Equality, Diversity & Inclusion at King's College London

Author: Sarah Mander (Page 2 of 8)

Puede decir las verdades más profundas con las mentiras de ficción

I’m a woman of varied interests and responsibilities – including being a TV addict and a mother. Nothing gives me more pleasure than to find a way of combining these particular facets of my being.

Over the last few years, my daughters Kaela and Lyra and I have tackled (by which I mean seriously binge-watched) various TV series including; Once Upon a Time (preposterous, fun and heartfelt), Pretty Little Liars (initially intriguing, ultimately vacuous) and Gilmore Girls (a perfect mother-daughter watch). At some point in the last year Kaela urged me to watch Jane the Virgin, which she loved.  With so many seasons, I was unconvinced. I dragged my way through a few episodes, and with Kaela’s lobbying I persisted. Oh my word, how glad am I that I did?

JTV, an adaptation of a Venezuelan telenovela, follows a teenage Latina girl, Jane, who is accidentally impregnated via artificial insemination. The plot thickens when she falls for the super-gorgeous, wealthy, biological father. There is a hilarious ‘Latin-lover’ narrator who constantly reminds the audience “Just like a telenovela, right?”, bringing the genre right into the American/UK millennial milieu, hashtags and all.

The show is the ultimate cultural crossover, not just of this very popular Latin American artform, with arch villains and love triangles, but also as it touches on genres that traditionally tell women’s stories; the soap, the rom-com, the romance novel and reality television. The nature of the show provides so many televisual devices that it may be dismissed by some (as it was initially by me) as idiotic nonsense.

Jane is a massive Isabel Allende fan (she makes the odd cameo appearance too) and my title today ‘you can tell the deepest truths with the lies of fiction’ perfectly captures the heart of JTV. It is one of the most feminist and meaningful shows I have ever watched (and I have watched A LOT!). It tells the individual and interlinked stories of three generations of Latina women, their relationship with religion, age and gender roles. The show explores the nature of relationships and love in all its forms, the value that society and individuals place on virginity, as well as the difference between sex, love and meaningful relationships. As a mother of four daughters, two currently in their teens, it has been a great vehicle for conversation – both serious and silly.

Telenovelas have a long tradition as transmitters of social messages; in Mexico, the government used hit shows to advocate for family planning. JTV examined Latino immigration, undocumented workers, and took a deep dive on topics like on women’s health, breast feeding, breast cancer, abortion and even orgasms.

One of the truly ground-breaking things , was that a substantial part of the dialogue took place in Spanish. Rather than erasing the protagonist’s culture or pandering to English speaking audiences, it normalises and celebrates Latina culture. And here (as the narrator might say) is the link; in late November, I attended a King’s event that for the first time ever, took the same approach. The launch of the report Representation, engagement and participation: Latinx students in higher education, where all the content was provided in three languages.

Latinx is a gender-neutral term for people of Latin American descent. Latinx includes Spanish or Portuguese first language speakers from the Central and South American geographical regions.

The report looks at how, despite high levels of education and employment, the Latinx community in England is overrepresented in low-paid and low-skilled jobs. It explores the barriers to HE access and outcomes for Latinx students in the UK and tries to identify what challenges Latinx young people and their families face in UK education:

  • Lack of knowledge of the UK education system, which can hinder Latinx pupils’ access to school places and limit parents’ ability to provide support
  • Lack of awareness of how citizenship status affects eligibility for funding such as student loans, or liability for increased student fees
  • Young people acting as ‘linguistic brokers’ facilitating interaction between parents and their school
  • Reliance on community-based support networks, which is more difficult where networks are weak
  • The school admissions system’s slow pace and reluctance to admit pupils who speak English as an additional language, which can ‘lock’ Latinx young people out

Drawn up in collaboration with students, teachers, community representatives and academics, the report presents six recommendations for driving positive change:

  • Support Latinx pupils to secure and declare their citizenship status;
  • Address language barriers;
  • Go beyond access: HEIs should involve students in this support, providing resources and logistical support for peer mentoring between existing students and new, or prospective students, both on- and off-campus;
  • Work with key community brokers to establish strong, long-term partnerships between HEIs and Latinx groups;
  • Call on the ONS and UCAS to officially recognise Latinx students;
  • Ensure Latinx people are visible in a variety of roles within HE: This will help to demonstrate the many, key roles Latinx people play in the day-to-day life of higher education in the UK.

This event (which you can read more about here) really underlined for me one of JTV’s  key messages around language and inclusivity.  A casual glance would mean missing how JTV is provocative and challenging television – forcing us to think about our norms about women and representation. It can be no coincidence that my daughter and I, both with Venezuelan heritage and brown skin, found a home with Jane and her family. We can see ourselves in them. When I finished the final (sixth) season, I was distraught and especially so while watching the penultimate episode, which presented the cast reflecting on the show, its originality and its achievements. I felt like I was losing some of my best friends.

So, in closing, whatever kind of TV floats your boat, it’s worth taking a moment to think about how TV as a medium can challenge what you think, or work to reinforce old stereotypes. And with that I bid you adios.


Respect is a core value of many organisations and something that people often say is fundamental to a positive working environment, as well as to their day-to-day wellbeing.

Respect – noun

A feeling of deep admiration for someone or something elicited by their abilities, qualities, or achievements.

Similar: esteem, regard, high regard, high opinion, acclaim, admiration, approbation, approval, appreciation, estimation, favour, popularity, recognition, veneration, awe, reverence, deference, honour, praise, homage

Opposite: contempt

Disrespect, or in fact contempt, was what sprang to mind from a recent experience. I am often asked to speak at events or sit on panels. I love the opportunity to share my thinking and to hear others but it can be such a mixed experience. People regularly feed back that they’ve learned something and often follow up, seeking further 1-to-1 meetings or advice. That’s what keeps me trying, but there are some lows. Each event takes a degree of preparation as well as emotional and physical energy. Don’t get me started on the expectation that you will do it for free, too – the amount of free labour that is expected of BME women is probably a PhD thesis or two of its own.

Also amongst the lows – here’s some common experiences:

“Oh, next up we have Sarah G…er…uugarraga” – or some other collection of sounds that bear no relation to my name. Pro- tip – if you are introducing someone, find out how to say their name and practice it. Someone’s name is a basic identifier and getting it right is a basic mark of respect.

“Here’s Sarah Guerra”

I start speaking and some people in the room start talking. Just don’t. If you’ve come into the room, then it was presumably with the intention of listening? If you don’t want to, or can’t listen, then excuse yourself. I find this often happens that someone asks a question which I then try to answer but they clearly weren’t interested in the answer – they stop paying attention the minute they’ve had their chance to speak.

If you are organising an event, I know it’s a thankless task. But please do your best to think through all the arrangements and how to avoid disrupting the speaker. It is difficult to maintain a flow or to be impactful when there is a load of cups clinking as the catering is cleared, or tables or walls are being moved. If it’s unavoidable, warn the speaker. Or if it happens without any warning, and you are the organiser, at least acknowledge the problem and try to do whatever you can.

The experience that has particularly stuck in my mind was where recently I was asked to close an organisation’s series of EDI-related events. Wow! I was chuffed. I am the sort of person that attracts this kind of offer. I put in an uncharacteristic amount of time and effort into prep. A week or so before the event, an email arrives: “we are expecting x (Mr Big, Important Person ), they can only come at so and so time, so we are rejigging the order and reducing the time from you. Hope that’s ok”. To be honest I felt a prickle of irritation – not least as Mr BIP was a white man bumping a black woman in a race and ethnicity-related event. But I recognise that Mr BIP probably had no idea about this and ultimately, it’s not all about me! These events are to activate leadership, build engagement and educate.

Fast forward. I turn up on the day, early and prepared. Mr BIP arrives seconds before the event starts and then dragoons some other people into the front panel – they are not introduced to me or the audience! Mr BIP’s role is to express commitment to D&I and the event series and to introduce me.

Imagine my inner monologue as I listen to his corporate spiel and then hear him proudly announce that he has come unprepared. He hasn’t read his brief. He doesn’t know who I am, but “working with academics is no picnic”.

Cue me, 5 minutes in (to add insult to my injured pride) a procession of people weave through the audience to go to the next room and start setting up quite noisily!

Despite all that, I nailed my presentation and was truly cooking on gas. But as the days have gone by, I have been thinking about how unprepared he was, his off-handedness, and what I should take from it in regards to personal and professional respect.

What was his motivation? Why did he not have time or make time?  Why was he unembarrassed and unapologetic? Was it a deliberate snub? Does it qualify as a microaggression? If I were to give him feedback, would he take me seriously? Would I be dismissed as oversensitive or even a prima donna? What would he have been like if he had been a BME person? Would he have done it if I was white, male, older, younger or more attractive? Should I have done something? Am I a bit irrelevant?

I don’t really have a conclusion here other than without a doubt it caused me some pause for thought (and I wonder how much if any it caused him?) and something that should have been joyous and esteem-boosting has ended with a slightly sour note. So, as we all consider ‘respect’ let’s remember there are many ways to disrespect people and it’s quite easily done.


Diversity at TwinsUK: Jonathan Bogale-Demissie speaks to Taha Bhatti

Jonathan Bogale-Demissie is a medical graduate working at TwinsUK (Department of Twin Research and Genetic Epidemiology) as a Clinical Research Assistant and a child of hard-working Ethiopian immigrants.

“At a recent King’s panel discussion and talk about the life of the late great Dr Harold Moody that I began to understand the importance and value of shining a light on what makes us different. This is because I believe that our differences are where the beauty of the kaleidoscope of humanity shines through the most. I’ll be attempting to capture that and present it to you (in small readable doses, of course) by contributing to this blog on a monthly basis. This will consist of the same questions answered by gloriously different, lovely people working here at TwinsUK. I hope that it catches on and expands to the rest of the universe outside of this office.”

The first interviewee is Taha Bhatti who has been a devoted member of the King’s Community, not only doing her bachelor’s and master’s degrees here but quickly becoming one of the most valued members of TwinsUK staff through her role as Project Coordinator. She was more than happy to contribute to this initiative, and I hope you, the reader, come out of this learning and understanding just a bit more about the wonderfully varied lives we come from to now inhabit this diverse city.

What kind of culture did you grow up with?

My parents are both Muslims originally from South Asia.

What do you know about your family history? My maternal grandparents were Anglo-Indians of mixed South Asian and English descent – a product of the British Raj ruling of India in 1900s. However, they sadly passed away in a car accident so my mum accompanied her older brother (my uncle) for further education in Saudi Arabia and then came to the UK in the late 80s. My paternal grandparents came to the UK from Pakistan in the 70s for economic reasons. After getting married in 1988 my parents settled in the UK but the rest of their extended family relocated to America (I’m guessing the currency exchange rate was better under Ronald Reagan). So unfortunately due to attenuated ties with my parents’ native homes, my siblings and I – being first-generation British Asians – have never visited their respective birthplaces.

What customs and values has your family instilled in you?

In terms of values, we were taught to be kind, helpful, God-fearing and to treat others how you would want to be treated yourself. Although being Asian in ethnicity, due to the diaspora and lack of extended family, my siblings and I were brought up with a religious stance rather than an ethnic one. i.e. neither of us speaks the language as instead of Urdu classes we were sent to an Islamic school on the weekends. There was no emphasis on either culture, ethnicity or race as they taught us religion is universal and sees past that so no need to hold onto ancestral traditions. And while there is a slight disconnection from our cultural heritage we understand why our parents sifted through what they passed onto us and I’m grateful they allowed us to enjoy the fun bits from the periphery like the food, music and colourful traditional Asian clothes we get to wear at big family events.

What do you understand of diversity and what do you feel we should do to understand and embrace it?

I see diversity as a mishmash of identities and backgrounds with ethnic, racial, religious, gender and age differences (not only cultural).  Although there is plenty of diversity around us, to help in understanding and aid integration there needs to be a sincere curiosity in understanding everyone’s unique differences and making an effort to learn and experience these differences with a positive mindset, leaving preconceived notions or perceptions at the door.


Disability History Month: King’s Award

Erk Gunce, our D&I Projects Intern is pleased to inform all fellow D&I enthusiasts that Abbie Russell from IoPPN has won the Inclusive Workplace award during King’s Awards.

Abbie has been a leading champion for diversity and inclusion at King’s and has well deserved this recognition. On top of her main role as Administrative Support Officer at IoPPN, Abbie has volunteered to take on many additional responsibilities. She is a safety representative, a sustainability champion and disability equality champion. Abbie is also the co-chair of ACCESS King’s  – our very own staff disability network at King’s. She has played a pivotal role in advancing the network by organising drop-in sessions, arranging assistive software training and promoting panel and discussion events on neurodiversity.

Abbie has developed a Disability Inclusion Working Group, supported the establishment of an IoPPN Neurodiversity Peer Network and ensures disability features prominently in IoPPN communications such as newsletters, events, and social media. To us, Abbie is a living example of how valuable our staff volunteers are in advancing our networks & communities. It is colleagues like Abbie who, with their enthusiasm and selflessness, enable our staff networks to flourish and make a real difference to diversity and inclusion.


Please join us in celebrating Abbie for winning a King’s Award on Inclusive Workplace – way to go, Abbie!


Disability History Month: Independence in Amsterdam

For Disability History Month, Helena Mattingley our Head of Diversity & Inclusion, has shared her experiences travelling around Amsterdam with her mother who has low-sight. 

Last week I went to the Netherlands. I have been to Amsterdam many times before; I’ve typically been relatively independent, happily travelling through the city and following my own interests.

This time, I was very much trying to see it through my mother’s eyes, i.e. with very limited sight.

Crossing a road for me – look twice each way and made a dash across the pavement, cycle lane and tram tracks.

Crossing a road for her – listening for the beep-beep of a crossing, hearing the ‘ding’ of a tram move away, and seeing a smudge of colour move across a road.

Working out a route to Vondelpark for me – logging into 9292.nl and googlemaps.

Working out a route to Vondelpark for her – seeking directions from a local, asking the bus driver if they are stopping at museumplein, listening out for every announcement on the bus until she’s there.

Buying groceries for me – looking for recognisable icons, translating a few words on my phone.

Buying groceries for her – taking a gamble on whether you’ve just bought a carton of milk or pouring yogurt for coffee.

I’m independent. I don’t want to ask for advice from Amsterdammers, to reveal my abysmal handful of Dutch words, or to show I can’t work out something on my own. However, with my intrepid mother, I spoke to more Dutch people than any previous visit, received far more kindness, including finding out about Free Wine. Things change when you change your approach.

I am not trying to en-noble living with impaired sight, I know that mum would love to be able to see more and that it really affects how she engages with the world. It can be rubbish a lot of the time.  What I want to focus on is how we can change, and how adapting alters the way the world interacts with us.

What I want to learn from her is that she is brave enough to be vulnerable, show trust in strangers, and that this can be positive. She used to be as self-sufficient as me – and in many ways she still is completely self-sufficient – just her definition recognises that knowing we can rely on others is a predictable resource. While I am reliant on a smart phone and insulated from others, she can get information from almost anyone she meets – no battery required.


Glass ceilings and Glass Escalators: The Paradox of Gender Equality in Nursing & Midwifery

Dr Emma Briggs is the Diversity & Inclusion Committee co-chair and Athena SWAN lead for Nursing & Midwifery in the Florence Nightingale Faculty if Nursing, Midwifery & Palliative care. Here she reflects on the paradox of gender equality in nursing and midwifery and the launch of a national network to promote change.

The Nursing and midwifery sector suffers greatly from gender stereotyping – just search Google Images for a nurse or midwife. Or ask a school-aged child what a nurse does or wears. Even the Guinness Book of Records struggled with accepting that Jessica Anderson was wearing a nurse’s uniform when she ran the London Marathon in the fastest time (it should have been a dress, pinafore and cap, tights were optional, she was advised initially).


 We need to be more diverse

  • Just 0.3% of midwives and 11.4% of nurses identify as male
  • 6% identify as a different gender than their sex registered at birth (NMC 2019)

We need to be more gender diverse. Attracting men into the professions is an important challenge to address and has included the We are the NHS campaign, a BBC articles and Higher Education England campaign (featuring a King’s midwifery student), and university level projects such as #MenDoCare (Dundee) and Men in Nursing Together – MINT (Sheffield Hallam). But is seems we need to tackle those gender stereotypes much, much earlier. In research involving over 700 7-11year olds, 7 out of 10 children picked an image of a woman when asked to identify the children’s nurse. Most of the girls (80%) and boys (72%) in this cohort chose the image of a man when asked to identify the surgeon. A gender neutral uniform for children is just one of the ways we are trying to change the deep rooted stereotypes around midwifery and nursing.

Glass Ceilings and Glass Escalators

A double whammy – women may experience the glass ceiling while male colleagues get to ride the glass escalator. A recent international report into nursing leadership highlights how these two experiences co-exist. The glass ceiling is a familiar metaphor for invisible barriers to career progression but the glass escalator is associated with feminised professions. Here, men experience advantages and are elevated to leadership positions. UK research has also shown a higher percentage of men in senior nursing positions and it takes fewer years to get there.

In academia, our pipeline is still leaky, and the glass escalator may exist – 64% of professors are women. This is not as dramatic as other STEM subjects (contrast chemistry where 10% of professors are women) but it needs addressing.

So, therein lies the paradox; a predominantly female profession that needs to attract more men but needs to deconstruct its glass structures so there is equity in career progression. We need to work together on this.

Collaborating for Change

On 4th November, we excitedly launched the Athena SWAN Network for Nursing and Midwifery (@SwanNursing) at King’s. The idea emerged from a collaboration between nursing faculties at King’s College London and Queen’s University, Belfast. We realised that we faced the same challenges. The new committee with five national leads, worked on the launch for a year. On the day, 32 delegates attended from 22 universities from the UK and Ireland and what a day we had.

L to R: Dr Angela Flynn, Dr Rosie Stenhouse, Dr Emma Briggs, Dr Susan Clarke, Dr Maurice O’Brien


ASNNaM committee: (L-R) Dr Rosie Stenhouse, Dr Maurice O’Brien, Dr Susan Clarke, Dr Emma Briggs

Prof Dame Athene Donald (@AtheneDonald; Professor of Physics, Cambridge University & Gender Equality Champion) provided an inspirational keynote address entitled ‘Thinking Positively, Acting Concretely.’ We also got to explore issues such as Men in Nursing & Midwifery (with Dr Maurice O’brien, Cardiff University), Gender Fluidity & Trans Matters (with Dr Rosie Stenhouse, University of Edinburgh), Barriers to Women in Academia (with Dr Susan Clarke, Queen’s University Belfast) and I presented on the Gender Pay Gap. Dr Angela Flynn (University College, Cork) facilitated our discussions on the aims of the network as well as tweeting furiously some of the key points and photos from the day (@SwanNursing for some absolute gems).

Where do we go from here? Sharing practices, comparing and collecting data and identifying solutions are important if we are going to address our gender equality issues. We are established on Knowledge Hub – a public service platform for collaboration so we can continue to build our community and make progress together. We will hold an annual networking and learning event for members and are excited about what can be achieved.  We also are acutely aware that while gender equality is a significant issue, it is just one characteristic and as a network, we too call for research and data on the intersect of other axes of diversity. We need to address all stereotypes and barriers where they occur. We need to work beyond our university walls to challenge stereotypes early on. We need to collaborate for change.

If I could turn back time…

I turned 48 a few weeks ago and tomorrow one of my daughters, the first one that I physically grew in my womb, turns 16. In between, I had the enormous pleasure and privilege to see the wonder that is Cher. An iconic performer who defies every stereotype as she kills it at the O2 at 73 (nearly the same age as my mum!)

These life events have me pensive and reflective about age. We don’t talk about Age as a protected characteristic so much. Let’s start with the Equality Act 2010 that says that you must not be discriminated against because:

  • you are (or are not) a certain age or in a certain age grouppare
  • someone thinks you are (or are not) a specific age or age group, this is known as discrimination by perception
  • you are connected to someone of a specific age or age group, this is known as discrimination by association

Age groups can be quite wide (for example, ‘people under 50’ or ‘under 18s’). They can also be quite specific (for example, ‘people in their mid-40s’). Terms such as ‘young person’ and ‘youthful’ or ‘elderly’ and ‘pensioner’ can also indicate an age group.

My own attitude to age and aging is something I have been thinking about. It’s both really important and at the same time totally irrelevant. I regularly find it hard to believe I am a grown-up, with a driving licence, mortgage and children, let alone that I’m 48. Sometimes I try and deny it. Other times I am proud of it. I both love it when people say that they can’t believe my age and feel annoyed with myself for caring.  In some ways, age equals experience. The older you are, the more you have had a chance to accumulate amazing and interesting life experiences. In other ways somehow, a greater age makes you more irrelevant and takes you further away from the zeitgeist. Don’t even get me started on what is considered stereotypically or acceptably beautiful or attractive, though I am not stupid enough to believe that I am not affected by those stereotypes!

Today as I write, I think back to this time 16 years ago. I was in labour from the evening of 3 Nov to the early hours of the 5th.  So, on the 4th of November, I was mostly rolling around on a birthing ball in my bedroom and then languishing in the birthing pool at St Georges Hospital in Tooting as medical students came to study me and the wonders of birth. Part of me remembers it vividly and that memory is helped by having found a video of bits and pieces of the day.

I look back amused. At the time having the baby was a big mystery to me. That this person that was growing inside me had to be delivered safely; that it would be painful, possibly traumatic or dangerous, then I would have a year off work: these were all I could really get my head around. Some things were so real – the size of my tummy, the fact I hadn’t seen my feet for some time; some so abstract –  motherhood, parenting. And no one tells you about the amount of physical discomfort and unsavouriness involved. I will still never forget waddling to the shower to try and clean up post-birth.

It’s a total cliché to talk about the difference children make to your life. I was already a step-parent, so I had some idea. But knowing someone from the second they arrive in the world, and someone who is entirely dependent on you is a whole different ballgame.

In the parenting lottery, I’d say we’ve had a relatively easy ride. We were both earning decent money and have continued to do so. We both have supportive families. We both have supportive employers. Kaela has been a pretty healthy child – no more than the odd cough or cold. We did have to work through some speech delay and hearing loss issues, all of which – courtesy of our lovely NHS – were addressed by the time she started school.

The day-to-day chat about being a parent revolves around, money, childcare, feeding, providing, choosing schools: all very tangible stuff.

What we miss in the everyday chat is what a  remarkable thing it is to be responsible for someone and to watch them grow and develop. From emerging from your body and finding your breast, to discovering their own limbs and moving independently. I didn’t realise those early months when I felt utterly overwhelmed and constantly terrified were the easy part. Yes, I didn’t know what she wanted or was thinking but I could guess and I could keep her fed, warm, safe. She was portable and stayed in one place when I put her there.

Once a child progresses into toddlerdom – into independent thought, but not yet reason and rationality – the angst and emotion they express and explore through learning about the world is both hilarious and stressful. This shifts to the joy and heartbreak as they enter school and start to make friends or learn that not everyone likes them, all the time, and that the warmth of their home is not universal.  Through the difficult moments when your adoring children start to realise that you, ‘Mummy’, are not perfect, you don’t know everything, you can’t make everything better. Until the point where they really start to pull away from you and want to assert their agency.

That is when as a parent you are slightly relieved of responsibility but start to worry more because, in many ways, they are even more vulnerable in their teens than when they were new-borns. They are viewed and judged by the world as young adults, independent capable beings, while they still lack the life experience or tools to work out what to do.

Then they turn 16 and get all these ‘legal rights’. The ones we tend to know about are legally being able to buy tobacco products and consent to sex (here’s hoping that everyone gets to make educated, safe, consensual choices). But also a range of stuff including applying for legal aid, receiving a youth rehabilitation order, being detained in custody, leaving home without a parent’s permission, getting married with a parent’s permission, choosing their own doctor, consenting to their own medical treatment and starting to have to pay for prescriptions, earning minimum wage of £4.20, drinking beer, cider or a glass of wine with a meal in a restaurant, buying a National Lottery ticket or Premium Bonds, flying a glider, ordering their own passport and riding a moped with a maximum engine power of 50cc.

How on earth can there be this cliff edge where they go from being children to adults? Googling that list has made my mind boggle – how can so much become possible because of an arbitrary day in the calendar?

Needless to say, I love Kaela very much and her turning 16 will be a source of family joy and celebration. It is also a sign of my age and stages of my life progressing.  It has made me think a lot about my mum who I haven’t always had the greatest relationship with. I know she would lay down her life for me, but parenting in the 70s and 80s wasn’t about building a relationship in the same way as it is now – or at least it wasn’t in my family. The years pass quickly and soon Kaela will move on to her independent adult life like her two older sisters, and Lyra (currently 13) will follow her. Our family dynamic will change, and we will all adapt and form new relationships but as I type here with tears in my eyes there will always be that memory from the first moments I saw her after she popped out in St Georges.

As I said, the law at work protects us from age discrimination – and from being discriminated against when we are pregnant. These are important protections. But what the law can’t account for is how each and every one of us has a different parenting experience and family dynamic. That’s where we as individuals and as employers need to develop our working practices and support so that everyone feels able to be themselves and can discuss what is needed to accommodate them and help them be their best at work.

So happy birthday to all those children turning 16 out there – launching out onto the new stage of life. And a big shout out to all the parents and carers who have guided them to that stage. As I know now with two children in their 20s, parenting, like diversity and inclusion, has no endpoint. It is all a series of stages, adjustments, and adaptations – and hopefully each day we find the joy.

King’s Award Nomination: Race Equality Chartermark Writing Group

Alex Prestage is Diversity & Inclusion Manager at King’s, with responsibility for managing the university’s Race Equality Charter Award; King’s is proud to have maintained a Race Equality Charter Bronze Award since the charter’s launch in 2015, in recognition of our commitment to progressing race equality for staff and students. Below, Alex reflects on the important role volunteers play in maintaining and progressing our work around Diversity & Inclusion at King’s within the context of Black History Month.

UK Black History Month, marked each year in October, celebrates Black histories and recognises contributions that are often hidden or erased. Across King’s this year we’re hosting a varied and exciting programme of events celebrating the contributions of King’s Alum Dr Harold Moody, tackling the issues of reparations and decolonisation at King’s, and screening a veritable plethora of films touching on Black history and race equality.

In the spirit of the month, I’d like to take the opportunity to personally and publicly recognise the contribution of a group of individuals to race equality, and Black history, at King’s: The Race Equality Writing Group (REWG). Between 2017 and early 2019 REWG convened to work in collaboration across King’s to further race equality for staff and students via King’s engagement with AdvanceHE’s Race Equality Charter.

REWG are a diverse group of staff of different ethnicities, nationalities, genders, beliefs, (dis)abilities, working patterns, caring responsibilities and personal/professional backgrounds – they’re academics and professional services, Black and white, and all of them leaders. Many of the team volunteered their time, on top of their day jobs, in order to positively impact race equality at King’s for our wider staff and student community.

When the group first convened in 2017, the task before them was looming: to lead an organisation, like King’s, further along the path to race equity; not an easy task, nor a responsibility that was taken lightly by any of the team! Over the year and a half, REWG collated and analysed mountains of qualitative and quantitative data to better understand the nuances of race equality at King’s split by ethnicity, faculty, directorate, undergraduate, postgraduate, UK national, non-UK national, full-time, part-time – the list goes on! From this insight and further consultation with staff and students, REWG established and articulated four priority issues for King’s to address in order to progress race equality and create a more inclusive university. Talah Anderson, D&I Project Intern, reflected on these issues earlier during Black History Month.

Simply identifying and sharing these issues was not enough – it was for REWG to develop a visionary action plan that would address staff and student concerns and feedback in a long-term, sustainable manner. This required a fine balance of creative problem-solving, blue sky thinking, and pragmatism; one that I believe REWG struck – challenging King’s to increase investment in race equality work and working closely with colleagues across the university to apply race equality perspectives and lenses to existing projects and work.

By the end of February 2019 REWG had engaged over 1,400 staff and students via surveys, focus groups, action planning workshops in an institution-wide conversation about race. To achieve this as a mixed group of volunteers with no prior history of collaborating (or in some cases working on race equality!) demands recognition; all too often responsibility for resolving Diversity & Inclusion issues falls to those who fall victim to them. As such, it’s important for us, as a university and for those of us who practice Diversity & Inclusion in various capacities, to recognise the efforts and achievements demonstrated by our staff and students like REWG.

Earlier this month, REWG’s endeavor to further race equality at King’s, their achievements both personal and collective were recognised by King’s Awards – Race Equality Writing Group have been shortlisted for the Inclusive Workplace Award. Please join me in congratulating each of REWG members; I’d like to thank each of the following for their hard work, and wish them luck at the Awards Ceremony on 21st November:

  • Syreeta Allen (Director of Student Success, Interim)
  • Evelyn Welch (Senior Vice Principal and Provost Arts & Sciences)
  • Sarah Guerra (Director of Diversity & Inclusion)
  • Renee Romeo (Senior Lecturer Health Economics and IoPPN Race Equality Network Co-Champion)
  • Richard Salter (Director of Analytics)
  • Paloma Lisboa (Director of Operations)
  • Natalie Armitage (Case Management Consultant)
  • Lucy Ward (D&I Coordinator)
  • Helena Mattingley (Head of D&I)
  • Evelyn Welch (Senior Vice Principal and Provost Arts & Sciences)


I love holidays. Who doesn’t?

One of my last holidays was what has been popularised as ‘a staycation’. Following a huge holiday at Easter exploring Ghana, energy, finances, and my daughters’ ‘need’ to see their friends, meant we decided to stay at home.

With daughters of 12 and 15, holiday ‘childcare’ is easier now that they don’t need looking after all day, every day. On the other hand, it’s also harder as we don’t really want them left entirely to their own devices during our working week. So, we juggle the 7-week holiday by alternating leave between my partner and I, stints at my mum’s, and this year, an orchestra tour and a trip to stay with a friend’s grandmother in Marseille. (Yes, I was extremely jealous.)

In the 10 days I had off, I enjoyed a glorious mixture of sleeping in, days out and decluttering. We went room by room, through cupboards and piles of stuff that seemed to magically accumulate over the course of the year. It was cathartic and emotional, identifying items we no longer needed like toys, puzzles, and games. It played to my inner organiser, letting me find homes for all the bits and pieces that just hang around or are dumped in haste. I loved seeing clear work surfaces, tables and carpets.

A real joy was the treasure trove of photos and a pile of CDs with videos recording our lives, snippets of family parties, Christmases and holidays spanning 2000-2010. Engrossing myself in these slowed my decluttering but also made me smile and weep in fairly equal measure; not everyone in the videos is still with us. One video featured me, 8 months pregnant, at a Center Parcs yoga class, lounging on a mat, with Kaela (then 2) sitting listening attentively during the introduction, then zipping round the classroom, paying no attention for the entire class. Meanwhile Jon (who hates yoga), just in frame, can be seen diligently doing all the poses. It was hilarious.

In the grand tidy up, I happened across a box of work papers, including past 360˚ reports and artefacts from my professional and personal development journey, such as my Chartered Member of CIPD coursework and various development scheme exercises. It was rewarding flicking through these and considering them alongside my most recent 360˚ report. There was feedback that was repeated, but mostly there were comments that allowed me to reflect on how my behaviours have changed over the course of my professional journey.

I also rediscovered a piece of research on Tempered  Radicals. I remember how life-changing it was when I first read this and realised, I was a Tempered Radical. ‘Tempered radicals find themselves in the tricky situation of trying to be a part of the dominant culture while at the same time trying to change the system.’

It had helped me explain why I was a bit like Marmite for some. Why, despite really caring about people and always striving to create improvement, I had always been a bit of a misfit, seeming regularly to rub many people up the wrong way. This, combined with my slightly perfectionist tendencies and (though I hate to admit it) really wanting to be liked and approved of, had often led me to question myself or be unsure. Recognising that I served a purpose and that some of the cost of that was not always being liked or appreciated provided real solace, as recognising the value I add despite sometimes rocking the boat was important.

So, all in all, a relaxing and productive bit of annual leave (now a long distant memory). I would highly commend a bit of life- and mind-decluttering to all and I give a big shout out to all the fellow Tempered Radicals out there.

Geography’s Athena SWAN Bronze Reflections

The Athena SWAN charter recognises commitment to advancing the careers of women in higher education across teaching, research and professional services, and supporting trans staff and students. The charter recognises work undertaken to address gender equality broadly and takes an intersectional approach to inclusion. 

Geography have been awarded a Bronze award at the first attempt, and SAT co-chairs Professor Cathy McIlwaine and Sabrina Fernandez reflect on the self-assessment process. 

Halfway through our submission process, a colleague sent us the wonderful report authored by Alana Harris and Abigail Woods from King’s History Department with the link to the Athena SWAN Gender Equality Snakes and Ladders. It mirrored almost directly our own experiences of working as a Self Assessment Team. We had started with an optimistic view that it would not be that difficult, especially if we organised ourselves carefully into working groups who would be responsible for each section. It would write itself! Or so we thought. Not surprisingly, this was not the case. It took far longer and was much more challenging than we anticipated. Yet, there were also rewards and surprises along the way.

One of the key factors in our successful submission was to make Athena SWAN a specific project within the department with a budget, a project manager from professional services (Anna Laverty) and two SAT co-chairs – one an academic (Cathy McIlwaine) and another from professional services (Sabrina Fernandez), both of us senior. As has been widely reported elsewhere, this process should not be passed to a female (or male) junior member of staff to carry out as part of what is often deemed to be a small administrative job. In addition, a strong relationship between academic staff and professional services is also crucial. Without regular meetings as a small group of professional services and academic staff who ended-up writing the document, we would never have submitted!

The challenges we faced were also common in terms of gathering data. Some of the local level data required broken down by gender, was ultimately impossible to find in some cases; but we managed to use what we did have as illustrative. The gathering and analysis of the major quantitative data sets would have been impossible without the data lead (Bruce Malamud) and our other data people on the SAT (Daniel Schillereff on the academic side and Georgina Lonergan from professional services). These roles are crucial and unless there is data expertise on the SAT, submission would be extremely difficult. Despite real frustrations around the data when at times we thought we would never be able to present a quantitative picture of the department in terms of staff and students, in the end, it was a revelation to see the data plotted in really accessible ways. It was so satisfying to identify where we had a positive story to tell but also where we needed to focus our attention.

Another issue was that we under-estimated was the buy-in required among the SAT team. We had a whole-hearted commitment in theory to working on diversity and inclusion and on the importance of Athena SWAN, but less concrete contributions. Of course, this is understandable in light of multiple demands on people’s time, but we were surprised by those who ended-up giving more or less to the process. Yet we had full support from our Head of Department (Mark Mulligan) who was open to proposals in theory and practice; he also found the budget to be able to commit to several initiatives.

Our survey and focus group work were also really revealing but also a challenge; with hindsight, we would organise a more streamlined staff and PhD survey and conduct it at the beginning and at the end of the process. One of the most interesting data gathering exercises we carried out was around departmental descriptors – asking staff (and separately, PhD students) to assess how they felt about the department (welcoming, friendly, competitive, collegiate, hostile, supportive, ambitious, challenging) with largely positive results .

It was a huge relief to discover that we had been awarded a Bronze award, as we felt that our hard work and trials and tribulations along the way had been worth it. We are now looking forward to implementing our Action Plan and to working beyond just gender with other axes of diversity in a more intersectional way as well as with other important issues related to diversity and inclusion that are not included within the Athena SWAN process.

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