical reasoning or evaluation of the consequences or alternatives. Groupthink is based on a common desire not to upset the balance of a group of people.

It is proven that having a more diverse set of people in the room prevents groupthink, leading to innovation, which ultimately leads to better decision-making. Increasing openness to difference helps create new ways of working, improves current processes and gives people the ability to make changes in the way they work, for the better. Once again, I recommend my AKC lecture to consider this in more detail.

Groupthink can encourage harmful or detrimental ways of thinking

In seeking ‘unity’ we must, at the same time, remember and celebrate individual uniqueness.  Without this we will not be enabling people to be themselves. We will instead risk forcing them to assimilate to ‘a norm’. Embracing and celebrating difference brings a greater breadth of ideas and solutions and builds a culture where everyone feels valued and appreciated. Developing this inclusive culture requires more sophisticated and capable managers, as increased diversity increases the perspectives and ideas that need to be reconciled and rationalised. One of the ways we are helping build this is via Cultural Competency, a set of behaviours which takes this thinking and embeds it into the curriculum and professional development for all students and staff.

I developed my own confidence and capability by learning about myself and my differences, and consequently, was able to move from feeling othered to feeling empowered and confident. This is why I believe that this celebration of difference and building of community is one of the most crucial requirements of being successful, and why I have embedded it within King’s overall EDI  .

Jessie Krish on Black Lives Matter & Race within the Arts and HE

Jessie Krish, who recently joined Equality Diversity & Inclusion as a part-time Project Assistant, and works outside of King’s as an independent curator, shares her reflections on the Black Lives Matters protests of the summer and how they inform work in the Cultural Industries and Higher Education sector. She recently co-edited a ‘Reader’ for e-flux journal on Loot and Looting.

After Minneapolis Police officers killed George Floyd, protests grew, and cities around the United States saw their buildings boarded with sheets of plywood: a defense against the threat of looting. With workers who usually inhabit these buildings absent due to Covid-19 lockdowns, the boards were there to protect commodities. Donald Trump’s command “when the looting starts, the shooting starts,” was a violent call to protect property, even at the expense of human life.

Whilst it is crucial to maintain the distinction between political protest and particular instances of looting that occurred in the recent wave of Black Lives Matter (BLM) protests, it was looting in particular that escalated the protests, polarised public and political opinion, and contributed to the explosive impact of the BLM movement. Some viewed these acts of theft and vandalism as symbolic rejections of structures perpetuating state violence, systemic racism, and capitalist exploitation. But mainstream coverage in the United States’ media tied looting to people of color, and failed to connect these actions with the histories of systematic dispossession that Black Lives Matters activists protested, or the racialised extraction that subtends economic activity almost everywhere.

In the midst of the protests, American Artist presented an intervention at the Whitney Museum of American Art’s online collection, in which all digital images of the museum’s artworks were temporarily replaced with a plywood texture. The title of this project, Looted, pointed directly to the imperial legacies and colonialist practices of many Western museums, as well as activist and artistic institutional critiques in which the uncomfortable figure of museum “loot”, stolen from indigenous peoples and foreign nations and yet to be repatriated, is often central.

A screenshot of Looted on the Whitney’s website

Presenting Looted as an act of ‘redaction and refusal,’ the Whitney sought solidarity with activists, and to reframe the narrative around the boarding up of the museum’s building during this period. American Artist’s Looted highlights the extreme contradictions that cultural institutions must hold (for example, guarding looted national property, whilst developing convincing and inclusive postcolonial narratives) when they engage with decolonial work. Work which requires structural, material and cultural change.

The boarded museum and its website populated with squares of rendered plywood, is a visual reminder of the close proximity of current state violence to the museum’s stolen imperial acquisitions. Whilst they can feel worlds apart, the street, museum, and university are at close quarters, and activities in each domain stand to impact cultures, structures, and material outcomes across the board.

I’m writing following the recent publication of Universities UK’s report Tackling Racial Harassment in Higher Education (November 2020). Following the Equality and Human Rights Commission’s publication of evidence of widespread racial harassment on university campuses just over a year ago, this report calls on university leaders to acknowledge that UK higher education perpetuates institutional racism. It cites ‘racial harassment, a lack of diversity among senior leaders, the Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic student attainment gap and ethnicity pay gaps among staff as evidence’. Recognising that racial harassment is just one dimension of structural racism in the Higher Education sector, it acknowledges the depth of this problem and the breadth of work required, making detailed and evidence-based recommendations beyond the scope of the guidance, including the need to diversify predominantly Eurocentric and white university curricula.

Reflecting on a year in which the BLM movement has exploded and been met with the force of the state, racial discrimination has risen, and racial health inequalities have been exposed as a matter of life or death with grossly uneven outcomes for coronavirus patients of different ethnicities, I am heartened to see UK Universities addressing harassment so thoroughly. I share their positivity for the impact that the HE sector could have, with the potential to shape the minds and attitudes of 429,000 staff, and 2.3 million students, a generation whom, particularly in London, will be unprecedented in their diversity. Time to get to work!

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