Equality, Diversity & Inclusion at King's College London

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Top tips for accessible online meetings

Abbie Russell is the Administrative Support Officer for the Institute of Psychiatry, Psychology & Neuroscience (IoPPN) at King’s, working in communications and health and safety. She is the Disability Equality Champion at the IoPPN and chairs the Disability Inclusion Working Group. She is also the co-chair (community) for Access King’s, the staff disability inclusion network. 

The Microsoft Teams interface

The IoPPN Disability Inclusion Working Group have collated these top tips for ensuring your online meeting or event is accessible. The list is non-exhaustive and we note that with accessibility should come flexibility, and that some of these tips will work for some people and not for others. Reach out to your audience and find out what works best for them!

Here we go… 

  1. Provide as much information about the event beforehand (as you normally would) e.g. how to sign up/join the meeting; what meeting platform will be used 
  2. The format of the meeting/event and who will be speaking. This helps to manage expectations and allow for any preparation beforehand. 
  3. Check with presenters that they are confident in using chosen platformOffer a short tutorial or test run ahead of the meeting. 
  4. Share slides ahead of time to allow processing time and to allow for technical issues (e.g. if the slides don’t load properly, participants can still access the slides, and use their own software to take in the information.) 
  5. Manage expectations and respect personal preferences (e.g. using video or microphone). For larger meetings, participants might be asked to join the meeting without video to improve the quality of the call. Alternatively, for a small team, participants may be invited to share their video if possible, to encourage participation. 
  6. Ask participants to join on mute, especially if there are lots of people joining, to prevent noise and make it easier to hear the speaker. 
  7. At the start of the meeting, outline the format of the event. E.g. what will happen and who will be speaking 
  8. Ask participants to post comments and questions using chat function (or ‘raise hand’ to notify the chair on Zoom). 
  9. Ask participants to introduce themselves before speaking, so that others know who is speaking. 
  10. Highlight features such as chat functions and live captions at the start of the meeting 
  11. Use live captions  this is good for people in loud environments or those with hearing impairment . MS Teams has an auto captions feature https://support.office.com/en-us/article/Use-live-captions-in-a-Teams-meeting-4be2d304-f675-4b57-8347-cbd000a21260  and Zoom provides closed captioning https://support.zoom.us/hc/en-us/articles/115002522006-Closed-Captioning-With-Zoom-Rooms. 
  12. Blur background if you have a busy environment – this makes it easier for participants to focus on the speaker. However, be mindful that this feature is not available to all machines and a presenter may prefer not to. 
  13. Make sure any materials shared before/after are accessible – use Microsoft Accessibility Checker https://support.office.com/en-us/article/Improve-accessibility-with-the-Accessibility-Checker-a16f6de0-2f39-4a2b-8bd8-5ad801426c7f 

Further reading: 

You can find more content like this on the Access King’s YammerClick here to read about the Access King’s community network and to get involved. 

Reconceptualising Resilience

Alex Prestage is Equality, Diversity & Inclusion Manager at King’s. Throughout his career, he’s reflected on resilience in Higher Education and now offers his thoughts on its potential as the King’s community rise to challenges posed by the current pandemic.

Resilience – a word we often use in times of crisis.

Before continuing to read, spend a second or two to reflect: what is resilience? Where does it come from? How can it be measured?

What were your thoughts and reflections? Was it an easy concept to define? Do you think you have it? How much do you think you have? When will you know you have enough? How do you get more?

Of course, I’m being only slightly facetious here. Resilience is a word we rarely define in specific terms and it’s almost impossible to measure quantitatively – the threshold for it is usually imagined. It’s a hard concept to grapple with, and often just leaves us wanting more.

Resilience is commonly defined as the capacity for an individual or organisation to recover from adversity – something, perhaps, we can all relate to of late; something we are going to, collectively, need more of in the future.

However, the UK Education sector (not just HE) and successive governments have a worrying habit when speaking about resilience – a habit of adopting a flawed model and way of thinking, particularly when referring to our learners and their outcomes. You might remember Nicki Morgan and David Cameron’s Character Education or be familiar with Angela Lee Duckworth’s grit.

Typically, when invoking ‘character’ or ‘grit’ we refer to resilience as essential or innate; something that people either have some (or no) capacity for and that this is static. More often than not, we refer to a deficit of resilience, a lack, suggesting that the outcome of a situation may have been more positive “if only X had been more resilient”.

It’s this conceptualisation of resilience in HE that I and others have written about before, and this understanding that I think UK HE, and King’s, should move away from if we are to be truly resilient to the adversity we currently face and will continue to face as a community of colleagues and learners. However, I’m not about to bash an idea without an alternative to propose.

So, what am I suggesting?

Reconceptualising resilience.

Naturally as an Equality, Diversity & Inclusion Practitioner (and lapsed social scientist), I draw from minority voices – those who have the most adversity to – for sage guidance and advice.

Professor Tara J. Yosso, a critical race theorist who applies CRT to education and access, explores the subject of community cultural wealth to recognise the diverse, often ‘invisible’ forms of wealth and capital ethnic minority communities have access to (or don’t).

A model of community cultural wealth, which is comprised of linguistic, resistant, navigational, social, familial and aspirational capital.Professor Jaqueline Stevenson applied Yosso’s model to students studying in UK HE, and used the framework to better understand what makes communities and individuals resilient (or not).

The research of both academics suggests that resilience is in fact a social phenomenon. Rather than being intrinsic to the individual, resilience is generated and created by communities; and, by extension, we all play a part in developing and maintaining others’ – and our collective – resilience. Like a big team effort, if you like. It’s also important to recognise that many of the factors influencing resilience are beyond our control – empathy walks are a great way of visualising and demonstrating this fact.

In the context of a global pandemic, and the challenges we as a community of colleagues and learners face and will continue to face, I’d like to focus on three forms of capital we can all help foster:

  1. Aspirational capital, our ability to maintain hopes and dreams;
  2. Social capital, our network links and community resources including emotional support;
  3. Navigational capital, our ability to maneuver through institutions.

Indeed, I’ve spotted examples of our community adapting and fostering these assets in our emerging response to the situation, but I’d like to emphasise the value in the subtle, ‘soft’ behaviours – they aren’t just for lockdown, but for life!

Aspirational capital — with so much ambiguity and uncertainty, it can be hard to maintain confidence in our hopes and dreams. We might need some time to take stock and (re)appraise our goals in light of the new parameters and context we find ourselves in. For many of our students, particularly finalists, this will be an area of vulnerability and concern. It’s important to recognise the emotional toll that this sense of loss, ambiguity, and a process of reimagining our hopes and dreams might take; each of us can be alert to this fact and seek to support one another with finding new hopes and dreams, no matter the scale.

Social capital – whilst the everyday reality of lockdown looks different for everyone, varying according to our caring responsibilities, living situation, health etc., we all have a degree of social distance and isolation between us. It’s been fantastic to see many of the teams I work with across the university initiating digital coffee breaks to maintain the social fabric of King’s. Our networks and connections are assets we draw on in our work and learning, especially in the face of adversity. Creating and developing opportunities for staff and students to e-meet, connect and enjoy the benefit of a simple conversation is more important now than ever before.

Navigational capital – as our context changes, we’ve rapidly adapted our teaching and services, impressively so! . For some of our students and staff, this will mean trying a new platform (like Zoom or MS Teams) or will mean that they are required to navigate another part of our already complex organisation. Where we have been required to change and adapt, it’s important to bring others with us, providing clear instructions and signposting as applicable. Something that might seem glaringly obvious from one perspective might not be the case from another.

They may seem like small steps, nudges if you like, but theory (and my own practice) suggests that we will foster a more empathetic, more resilient community through renegotiating and so maintaining hopes and dreams, taking time with one another socially, and providing clear instructions with no assumptions. I’m passionate about realising a reality where we take collective responsibility for addressing and weathering the adversity we face — a community of colleagues and learners where we are stronger together than apart.

Sarah through the looking glass – Parenting and COVID-19: two impossible things before breakfast, lunch and tea.

Sometimes I eat my feelings. Other times, I write them out.

As I write, it is 6 April. Many of us at King’s have been in home working mode for nearly three weeks and in ‘lockdown’ for about 10 days – possibly – who can keep track?

On the whole I have felt remarkably cheerful and like I am ‘coping’. When reflecting or talking to people, I say – and genuinely mean – I can’t complain. My family and I are healthy. We have a comfortable, spacious (including outdoor space) home, a full fridge, all mod cons – Wi-Fi, Netflix, Sky, recently acquired Disney plus, books, games, puzzles and we generally get on well. I have instigated a lovely personal routine of reading, meditating and exercising everyday as well as eating and drinking well with my family and a dear friend who has managed to get herself locked down with us.

King’s has been exemplary, in my view, in the sensitivity, compassion and pragmatism it has shown during this ‘unprecedented’ time. For more information about King’s response to Coronavirus, see the pages on our website. And if you haven’t looked already, check out the wellbeing pages which provide helpful information on topics including working remotely, staying active and mental health.

But every so often I find myself angry or resentful, tearful and upset – sometimes with a cause, sometimes inexplicably.

My primary stressor currently is being a parent. I am eternally grateful that my children are well and that those that are still school age are old enough to understand, look after themselves and self-entertain. The days of trying to ensure I kept a baby, toddler or tween fed, washed, changed and content are now the past for me, but still in my memory. I send hugs, high fives, handshakes, medals to all those currently pulling off this magic trick while working from home and trying to maintain their own wellbeing.

But what’s it like parenting teens at this time? Watching them react as school is summarily cancelled; all daily contact with friends – the people they spend all day with normally – is either gone, muted or mediated via a screen?

The world gives teenagers a bad press. Teenagers are often spoken about like they are feral animals.  Watching one of my daughters come to terms with having spent years working towards GCSEs – being good, working hard – only to have them be cancelled, was devastating. There will be no prom, no shirt signing. The hard work initially expected of Easter has gone and will not be rewarded with the joy of the long summer holidays.

When will they get to go back to school? How will GCSE results be decided? Everything is up in the air.

One of my daughters – in deadly seriousness – was talking about the future, and the fact there really wasn’t one; that we would all be dead before they could have children, a thought so grim I found it hard to take it seriously. But from her point of view at 13, having lived through years of Brexit hokey cokey, if everything you’ve ever understood to be normal is removed, why would you not think that there is nothing you can rely on? It breaks my heart.

Chez Guerra-Clarke we have instigated a practice of getting ‘dressed’ for Sunday lunch (actually held at about 630 pm). I am famously one of the world’s biggest slobs and lockdown and its endless comfy clothing possibilities are something I need to boundary. During our first well-dressed lunch, I felt a very smug mummy asking what we had all enjoyed that week? What we’re going to achieve the next? Getting great, engaged, answers from everyone. Look how well we (I) had done – lockdown, schmockdown!

Last night was a different story, as I determinedly tried to set some sense of how this first week of the Easter holidays might be in an inclusive and collaborative way (I really carry EDI to my core), I was met with a mixture of silent, resentful, helpless, shoulder shrugging resistance, negativity and unspoken opposition.

What’s that phrase? Like pulling teeth? For someone like me who is active, who is a doer, who is a problem solver, who goes at life with an ‘ok there’s a massive problem – how do we fix it?’ attitude, I realised how helpless I feel now. I can’t ‘fix’ COVID-19 for anyone or myself.

Parenthood has an Alice in Wonderland impossibility about it – already a 24/7, lifelong, ever demanding and unpredictable ‘job’ at the best of times and the universe has made it impossible times infinity. I have feelings of uselessness and despair that I am not used to. I so far have been able to keep these in check and ping myself back to my default ‘can’t complain’ mentality, thanks to the wellbeing measures I put in place for myself and by taking perspective: in comparison to many, I have it easy.

So, what words of wisdom do I have? Only to recognise for myself that we are living in extraordinary times and all my usual reactions, methods and go-to behaviours are less failsafe than usual. It is ok to not know all the answers. It is ok to have a little (or a big) cry or a rant. There is help out there, and the fact I have family at hand who sometimes make me nice lunches and bring me cups of tea through it all is something to be celebrated.

I am a proactive extrovert. I tend to get my energy from the outside world, and spend my energy trying to make the world a better place. The new normal has been much more layered and difficult than I was willing to acknowledge. Thank you all for listening and giving me this opportunity to share.

King’s Business School Wellbeing Day – Reflections and Successes  

Izzy Rhodes, Event Coordinator from King’s Business School, shares her reflections on the King’s Business School (KBS) Wellbeing Day. The event was held on 26 March 2020 and consisted of a full day of wellbeing activities. Members of professional service staff joined forces and led different sessions, ranging from resilience training to a cooking class. All wellbeing sessions were delivered virtually via Microsoft Teams, showing how well the school adapted to remote workingIf you would like to reach out to the KBS Wellbeing Group for tips on how to run your own wellbeing session, please contact izzy.rhodes@kcl.ac.uk or erk.3.gunce@kcl.ac.uk  

A poster detailing the wellbeing activities organised by King's Business School, including a coffee break, inclusive communication session, resilience class, cooking class, drawing class and meditation session.

Poster designed by Izzy Rhodes

Having been thrust into the arms of work from home culture two weeks ago, along with the majority of the country, the KBS Staff Wellbeing Team have worked their socks off to create a sense of community. It’s safe to say that we’ve all quickly come to appreciate that the concept of community goes far beyond our next door neighbour and local shop. Virtual connections have become a staple in today’s pursuit of happiness, and Thursday 26 March 2020 saw the Faculty’s first virtual Wellbeing Day.  

Since the move to working from home was implemented just over three weeks ago, many of us have found ourselves adjusting to a more sedentary lifestyle – bookended by commutes from the living room to the bedroom, as opposed from one side of London to the other. KBS Wellbeing Day’s practical focus was a welcomed change to a new and weirdly insular lifestyle. It gave time to focus on tactile skills and holistic conversations that are often rushed in a normal work environment.  

Consisting of a variety of activities and discussions, ranging from a still life workshop to a discussion about the language of disability, Wellbeing Day was a welcomed break from the newfound normality of being absorbed by spreadsheet-populating and report-writing in the quiet comfort of our pajamas. Run by members of the Faculty’s professional services team, the activities not only provided new opportunities for learning, but gave space for developing relationships with colleagues in alternative working environments and hours. 

The importance of wellbeing events and creative outlets within working hours cannot be underestimated. Providing wellbeing services within the confines of work time not only breaks up the working day with tactile and practical activities and stimulates our creative grey cells, but also validates the necessity of prioritising staff happiness and wellbeing. It builds community with colleagues and introduces different sides of people to an environment that can often value complete professionalism over personality. I found that being given the time and space to have open discussions, moving away from impersonal emails to video chats, was a valuable gateway to building skills outside of standard job descriptions. Overall, the KBS Wellbeing Day was a great success that brought staff closer together. Thanks to Joanna, Erk, Angela, Mia, Preena, Haz, Cathy and Sarah for leading the sessions.

Allyship

I have been doing equality-related work in one form or another for what seems like forever. One of the perennial issues I have faced is how to get a wider audience ‘in the room’; how to get those that don’t see themselves as affected to join in. After all, gender equality is not a female issue. Race equality is not a person of colour’s issue. Rather, they are social and economic imperatives. Over the years, the process of getting buy-in and support from those ‘outside the group’ has come to be defined as building ‘allies’.

Whichever aspect of equality we are looking at, the issue remains the same. Recently, we celebrated International Women’s Day — a day dedicated to celebrating the achievements of women, raising awareness against bias, and, crucially, acting for equality every day.

More recently, we celebrated International Trans Day of Visibility. Soon it will be Pride Month and then Black and Disability History Months. These occasions mark opportunities for everyone to celebrate and show support for these groups, yet we do not often seen enough of the ‘majority’ participating in these celebrations in my view. This is a key challenge I want to address in the work we do.

Why?, you might say.

As we are still close to International Women’s Day (and closer to International Trans Day of Visibility), let’s consider the subject of gender equality.

It is vital that we include men in these conversations, not least because they make up about half of the global population — and (still) hold the majority of leadership positions globally. In 2018, men held 77.5 percent of Fortune 500 board seats, while women held just 22.5 percent of board seats. Indeed, women are typically underrepresented at every level of leadership and management in large organisations.

It stands to reason that the best way to move conversation to action is to include all of us in the equation.

What can men do to be more effective allies? Allyship is a deeply personal issue. An ally is someone who asks — and doesn’t assume — what another person needs. Men can listen to women and pay attention to the specific ways in which we want to be supported, learn when to step back and when to step in.

Individual actions make an enormous impact, but equally – if not more – important are systemic, organizational efforts that support women and advance gender equality. Equality is a leadership opportunity. Men, as I have said, hold most leadership positions in the world at the moment, so they have the unique opportunity to take action and spearhead change.

A university like King’s has a unique ability to shape and influence gender norms. Where shall I start? We are a community that is 30,000 strong. We do global research that impacts so many areas. We educate the leaders of the future from across the globe and every sector. Yet despite these opportunities I don’t feel we are quite realising our potential and there’s little guidance on how to effectively engage men. So, I’ve been reflecting on what I have learnt over the years

What will help?

Shifting individual attitudes and behaviours.

Of course, many men support gender equality, but some may feel threatened by it or even actively oppose it. My experience suggests three reasons why some men may not engage with the issue:

1) “apathy,” or feeling like gender equality isn’t critical to the success of the organisation or society,
2) “ignorance,” or the perception that gender bias doesn’t exist in the workplace, and
3) “fear,” either of saying the wrong thing or losing out, such as the idea that asking for parental leave will reduce their chances of promotion.

There’s no one-size-fits-all solution but we address these challenges through raising awareness – through blogs like this, our events and things like our Diversity Matters training, and soon our mutual mentoring programme (watch this space for more info). As an ally you can be proactive. Get involved with these things!

Making organization-wide commitments for more diverse and equal workplaces

For real impact, we need actions that support individual shifts in attitudes combined with broader, institutional commitments that enable equality and inclusion to thrive. This requires that leaders clearly articulate how gender equality is core to an organization’s overall success and actively support efforts on strategic, cultural, and policy levels.

At King’s we have been doing many of these things. I urge all those that see themselves as allies to:

  • notice what’s going on, recognise the role they play in equality and advocate for them;
  • make clear, time-bound, public commitments to engage men as allies, as part of pursuing an equal and diverse workplace – for example through our networks and Athena Swan work;
  • model inclusive behaviour “from the top”, demonstrating leadership skills such as curiosity, cultural intelligence, and collaboration – for instance by our entire senior management team undertaking a structural inequality development programme;
  • take steps to show commitment to understanding different perspectives – through surveys, focus groups, reverse town halls and reverse mentoring programmes;
  • implement “every-day,” organization-wide changes that everyone upholds to help build an inclusive culture for example by ensuring that big projects have gender-balanced teams – our efforts to equality impact assess REF and commitments for the future are pertinent here;
  • ensure our policies tackle structural barriers to gender equality by, for example, developing specific policies that enable staff to undertake care-giving, including paid and non-transferable, gender-neutral parental leave and flexible working arrangements;
  • foster a safe and respectful workplace for all genders, demonstrating that we don’t tolerate sexual harassment and mistreatment, that we address gender beliefs and stereotypes that contribute to harassment, and ensure that reporting systems are in place.

Policies around flexible working or parental leave can even the playing field for all of us. However, blanket policies impact individuals differently. What would it be like if we had an approach where our team could choose where and when they worked so long as they produced excellent work on time? Those of us who have had the benefit of working with a fully flexible, dispersed team in which they can tap into a wide talent pool of motivated and engaged people looking to balance work with other priorities in their life, know flexible working makes excellent sense. The idea that this is just not possible in some roles has often held our thinking back but look at what’s happening in this time when globally we are being forced to think and work differently. It’s amazing what turns out to be possible, after all.

There is no single answer for any equality challenge, so engaging men as allies is not a silver bullet. We need men to build on women’s efforts and organizations, not replace them. We need men to find and act on their own motivations for achieving gender equality. Without a doubt though, effectively engaging men as part of broader, intersectional approaches to creating more inclusive workplaces gives us the opportunity to tackle long standing power dynamics and create long-term, systemic change. Our community working together for gender equality will ultimately bring benefits to all genders , to our university business and to society.

On International Women’s Day I urged our community to keep the spirit going every day. I challenge each of you, regardless of the gender you identify with or the position you hold, to commit to one action to advance equality. It can be as small as listening, or as big as changing organizational policies, but I promise you that its impact will be enormous. This is allyship.

On International Transgender Day of Visibility 2020

International Transgender Day of Visibility is celebrated annually on 31 March and is traditionally a time to celebrate transgender people around the world and the courage it takes to live openly and authentically, while also raising awareness about the discrimination trans people continue to face today. 

In light of the current and necessary social distancing measures being observed around the world in response to COVID-19, this blog brings together two statements of support for our trans and non-binary students and colleagues at King’s, as well as an update on the work we are doing to further progress trans and non-binary inclusion. In this time of global crisis, now, perhaps more than ever, is a time for us all to be especially visible in our commitment to equality for all groups in society, advocating explicitly for those most marginalised. 

While concerns about the new coronavirus infection and worries about health and the economy have dominated our thinking over the past few weeks, it is important that we continue to reflect on issues of equality, diversity and inclusion within our remarkable King’s community. Today is International Transgender Day of Visibility. Today and always, we stand in solidarity with the trans and non-binary members of our community and with transgender people across the globe. We know that trans and non-binary people often face discrimination and prejudice in society. Transphobia can sometimes make visibility feel like vulnerability. Today, and every day we say to the trans and non-binary people amongst us that we see you, we support you and we celebrate with you. I want King’s to be a fully inclusive workplace and encourage all other trans allies to be bold in your support for trans and non-binary people. We all need to be informed about the nuances of trans experiences, and challenge transphobia where we can. Please join me in supporting the King’s LGBT+ Inclusion Programme.

Professor Evelyn Welch, Provost (Arts & Sciences)

King’s is committed to ensuring all its trans staff and students are part of a supportive and inclusive work and study environment, and do not face discrimination on the grounds of their gender identity. The King’s LGBT+ Inclusion Programme aims to deliver LGBT+ equality, making King’s a better place for LGBT+ staff and students. The Programme is a key part of delivering the King’s College London Equality, Diversity & Inclusion strategy, as part of Vision 2029. As part of the Programme, we have the privilege of working in partnership with Proudly King’s, KCL’s LGBTQ+ network, implementing a range of initiatives, policy improvements, events and changes at King’s.

Transgender people are our friends, our family and our colleagues. We do not need to identify trans people to see them; instead, we have to recognise the experiences of the trans community to raise them up, acknowledge and honour them. Our aim as an LGBTQ+ network is to improve the experience of queer people at King’s and in the wider community, and International Transgender Day of Visibility raises awareness of the discrimination trans people face and presents an opportunity to celebrate trans history.

Proudly King’s see and respect our transgender colleagues, and we ask our members and the wider college to do the same. Beyond Transgender Day of Visibility, we call on our community, our senior leaders – everyone to increase the inclusion and representation of transgender people at King’s. We work to ensure equality culturally, not just legally, and International Transgender Day of Visibility reminds us that we all have much to do.

Proudly King’s (King’s College London’s LGBTQ+ Staff Network)

Today we publish updated guidance for trans and non-binary staff on making and requesting changes to King’s personal documents and records. We know that transitioning brings with it diverse challenges – from social, to medical, to legal – and want to do our best to simplify the logistical aspect of the process.

Enabled by HR Digital Services, King’s new online HR platform, staff are now able to make and request changes to their personal details themselves across King’s systems via the one system.

Once a staff member has requested or made a change of details via HR Digital Services, this information will be available for use across other systems (eg. MS Outlook) and can be used to print them a new ID card.

Staff may update their gender identity themselves and have the option to record trans and non-binary identity should they wish. We utilise national and international best practice to work towards delivering the best experience for our staff and students. That’s why we recently updated our categories for self-determination on HR Digital Services to bring them in line with Stonewall equal opportunities monitoring best practice.

Staff may contact their HR People Partner to request changes to their title (including Mx.), preferred name, legal name and sex on HR Digital Services.  Legal documentation is only required to request a change of legal name and sex however, so all staff, regardless of what documentation they possess, should know that they can be seen and known by their colleagues for the person they know themselves to be at any stage of transition.

Further information on acquiring the appropriate legal documentation is also published as part of the updated guidance today. We are working to similarly simplify the process for updating personal details at King’s for students.

For help in understanding the guidance, and any other queries related to being trans or supporting trans people at King’s, get in touch with us at diversity@kcl.ac.uk. As Stonewall Diversity Champions and Athena SWAN Bronze award holders, we are constantly learning and aiming to improve. Our ambitions reflect the feedback from the 2018 Stonewall Workplace Equality Index, 2019 Equality, Diversity & Inclusion Qlearsite Staff Survey and 2020 Athena SWAN Action Plan.

“We’re one of a kind, no category. Too many years lost in his story.”

A promotional poster for Six the Musical showing the six wives of Henry VIII performing with pop microphones.

My little feminist heart has been truly overflowing this Women’s History Month, and I’ve been thinking about different perspectives on and variations of womanhood. So here’s a little wander through my thoughts inspired by musical theatre and literature. Perhaps needed even more at this time when we are all less able to get out and about to experience culture.

I had wanted forever to see Six the Musical, which imagines the six wives of Henry VIII as a girl band competing over who had the worst marriage to the Tudor monarch. Eventually, all my hinting paid off and some tickets turned up under my Christmas tree.

It’s a cleverly conceived production and, since its premiere at the Edinburgh Fringe in 2017, has gone global. This is no surprise. Any production that can simultaneously drive home a message about child sexual exploitation and make you bop in your seat has to be a winner. Thanks, Kate Howard.

“I know, this is it
He just cares so much
This one’s legit
We have a real connection
I’m sure this time is different”

I was blown away by the performance of the diverse, all female cast and band. What was even more mind blowing – though it really shouldn’t have been – was how the musical told the stories of women who lived hundreds of years ago. Women whose names and (unhappy) marriages I knew pretty well, though that was pretty much all I knew (and was taught) about them. The familiar

divorced,

beheaded,

died,

divorced,

beheaded,

survived.

In Six, we learn who these women were as individuals; as rounded people, with thoughts, feelings, interests, ambitions and lives of their own. At the same time, Six is totally “up to date” and examines very modern problems, such as when Anne of Cleves is judged for her real appearance compared to her portrait.

“You, you said that I tricked ya
‘Cause I, I didn’t look like my profile picture”

The entire production is really summed up by Catherine Parr.

“So I picked up a pen and a microphone and history is about to be overthrown” 

I did find myself asking: how come Hamilton, a musical with an identical concept, has been so prolific, while this musical, which is about women and is of the same quality, hasn’t had the same profile? I loved it so much I have booked to go back again – twice (trips now delayed but I will definitely go as soon as I am able)!

I have read the joint Booker Prize winners: Girl, Woman, Other by Bernardine Evaristo (the first black woman winner) and The Testaments by Margaret Atwood as well as having the privilege of seeing Evaristo in conversation. I found both works impossible to put down. Novels which feature nothing but the variety of the female perspectives.

Margaret Atwood and Bernardine Evaristo jointly win the Booker Prize for Fiction 2019 at the Guildhall in London, Britain October 14, 2019.

A particular joy for me when reading Girl, Woman, Other was Evaristo’s open and empathetic exploration of womanhood in its myriad forms and expressions, which are truths in 2020. This contrasts strongly with The Testaments, the long-awaited sequel to the Handmaid Tale, which has become a seminal feminist text and has a much darker feel.

I was too young to read The Handmaid’s Tale when it first appeared in 1985. Atwood states that, as disturbing as the repressive regime of Gilead is, nothing is included in the books that hasn’t taken place somewhere in the real world. My reading it recently meant it didn’t strike me as powerfully as it did some earlier readers. Too much of the dystopia portrayed within the book has become almost normal. Somehow, The Testaments captured my imagination and heart much more. It cleverly contrasts the alternative points of view of three female narrators, each occupying a different social position in Atwood’s fictional society; each repressed and controlled in different ways – some very obvious to their and readers’ eyes and others less so.

It has been such a refreshing treat to be able to listen to the voices and explore the perspectives of so many different women and those that reject that concept altogether and identify as non-binary. I have been enriched so much by thinking about the various complexities, sorrows, horrors and joys of our lives. And, while the concept of discovering “her-story” (rather than his-tory) is not new, I am always surprised at how many parts of history I have not yet challenged or considered ‘other’ possible explanations for, even though I know that history is so often ignored unless it is from a white-cis-male-heterosexual perspective.

And, finally, as a mother of four daughters, I particularly loved (sorry, not sorry, as Anne Boleyn might have said) the fact that we can educate ourselves about these women in ways that are accessible (when not in a global pandemic), fun and include great costumes, music and dance.

A portrait of Anne Boleyn wearing a pearly French hood and her signature 'B' necklace.

Overcoming Loneliness: Finding a Community among the King’s Parents and Carers

For Women’s History Month, Jessie Hardcastle, Fit for Kings Manager, reflects on her return to work following her pregnancy.

I joined King’s in June 2009 to a team who could not have been more welcoming. That early welcome to King’s was so effective I’ve not wanted to leave to work anywhere else. I joined the Staff Choir, took part in a variety of internal training courses and, along with a job in the King’s Venues team that meant I helped colleagues from all across the university plan events, I enjoyed the fact that, no matter which campus I visited, there were friendly faces to greet me along every corridor. I had such a sense of belonging at King’s.

In my current role I enjoy inducting staff to Estates & Facilities. Who better to make new colleagues feel welcome than someone who feels like a happy and valued part of the King’s community? What could possibly rock such a sturdy sense of belonging somewhere, which has endured over ten years?

In the last few days of 2017 my partner and I found out we were expecting a baby. I was hugely excited and, with hindsight, pretty naive about becoming a parent.

A picture of a woman with her baby.

One of many things I didn’t expect was that being a new Mum could be incredibly lonely. This was a huge surprise – who would think you could be lonely when you are constantly with the little person you love more than anyone in the world? But those first few months were an emotional roller coaster and not what I thought they would be at all. And when I did manage to attend social events with friends and family, I normally felt like I was just busy keeping my lovely but demanding baby content. This meant that, even at an event surrounded by people who I knew and liked, I still often felt incredibly isolated. You’d think I’d relish going out on my own. But when I did manage a few outings without my little girl, I felt like I had left my heart behind. I didn’t feel present at them. That was just one unexpected part of having a baby.

I had plenty of practical problems arise too, especially related to my return to work. I found out the hard way that, for the best nurseries, you need to register your baby more than a year in advance; yes, that’s while they are still in the womb.

In the months I was off, my boss left. I had a new line manager appointed – a reason to feel a bit apprehensive about returning to work, though thankfully that was an easy transition.

And all those hundreds of colleagues I knew around King’s were not a reason to look forward to travelling about our campuses. It took me a couple of weeks to remember the names of everyone in my own office, let alone anyone outside it. A sort of practical problem you’d expect as a new member of staff, but I now suspect a common and embarrassing problem for anyone who has been on long term leave too.

Just a few months after I became pregnant, King’s held a launch event for the Parents & Carers Network. I (quite literally) tottered along. While on maternity leave, I attended a “drop in” session in the Staff Common Room at the Strand and I brought my little girl. When I returned to work, I attended other drop-in sessions but also an event organised by the network where colleagues talked about what modern family life means to them.

There are so many reasons the Parents & Carers Network has been of value to me. The personal experiences shared and the opportunity to connect with other colleagues has helped settle me back in to feeling part of the King’s community and battle some possible loneliness I might have felt returning to work. I get to hear practical tips from parents with older children (child care in school holidays is already on my mind for the years ahead – I’m unlikely to be caught out the same way as I was with registering for a nursery!) and I get to feel a little more confident myself, as I get the opportunity to offer support and tips to colleagues who are about to go on maternity/paternity leave for the first time themselves. Finally, it’s also been inspiring and reassuring to see colleagues successfully managing careers and family life. I just wish this little gem existed long before I needed it, because countless other staff could have benefited sooner.

Today I rise! The world needs a change and it starts with me.


International Women's Day Logo

We had our annual celebration for International Women’s Day 2020 on 6 March at King’s. Equality, Diversity & Inclusion were proud to partner with The Global Institute for Women’s Leadership, the student-led King’s Think Tank and Elevate, King’s Gender Equality Network. I particularly loved opening the event alongside Professor Rosie Campbell and listening to Julia Gillard close.

This blog captures some of that to share with those who couldn’t attend.

International Women’s Day, which has been marked since 1911, is normally celebrated annually on 8 March. The day is neither country, group nor organization specific. It belongs to all groups and to all types of women collectively, everywhere. It is a global day for celebrating the social, economic, cultural and political achievements of women. And it marks a call to action for accelerating intersectional gender parity. This year’s theme was equality.

Maya Angelou spoke of International Women’s Day as a day for women to remind ourselves of our female power and, importantly, for men to remember their feminine aspects too. Angelou said that we all have both powers – feminine and masculine – and that it’s up to us to balance these aspects and cherish them.

She wrote this poem to make a change in the world.

The world needs a change and it starts with you.

A black and white photograph of Maya Angelou

Where are you little girl with broken wings but full of hope? Where are you wise woman covered in wounds?

Where are you? Where are you? Where are you?

Today is the day I will not sit still and give in anymore, today I rise.

I am bruised but I will get up and walk again, today I rise.

I don’t care if you ignore my beauty, today I rise.

Through the alchemy of my darkest night, I heal and thrive, today I rise.

I move through the world with confidence and grace. I open my eyes and am ready to face my wholeness as a woman and my limitless capacities. I will walk my path with audacity, today I rise.

I reconnect with the many aspects of myself. I am in awe of the reality I can create. I am a queen, I am a healer, a wise woman, a wild woman. I will rise and be.

I am a rebel I will wake up and fight. I am a mother and I am a child. I will no longer disguise my sadness and pain, I will no longer suffer and complain. I am black and I am white. There’s no reason to hide.

Where are you? Where are you?

I call upon Kali to kiss me to life. I transform my power and anger, no more heartache or strife. The world is missing what I am ready to give, my wisdom, my sweetness, my love and my hunger for peace.

I weep with the trees and the rivers and the earth in distress. I rise and shine and am ready to go on my quest.

Today I rise without doubt or hesitation, today I rise without excuses, without procrastination.

Today I call upon my sisters to join a movement of resoluteness and concern. Today is my call into action, to fulfil my mission without further distraction.

Today is the day, today I will start, to offer the world the wisdom of my heart.

In writing this poem, Angelou was urging us to make International Women’s Day our day and do what we can to truly make a positive difference for women by thinking globally and acting locally. International Women’s Day is all about unity, celebration, reflection, advocacy and action, whatever that may look like globally at a local level.

Rosie and Julia in their openings and closings both brought home how gender equality and participation impacts every part of public policy and everyone’s everyday health, peace and security.

During the event, we used Essays on Equality, a new publication from the Global Institute for Women’s Leadership, a collection that provides research-informed reflections on the fight for women’s equality, as a discussion prompt. It was truly enriching to wander round the room listening to 70+ women from all over the King’s community and beyond discuss these essays, their personal experiences and perspectives.

Julia talked about the results from a survey carried out by Ipsos MORI and the Global Institute for Women’s Leadership of over 20,000 people in 27 countries, the results of which were released that day, on what acceptable behaviour in the workplace is.

Please take some time to look over the essay collection and the new survey information on the Global Institute for Women’s Leadership website.

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