Equality, Diversity & Inclusion at King's College London

Author: Tyler John (Page 2 of 3)

Disability Inclusion at King’s – How far have we come, and how far have we to go?

Foreword from Professor Richard Trembath (Provost/Senior Vice President (Health)), John Darker (Access King’s Co-Chair), and India Jordan (Equality, Diversity and Inclusion Consultant)

We are delighted to announce that Richard Trembath (Provost/Senior Vice President (Health)) has been appointed as the Disability Inclusion programme’s senior sponsor. Within EDI we have a variety of sponsors and champions –  

  • Professor Sir Edward Byrne, President & Principal – sponsor of equality, diversity & inclusion across the College   
  • Professor ‘Funmi Olonisakin, Vice President & Vice Principal (International) – sponsor of our work on Race Equality and the Race Equality Chartermark 
  • Professor Evelyn Welch, Professor of Renaissance Studies, Provost/Senior Vice President (Arts & Sciences) – sponsor of our work on Gender Equality and Athena   

We believe that sponsors are instrumental in driving institutional change. Having a senior sponsor and champion for this work demonstrates King’s commitment to improving disability inclusion. 

We are very excited to begin working with Richard in ensuring that disability inclusion is included in decision-making processes and structures within King’s. He will be an advocate for disability inclusion, protect and positively drive disability inclusion activity, and act as a role model for the organisation for an inclusive workforce.  

Richard says: I am delighted to have the opportunity to act as senior sponsor for disability inclusion. It is timely to highlight and ensure that King’s is at the forefront on development and delivery across the breadth of disability inclusion, from policy to implementation. My professional background as a clinician within the specialty of genetics, has provided significant opportunity for me to learn much of the impact of disability and of the benefits of inclusion, as means of enhancing wellbeing and enabling achievement.

Alongside a senior champion for our program of work, Access King’s highlight the importance of senior sponsorship within staff networks. John Darker (Access Co-Chair) explains: 

The role of a community network Senior Champion at King’s is a very important one, and includes being a strong advocate for the network, whilst informing senior colleagues about its work and the benefits it affords the University.  This year, Access King’s, the Staff Disability Inclusion Network at King’s, was pleased to announce that Dr Renuka Fernando had joined the Network as its Senior Champion.  Dr Fernando has proactively supported Access King’s, championing for disability inclusion at senior meetings including the review of Return to Campus policies.  Dr Fernando works with the Network’s Co-Chairs and its Committee to help progress its aims and goals.   

Equality, Diversity and Inclusion Consultant, India Jordan, provides us with an update on the disability inclusion program of work so far, and plans and ambitions for this work as our next priorities. 


Disability Inclusion at King’s – How far have we come, and how far have we to go? 

 

At King’s, we are committed to disability equality and inclusion so that people with disabilities and those with longterm conditions are included and feel valued, and so that barriers are understood and overcome. Over the last 3 years, we have been developing and implementing a programme of work to support this. India Jordan, Equality Diversity and Inclusion Consultant within the EDI Sub-Function, reflects on our progress so far and our plans and priorities for the future. 

UK Disability History Month is in its 10th year this year and the theme is ‘Access – how far have we come? How far have we to go? These are useful questions to help us reflect on King’s disability inclusion journeys.  

 

So, how far have we come? 

Sarah Guerra, the Director of Equality, Diversity and Inclusion, identified disability inclusion as a key priority when starting at King’s in 2017, and so work has been underway to develop this area since then.  In 2018/19 a Disability Action Plan and Maturity Model were developed to prioritise and focus disability inclusion work within King’s. The plans were developed in consultation with the King’s Community and the Business Disability Forum (a membership organisation working to remove structural barriers for those with disabilities and longterm health conditions), as part of a Disability Self-Assessment process.  

 The action plan focuses on four strategic areas:  

  • Leadership, Governance & Culture  
  • Policy, Process & Procedure 
  • Local Experience 
  • Data, Outcomes & Evaluation 

Each of these pillars cover areas in King’s that we know need to be developed for structural inequality around disability inclusion to be addressed. We need to have a holistic approach to tackling the issues. We know we need senior leadership buyin, effective processes, maturity around data collection and evaluation, as well as ‘on the ground’ knowledge, skills and experience for us to progress as an institution in supporting those with disabilities and long-term health conditions.  

Alongside the Action Plan, the King’s Disability Inclusion Maturity Model was developed. The model comprises four levels of maturity, from ‘basic’, ‘reactive’, ‘proactive’ to ‘innovative’ and includes the same strategic strands as the Action Plan. This helps everyone understand what best practice looks and feels like in reality and the action we need to take to reach the highest level of maturity.  

In 2020 Equality, Diversity and Inclusion Consultant India Jordan reviewed our progress against the maturity levels. From this assessment, it is clear we have made significant progress in areas relating to Leadership, Governance and Culture and Policy, Process and Procedure, moving from Level 2 ‘Reactive’ (based from our initial assessment in 2019), to Level 3 ‘Proactive’. Some of the improvements include:   

  • Under the Leadership, Governance and Culture pillar, we have appointed a Disability Inclusion Senior Sponsor – Richard Trembath (Provost/Senior Vice President (Health))Richard’s role is responsible for steering, promoting and championing progress of this work amongst the senior leadership. He’ll be advocate for disability inclusion, protect and positively drive disability inclusion activity, and act as a role model for the organisation for an inclusive workforce.  
  • There is clear ‘board-level’ – in our case that’s Senior Management Team buyin and commitment through committees such as the Digital Accessibility Programme Board, the Digital Education Task and Finish Group, and through our governance structures. This means that now, disability is represented as a part of King’s diverse identity and there is demonstrable commitment to inclusion.  
  • Under the Policy, Process and Procedure pillar, we have developed our work on Equality Analysis. For example, the Equality, Diversity and Inclusion Team recently reviewed Equality Analyses for disability-related impacts and considerations, best practice and areas for development, specifically in relation to the pandemic. This, alongside the Equality Considerations Report, is used and highly encouraged when considering all new projects across the university.  
  • Under the Local Experience pillar, we have developed resources and guidance that is available for all, such as the Disability Toolkit and the Accessible Guidance for Content Creators 
  • We are working to go ‘beyond compliance’ using inclusive design principles in consultation with service users such as our Access King’s Network, on projects such as the HR Transformation. 

Key to this progress, awareness and engagement of disability inclusion has been our newly formed Access King’s Network. Only 1 year old, Access King‘has seen a huge increase in membership and engagement, running events throughout the year from a discussion panel on leadership, to online events on how to run accessible and inclusive meetings. Access King’s have recently fed into the Return to Campus work by developing the Inclusive Badges project, a great example of the power of networks and community in driving institutional change.  

The value of our networks is more important than ever, at a time when we are more isolated from our peers – finding community to share experiences and support each other is crucial. To get involved with Access King’s and to find out more about their events being run over Disability History Monthhead to our webpage. 

 

…and how far do we have to go? 

Given the unprecedented events of 2020, the Disability Action Plan has developed in many ways. Digital Accessibility has become a priority for the College, particularly within the learning and teaching sphere. This will continue to be a priority for us as we support through various boards and working groups and updating and developing our Accessible Guidance for Content Creators.  

Alongside digital accessibility, our priorities are to work collaboratively and inclusively through forming a Disability Inclusion Steering GroupThis, in collaboration with our senior sponsor, will create action and hold people to account, ensuring all areas of King’s take responsibility for embedding disability inclusive practices. It is crucial we have support from our senior leadership, we need clear accountability and governance of the Disability Action Plan; with leaders knowing what is expected and required of them, which is why it is very exciting to be working with Richard Trembath on this project. 

Alongside the formation of a working group, we know from the work we have done that the following areas of work need to be a priority in the coming 12-18 months: 

  • Improving our adjustments process, including the development of a Staff Passport Scheme 
  • Building capability and confidence amongst managers through guidance, resource and training 
  • Continuing to support HR Recruitment, working closely on the selection and onboarding processes 
  • Ensuring our online and physical spaces are accessible to all 

It is important to reflect on our progress and celebrate our successes, but it is also important that we recognise where we need to improve and plan for us to be able to effectively do that. We want to reach the highest levels of maturity, we want to be a leader of best practice for disability inclusion for HE and most importantly, we want our staff and students to feel that there are no barriers to their being their very best whilst at King’s. 

It is hard to predict what the world will look like this time next year and undoubtedly we will face more change and challenges as we acclimatise to our new reality. However, we know that the changes and developments outlined above will enable us to move through and adapt to them more effectively and sustainably. The unique circumstances of 2020 have given us insight to a more accessible and inclusive world we believe is possible and we will continue to embed these practices, so they are not the exception, but rather the norm.  

How can you get involved? 

If you are interested and passionate about disability inclusion within King’s and want to make a difference within this area, join our disability inclusion staff network – Access King’s. They are hosting a range of events over Disability History Month and have regular monthly drop-ins. 

Making Time for Talent

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


One of the crucial elements of my EDI philosophy is helping people see that there is no single ‘right’ answer to achieving equality, diversity and inclusion – it takes a collection of concerted and connected activities to move in the direction you seek. Similarly, nothing stands still – you cannot set off on your strategic journey expecting there to be a fixed or distinct EDI end point – that we will reach ‘Diversity Nirvana’ so to speak. The world, society, and individuals are constantly changing and evolving, and we need to recognise and adapt to that. 

That makes succession planning hard but also critical. By that, I mean thinking proactively about what talent, skills and knowledge you need now and what you will need in the future. This is important across any organisation and vital for key roles. What if certain people left at short notice? What if X or Y changes? How will the organisation cope and adapt? Can it handle changes without massive disruption or danger? 

It’s timely that I write this blog, as recently I met with colleagues leading a project called the Size and Shape refresh – this is King’s ten-year planning framework. It seeks to set out a series of projected endpoints for 2029 across a range of indicators. These were first developed in 2018 as the result of careful consideration around key issues related to education, research, finance, space and people. Size and Shape was designed to be a deliverable and balanced plan and emphasised the interconnectedness of different aspects of the strategy to be used in business planning rounds to inform annual targets, budget setting and strategic decision-making. This is a significant layer of information that enables succession planning. 

I of course advocate that succession planning has the most value when it is implemented looking consciously through an equality and diversity lens. That means, leaders take a step back and consider the future needs of the organisation and build a broad-based plan that addresses these critical needs. Alongside this, they need to consider the whole workforce in terms of building greater diversity. That means understanding the different parts of the workforce, what the pipeline into them is and who is in the current ‘talent’ pool of the organisation. So, for example if underrepresented in certain areas or there are pay gaps – how does addressing these fit into the succession planning efforts? 

This activity needs to have data – both qualitative and quantitativeHR needs to take an active role in ensuring the relevant data is shared and considered. That any stated  objectives and KPIs that exist are examined and if necessary revisited and updated. These objectives need to be organisation wide and specific for individual units in the organisation – at King’s, our KPIs can be broken down by individual faculty and we look across Professional Services Directorates as a whole. 

The balance scorecard/KPI homepage for King’s on PowerBI

Having a clear EDI strategy and our KPIs means we can all have a clearer understanding of what success looks like and where we want to head as an organisation. This should also be a key component of setting and tracking performance criteria which can help to reduce bias. Organisations should, for example, ask themselves: what level of diverse talent will be needed in the pipeline to create a difference in the next three to five years? What policies or actions are needed to improve diversity if there is currently will not meet future needs? 

Succession planning also enables a proactive and focused approach to supporting employee progression and development. This helps address several issues such as increased turnover, fast-paced changes at work, and the challenge of ensuring meaningful diversity across the organisation. When diverse talent is identified, it is important to ensure these individuals are supported. This involves regular and active discussion, and the provision of guidance and coaching to ensure strengths and stretch areas are identified. At King’s, our PDR and feedback processes should ensure that not only are success and achievement recognised, but so too are behaviours in accordance with our Principles in Action framework and where necessary areas for improvement, so lessons are learnt and understood to improve overall performance and so maximise student experience and outcomes. 

King’s Principles in Action

Performance appraisal should mean there are regular individual progression discussions. The outcomes of these should be regularly reviewed at leadership level across an organisation. This is yet another way of reducing bias and helping surface talent. By developing a more collective idea of individual strengths and available opportunities, it allows those with potential to be more visible and gain access to opportunities, and so helps with succession planning. 

Critically, organisations need to recognise that where groups are underrepresented, they need to be intentional in providing opportunities to raise the profile of individuals and reassure them that their talents are recognised. This helps everyone better recognise individual talent and realise people’s potential. This provides a virtual circle of enabling informed and effective succession planning.  

I’ll end where I started – there is no single ‘right’ answer to achieving equality, diversity and inclusion. It requires a number of concerted and connected activities which includes understanding where you are as an organisation, who you currently have and where you want to get to. In thinking about that, we all need to be able to imagine a future that looks and feel different. Whilst I can’t tell you what Diversity Nirvana for any organisation looks like, I know it looks and feels different to how we all currently are. 

 

Seven steps towards Transforming Women’s Leadership in our Business Schools

Writing for the Chartered Association of Business Schools,  in this blog, Professor Sally Everett proposes steps to make female leadership more equal across business schools.


I was in tears on Saturday 7 November – moved by emotion, excitement and sheer relief. Watching the first woman ever to be elected to the office of Vice President of the United States of America was to me, one of the most momentous and important historic events I have witnessed in my lifetime. As Kamala Harris spoke, it gave me hope for women and the future of leadership (in all its forms) everywhere:

“Dream with ambition, lead with conviction and see yourselves in a way that others may not simply because they’ve never seen it before“ (Kamala Harris, 7/11/20)

photo of kamala harris

Kamala Harris, who was recently elected as the first ever black, Asian, and female Vice-President of the United States of America.

It got me thinking; what might this ‘dreaming with ambition’ look like for women (and especially women of colour) seeking leadership in our business schools? How might women be able to lead with conviction and pave the way for future female academic leaders, history makers and ultimately help realise equity and genuine diversity within our leadership communities?

As a member of the Chartered ABS Equality, Diversity and Inclusion Committee it seems an opportune moment to suggest some actions that might deliver improved female representation and diversity across all levels of leadership. At the time of writing, 43 business schools have a female Dean/Director (out of 120 Chartered ABS member business schools) and although 35.8% is perhaps a more encouraging statistic than some other faculties and schools, it hides some glaring inequalities in terms of equality of pay, opportunity, and recognition as reported in a Chartered ABS research reflection on HESA data and Hewitt for HEPI (2020).

I propose we consider seven areas of action that could make a positive difference and shift the dial towards greater female representation in all forms and levels of business school leadership. For ease, I have summarised these as ‘Seven Ts’ for transforming women’s leadership in business schools. I am most grateful to the Plus Alliance working group and work of the Chartered ABS EDI Committee for planting seeds in me; seeds and shoots that will continue to grow over time and inform my entire career.

I offer seven steps to gender equity in our schools: tone, transform, talk, togetherness, transparent, talent, and targets.

  1. TONE: We need the ‘tone from the top’ and be convinced that our leaders care about this agenda and are prepared to act. Not because of how it might look, or that it might help secure research funding, but because they ‘get it’, understand the urgency of it and want to champion gender equity for the sake of the whole community. University and faculty leaders must set the tone through their actions, their language, and their policies. We look to our leaders for guidance and inspiration. Much like we know gender parity will not happen on its own in the boardroom (Thorne and Konigsburg writing in HBR 2020), leaders at the top of our institutions need to actively and visibly empower women. Who are they appointing to the executive council and board? Are they our school’s/university’s equality and diversity champions? Are they sponsoring female colleagues?
  2. TRANSFORM: In reframing leadership we need to ensure invisible work (often unhelpfully called ‘admin’ or ‘service’) is valued. For many, academic leadership has become synonymous with invisible administration, long hours and under appreciation. Schools need to foster a culture where academic citizenship is rewarded and recognised in probation, promotion and professorial criteria. Female faculty will often take on a disproportionate amount of this work (see Guarino and Borden, 2017 who found women took on 30 more minutes per week of service than men and 1.5 more service activities per year than men). How are Business Schools complicit in this? For example, student support interventions at programme level that retain students can be worth millions of pounds in fee income, or the development of a new course can secure significant sums of recruitment income, yet an external research grant worth a fraction of this is often more openly celebrated and regarded as more critical for promotion. We also need to ensure there is parity in how we treat research and teaching – when a colleague secures a research fellowship or sabbatical, someone covers their teaching. Who covers someone’s research when they secure a teaching fellowship?
  3. TALK: as we have seen in the recent Black Lives Matter movement, we recognise that silence is compliance. We all have a duty to champion our colleagues and ensure we call out sexism, address gender inequality, and expose misogyny where and when we see it. Many of us have seen committee papers and research written by female colleagues skilfully repurposed to remove their input; we need to expose such behaviour and start talking to others when and where this happens. It cannot be left unsaid. We need to be the cheerleaders of our female colleagues in our business school meetings.
  4. TOGETHERNESS: we need to create ties and come together in networks. In developing a growth mindset where we bring each other along (and elevate up) leaders become navigators to those seeking guidance and support. Echoing Granovetter’s groundbreaking sociological study ‘Strength of Weak Ties’ work (1973), we know women generally develop deeper relationships and less ‘loose ties’. We need to develop communities of practice where we nurture links, share experiences, and build a sense of belonging. In my own business school, I was struck by some of the career isolation many of female colleagues shared with me, so developed ‘Women@KBS’ as a network of sharing ideas, support and reflections. It has become a place of nurturing and empowerment.
  5. TRANSPARENCY: we need to reward and recognise where the work is happening and hold our schools to account by publishing data about equality performance. We need to go beyond traditional measures of leadership and be more transparent in what is measured, why and by whom. For example, perhaps we should openly acknowledge who is at the table in terms of equality and diversity at the start of our meetings, and report the number of women and faculty from under-represented groups in our annual reports and in our committee minutes.
  6. TALENT: we need to identify talent, create a talent pool and sponsor the development of colleagues. How might we expose female colleagues to ‘doing’ leadership through vertical shadowing, peer mentoring, and bring women to the executive table as part of succession planning? The recent Chartered ABS mentoring scheme was an important step in this direction. By creating explicit pathways to leadership and recognising work with titles for their CV e.g. Director of X, Lead of Y we create opportunities for those around us to emerge and to excel. Consider having female colleagues shadow the Dean for a period of time in rotation, or think about what role titles could be used for colleagues involved in academic administration tasks that fall within the cracks of an ineffective workload model, e.g. Academic Lead for Community Engagement.
  7. TARGETS: ensure equity-based KPIs are woven into performance reviews. Peter Drucker famously said, ‘if you can’t measure it, you can’t improve it’. We need to be transparent in how we use data and be ambitious in the targets we set ourselves and our schools. We need to measure impact quantitatively and publish data at school level (as we see in the Athena Swan approach), but also ensure we capture impact qualitatively through personal stories, lived experiences and people’s reflections.

Equality in our business schools will not happen by chance –We need to be pro-active and fill the spaces where decisions happen in our schools with a dialogue of diversity and inclusion. As a Vice Dean of a business school I have a strong sense of responsibility to pay it forward and to create a ripple effect. We know that everyone benefits when women are included. It will be about evolution not revolution, but we need to commit to the the legacy we wish to build, and start now. As we look at female leadership, I am inspired by global figures like Kamala Harris, Michelle Obama, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, and Jacinda Ardern who have sought to advance others through strength and empathy and lead others through kindness, decency and respect.

‘Women belong in all places where decisions are being made’ (Ruth Bader Ginsburg)

 

References

Granovetter, M. S. (1973). The strength of weak ties. American journal of sociology, 78(6), 1360-1380. Available from : https://www.cse.wustl.edu/~m.neumann/fl2017/cse316/materials/strength_of_weak_ties.pdf

Guarino, C.M., and Borden, V.M.H. (2017) Faculty Service Loads and Gender: Are Women Taking Care of the Academic Family?. Research in Higher Education 58672–694 (2017). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11162-017-9454-2

Hewitt, R. (2020) Mind the gap: gender differences in higher education, HEPI Report 2020. Available from:  https://www.hepi.ac.uk/2020/03/07/mind-the-gap-gender-differences-in-higher-education/

Thorne, S. and Konigsburgh, D. (2020) Gender Parity in the Boardroom Won’t Happen on Its Own in Harvard Business Review 12 February 2020. Available from: https://hbr.org/2020/02/gender-parity-in-the-boardroom-wont-happen-on-its-own

World Economic Forum (2020) Mind the 100 Year Gap. Available from: https://www.weforum.org/reports/gender-gap-2020-report-100-years-pay-equality


Professor Sally Everett is a Professor of Business Education, and Vice Dean (Education) at King’s Business School, where she leads on the development, implementation and promotion of the King’s Business School’s education strategy.

The Power of Partners

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


As I write this, it is not long after a surprise (well, at least to me) government announcement aimed at addressing needless bureaucracy that potentially significantly shifts the tectonic plates in HE around chartermark participation and value. This paper indicates a change that means NIHR funding will no longer be dependent on holding an Athena Swan silver award. The impacts and outcomes of that are not at all clear at this point, so this blog is more about my general opinion and knowledge of external forums and chartermarks. Later in the blog series I will dedicate more time to the chartermarks we participate in.

Getting involved with external forums and partners is a way for network leaders, organisation leaders, HR and EDI practitioners to gain and share good practice, and to interact with others to expand understanding of equality, diversity and inclusion issues across organisations.

There are many forums and organisations. We at King’s belong to several – Advance HE (who administer Athena Swan and the Race Equality Chartermark), Working Families, Stonewall (who create the Stonewall Workplace Equality Index to indicate how good an employer you are for LGBTQ+ people), the Business Disability Forum (who provide a self-assessment) and Radius.  These types of organisations are collectively on a mission to drive inclusion investment, build expertise, spread good practice and ultimately, change mindsets and public policy through the gathering of sector-wide experts. They often commission research and seek to share knowledge.

External networks and forums which King’s belongs to

External benchmarking is an important step to understand how an organisation is performing in context, as well as identifying new opportunities for improvement. We at King’s, in common with many across the sector, have taken part in the Athena Swan Gender Equality Chartermark since 2007. We will shortly be submitting our 2nd institutional application, hoping to reach Silver level. We were also one of the pilot organisations to join the Race Equality Chartermark. We recently succeeded in renewing our Bronze level award.

Taking part in external forums and benchmarks helps demonstrate an organisation’s commitment to diversity, showing that they want to listen, learn and share, and that they are prepared to go beyond their own boundaries and personal interests. It is a way of showing a willingness and enthusiasm to be involved in both the research and embedding of activity that serves diverse groups. It also makes economic sense for many. For smaller organisations, the cost and risks of investigating and resolving EDI related issues can seem overwhelming and sharing this with others can make it more achievable.

I have found our memberships and partners a great way of augmenting internal expertise and filling knowledge gaps, by bringing leaders together with their peers for a shared learning experience.

Participating and collaborating with external organisations and undertaking benchmarks can, without a doubt, be time consuming. That is why I am very selective about which ones I work with and how I spend my time.  (I get several emails every day and many calls a week trying to entice me into new relationships – on a strictly work-related basis!)  I find it is important that I understand what I want to achieve, and so select the partners and events that can help with that. In times of limited financial resources and personal time, this becomes ever more critical.

An example of some of the resources and benefits you can make use of when you join an external forum. Here is a snippet from the Business Disability Forum website.

The other danger with external forums is you increase the pool of uncertainty. EDI is not a simple issue, and there is no one answer. It is possible for wider discussion across organisations to increase confusion and stagnation. Again, this for me is about choosing the right partners and investing internally in high-quality EDI experts who will not be waylaid like this.

Please do take some time to familiarise yourself with our partner organisations – most of these have access to membership areas which anyone with a kcl address can register for and access. They are a tool and resource available to people that can help development and delivery. I’d also love feedback on how much value people feel these offer as well as suggestions for new partners.

As I reflect on the years that have led me through public policy making, to activism and then to being an EDI practitioner, I have learnt that social justice change, which is what EDI is at its heart, doesn’t come easily. The ability to talk and learn from others, to share ideas and gain support, are all critical instruments in making change happen. The ability to measure and objectively understand how well you are doing (compared to others) is invaluable. Internal measures and judgements can be very narrow, and it is hard to break away from the status quo without evidence. So, I personally am a big advocate of careful and strategic participation in external forums and benchmarks, but also I recognise that to make that meaningful change, one must commit time and effort, and we should be under no illusions that these provide a quick fix – that elusive silver bullet!

The Need for Networks

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


As a former Trade Union activist and Officer, collective and self-organised groups are very close to my heart. One of my proudest achievements and fondest memories is starting a (at the time) ground-breaking Black women’s network in HMRC.

image of black women sitting around a table

Inaugural Black Women’s Network at HMRC

Supporting and enabling Networks is a way to visibly demonstrate ongoing commitment to enabling people to bring their ‘true selves’ to work. Networks can host regular forums that enable like-minded employees to come together to share ideas and concerns, learn from best practice (internal and external), collaborate on how to improve ways of working and make suggestions that can be proposed and implemented. This serves many purposes: it helps staff feel more engaged and connected to their organisation; it helps generate an environment where people feel their voice is heard (and can therefore motivate them to action), and helps them advocate inside the organisation and to share positive views about their place of work. All of this contributes to leaders understanding what needs to be done and the strength of feeling about it.

Our networks at King’s are something I am so proud of and love to work with. They are a key part of our EDI strategy and we have invested significantly over the last few years to help our networks form, grow and really become embedded within our policy and decision-making structures.

There are so many positives. Enabling people to lead and host in areas they have knowledge and lived experience creates ownership by those who are most passionate. They help drive the agenda forward based on personal experiences and encourage participation from colleagues and friends at work. Too, networks provide input and channels to communicate and gain feedback on activities that the organisation is undertaking.

Having given many hours of voluntary time, I feel passionately that organisations need to support networks and their leaders. We need to provide space and resources – including facilitating bringing the leads together to share their experiences of hosting these networks – so they can discuss what is going well and what needs to improve.

 

people sitting around a table

Network leads meet with the Principal, Ed Byrne, to discuss their experiences

Critically, as with any aspect of organisational success, for networks to be truly successful, they require senior leader/board level visible support. This needs to be ongoing and real, including advocacy for the network’s agenda, presence at their events, and budget to enable their activity. It needs to be clear to everyone that this is ‘work for the benefit of all’ not a few individuals pursuing a hobby. The individuals involved need to be given time and recognition for the efforts they are making. They should be recognised as organisation talent and be invested in.

We support network leads getting some work time allocated to their network roles, and having their efforts recognised via performance appraisal. We also brought all our network leads together with Ed Byrne, our Principal, for just this reason.

As with any organisation, to be successful, a network needs to be clear on its purpose and scope and be pursuing clear goals. I love the model that our networks have developed, in terms of two streams – community and strategy. They have each set out clear objectives and work in partnership with each other and the EDI team, in an effort to give life to our ‘intersectional by design’ ambitions. In addition, you can find out more about what the networks have been up to in our annual report.

Diagram showing the structure of networks at King’s

I’ll take this opportunity to give a massive shout-out and high-five to our current network leads who do such a fantastic job. Thank you so much.

King’s Network Leads

Dignity at King’s – Bullying and Harassment Policy Published

Dignity at King’s – Bullying and Harassment Policy Published

We have developed a Dignity at King’s – Bullying and Harassment Policy which supports the entire King’s Community. This replaces the previous Dignity at Work – Statement of Commitment and applies to the whole of the university. We are doing this because we know that, like all large institutions, we have problems with bullying & harassment at all levels. This new policy is designed to ensure we tackle this sensitively.

The policy has been developed based on wide ranging research of HEI and public sector best practice, alongside consultation with many across the College. It is now available and can be accessed in the Governance Zone.

This policy sets out the responsibilities of those within the King’s community in addressing inappropriate behaviour, clearly defines conduct that is not acceptable and outlines where to go for support for anyone who has witnessed or experienced bullying and harassment.

Importantly, it also makes clear that managers and senior leaders need to support our community and engage with and address behaviour and issues related to alleged bullying and harassment as they arise. This is key to fostering and enabling an environment free from bullying and harassment and ensuring that the policy is embedded within our ways of working and culture at King’s.

Bullying and harassment are organisational issues to be addressed. This can only be done when there is commitment from senior leadership. Our senior leaders have made it clear this is a top priority for them. Evelyn Welch (Provost & Senior Vice President (Arts & Sciences)), Richard Trembath (Senior Vice President and Provost (Health)) and Steve Large (Senior Vice President (Operations)) have identified this as a joint priority and are determined to ensure that the right systems, symbols and behaviours are in place so that the highest quality senior leadership around bullying and harassment is modelled and implemented within the university.

The development of the policy is only the start. Planning for a significant programme of work is underway, led by HR King’s senior leaders, with examples of work including:

  • Developing further guidance and resources for managers
  • Working with Vice Deans Research to embed further support within the research community
  • Developing a package of training, including being an active bystander for staff
  • Reviewing and updating subsequent policies and procedures related to this policy

These packages of work will also be informed by the practical, applied anti-bullying and harassment work within faculties.

Useful resources that are available now:

Training

Below are some useful training resources available on KEATS. The following Skill Boosters videos are recorded for a variety of different audiences and environments. They are useful in considering the key learning points and approaches that provide support in any environment including our own University context.

Their content comprises of Short Films, Micro Courses and Courses, their respective lengths are outlined below. You will need to enroll via KEATS to access the courses.

Banter in the workplace

Bullying and Harassment – Effective Interventions

Creating and Environment Based on Respect

Understanding and Confronting Sexual Harassment

The full length course for this training is 45 minutes long. We recommend you complete this as a part of a group or in a facilitated session. If you would like support from the Equality, Diversity and Inclusion Team in facilitating this, contact diveristy@kcl.ac.uk

Challenging Behaviour

This course is 60 minutes long. We recommend you complete this as a part of a group or in a facilitated session. If you would like support from the Equality, Diversity and Inclusion Team in facilitating this, contact diveristy@kcl.ac.uk

Invest in Inclusion: The Business Case for EDI

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


We live in a complex, interconnected world. Within that there are so many influencing factors. Increasingly we see a greater understanding and acceptance that diversity is an asset for organisations and individuals. It fosters innovation, creativity and empathy in ways that are less likely in a homogeneous environment. If you haven’t already heard my AKC lecture it covers this in more depth.

In 2020, diversity is about more than gender, race and ethnicity. It now includes diverse religious beliefs, education, socio-economic backgrounds, sexual orientation, cultures and disabilities. Organisations recognise that, by supporting and promoting a diverse and inclusive workplace, they gain deep benefits.

The case for establishing a truly diverse workforce, at all organisational levels, grows more compelling each year. The moral argument is weighty enough, but the financial impact – as proven by multiple studies – makes this a must for success. I’ll skip through a few I am aware of, but these are just the tip of the iceberg!

There is substantial research to show that diversity brings many advantages to an organisation: increased profitability and creativity, stronger governance and better problem-solving abilities. Employees/students with diverse backgrounds bring to bear their own perspectives, ideas and experiences, helping to create organisations that are resilient and effective, and which out-perform organisations that do not invest in diversity.

The potential benefit to the UK economy from full representation of all individuals across the labour market through improved participation and progression is enormous. If we just looked at BME people this is estimated to be £24 billion a year, which represents 1.3% of GDP. 

McKinsey identified in 2015 that companies in the top quartile for racial and ethnic diversity are 35% more likely to have financial returns above their respective national industry medians.

Data from McKinsey showing the increase in financial performance by diversity

 

Research carried out by   in 2017 with inclusion experts Equal Approach found there was a potential £15 return for every £1 invested in inclusion initiatives across the organisation.

A Boston Consulting Group study found that companies with more diverse management teams have 19% higher revenues due to innovation.

By the year 2025, 75% of the global workforce will be made up of millennials – which means this group will occupy the majority of leadership roles over the coming decade. This group has a unique perspective on diversity. While previous generations tend to view diversity through the lenses of race, demographics, equality and representation, millennials see diversity as a melding of varying experiences, different backgrounds and individual perspectives. They view the ideal workplace as a supportive environment that gives space to varying perspectives on a given issue.

The 2018 Deloitte Millennial Survey shows that 74% of these individuals believe their organisation is more innovative when it has a culture of inclusion. If we are looking to hire and sustain a millennial workforce, diversity must be a key part of our culture.  When employees ‘think their organisation is committed to and supportive of diversity, and they feel included’, their ability to innovate increases by 83%

Diversity and Inclusion

More than ever, flexibility and versatility are becoming the key to success for individuals, companies, and countries alike, and a culturally diverse environment is the best way to acquire these qualities. Assumptions need to be challenged, conversations need to be had and organisation culture needs to be updated so that the modern organisation can accurately reflect and support the population of its region.

Equality, Diversity and Inclusion cannot be a one-off or a set of initiatives. Promoting them in the workplace is a constant work-in-progress and they should be maintained and nurtured to guarantee effectiveness. Empathetic leadership is key to this transformation. For real change to happen, every individual leader needs to buy into the value of belonging – both intellectually and emotionally – and they need to work to make EDI part of everyone’s mindset and structurally unavoidable.

We must come together and be more engaged and vocal than ever before to promote the message of a diverse and tolerant society.  The weight of evidence can no longer be ignored. As outlined, there is substantial research to show that diversity brings many advantages to any organisation, including increased financial sustainability, creativity, stronger governance and better problem-solving abilities. Those with diverse backgrounds bring to bear their own perspectives, ideas and experiences, helping to create organisations that are resilient and effective, and which outperform organisations that do not invest in diversity.

The Truth About Trust

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


Achieving success in Equality, Diversity and Inclusion on any level, for individuals, within teams, organisations, communities and societies, rests on trust. It is a word we use regularly but what does it mean? The dictionary says, ‘believe in the reliability, truth, or ability of’.

Do we have confidence in what someone says, does, is able to do?

When I’m speaking to audiences about EDI I often take a moment at the beginning and ask people to reflect on what EDI means to them? If we unpack what they think and what the building blocks are to get to the destination, trust is always one of the pieces of the puzzle.

What are some specific reasons it is important for EDI?

One is data. These days, collecting diversity data is not that hard. We have all sorts of tools and techniques that allow the easy gathering and analysis of information (such as our PowerBI EDI Dashboard, which houses all the EDI-related data we have on staff and students at King’s. You can find it here). The challenge is generating trust from those whom you want data from. People want to understand what it is going to be used for, and by whom. They want reassurance that they will not be harmed by providing the data and that it is going to be used in a way that they would approve of, a way they can see a benefit to.

We need to collect data to understand patterns in our workforce or trends and issues like the gender and ethnicity pay gap. We can often feel that these are mechanical processes but collecting ethnicity, sexual orientation, disability data is, in effect, an exercise in trust.

Screenshot from our data campaign video

Where you have lots of people who take the ‘refuse to say’ option or just don’t engage, you should take this as an indication that there is a lack of trust and that there are wider cultural issues. Any member of King’s staff can see data about our organisation   and you can update your personal data  .

These wider issues – which often relate to equality, diversity, inclusion and trust in terms of people feeling excluded or treated differently – need to be acknowledged and addressed. Change in culture does not happen by itself – it takes intentional and focused work to create a successful, inclusive organisation.  This involves engaging all relevant stakeholders. To be able to do that there needs to be a clear narrative and vision – helping people understand why change is needed and where we want to get to.

This needs to be organisation-wide; sponsored and endorsed at the very top by the organisation’s leaders, through Heads of Departments, PIs and Line Managers, to HR, all Professional Services and embedded in the organisation’s communications. Building and maintaining trust needs clear communications and, importantly, listening. The organisation and its leaders need to be honest and open. This is in terms of day-to-day interactions but also in terms of what is written down and projected about an organisation. Be realistic and open about the challenges in improving diversity and inclusion and how it is progressing over time.

All of these things add up to ‘trust’ – or, put another way, it creates belief in the community that you are serious about making your organisation (or part of it) more equal, diverse and inclusive.

You can play your part in making King’s a more equal, diverse and inclusive place by sharing your data with us. By telling us more about who you are, we’re able to develop a better understanding of King’s and what we need to be doing to make sure you’re as happy as you can be here. You can watch our video on the importance of collecting data, and then go to HR Digital Services to input your own information.

EDI: The Whole Shebang!

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


I write a lot of blogs and it sometimes may be hard to see how all the things I talk about fit into a coherent whole. I have therefore decided to write a blog series that aims to describe how and why I take a whole systems approach to improving EDI in organisations. To do that I will produce pieces on why we aim to tackle EDI issues and what the individual components that have been proven to work are. I will then also examine the detail of these various elements.

So, first, the why?

The most basic answer is, it’s the law (The Equality Act 2010), and an organisation such as King’s doesn’t have a choice but to comply. However, that answer is not the reason King’s created the post of Director of Equality, Diversity and Inclusion. If we look at Vision 2029 we can see that our ambition is to create a world-leading university in terms of education, research and service, and that we are already diverse. However, our intention is that anyone with talent can think of King’s as a place they can come to work or study  that will nurture and develop that talent, enabling them to thrive whilst here and in their future. To really fulfil our mission, we need to be innovative and creative – which is something I truly believe comes from diversity of perspectives.

image of sarah guerra, director of equality, diversity and inclusion

Sarah Guerra, Director of Equality, Diversity and Inclusion

EDI helps us to innovate and create as well as inspiring and supporting everyone attached to King’s and beyond. To be successful we must be inclusive in our recruitment (of staff and students) – we have to create opportunities for all. I spoke about this in my AKC  .

To achieve that, we must be a great place to work, and that means we must recognise and reward all people fairly. We must seek out and develop all talent – and not be prevented from seeing it by bias – conscious or unconscious. To do all that, we need great leaders and managers, and we need clear policies, processes and systems to aid us. We need to understand what makes us attractive as a place to study or work but also why people leave. When they do, do they feel that their have fulfilled their potential or has that been prevented in some way?

So, in the coming weeks I will look at ‘the business case’. Leadership, data (including targets and benchmarking), action planning and tracking progress, building trust, sharing success and challenges. I will look at the value of networks – internal and external; the kind of planning and thinking organisations that want to be inclusive need to do; the relevance of training, development and awareness; and no doubt more. I hope that, over the weeks, this will help everyone understand how all the pieces of the puzzle fit together and lead to an organisation, culture, systems and processes that include by design rather than exclude through carelessness and ignorance.

How a Lifetime of Racial Indignities Add Up

Alexandra Birrell completed her MSc in Mental Health and Psychological Therapies in London. As an NHS therapist and transracial adoptee, she has a special interest in working with clients with anxiety and depression stemming from social inequalities. She uses embodied writing as a form of activism, using first person narrative to bring awareness to systemic cultural issues.  

Alexandra says: “When the BLM movement started featuring in the news, I found myself in a unique position. As a transracial adoptee, I am seen by society as an ethnic minority, but treated by my white family and friends as a white person. The dominant narrative when I was growing up was that “we don’t see race, we only see our daughter/cousin/friend.” But it was this narrative that stopped me from understanding and expressing the pain that came from directly experiencing racism. Seeing people raging in the streets tapped into deep seated emotions that had never had a voice. This article contains my reflections on how even microaggressions can add up to create a bigger picture over a lifetime.”

 


 

Over the past several weeks, as the #BlackLivesMatter movement turns the global conversation toward racial issues, I recognise my own privilege in being able to take my time to reflect on my own racial experiences. Some people are challenged by the concept of privilege, especially in the context of race. They may say, “but how can I be privileged? I grew up with nothing; I witnessed abuse; I was abused; my parents were alcoholics; I grew up poor.” But privilege is not a yes/no tick-box; it is a complex topic. It is not only about the things we have experienced; it is also about the things we have not. For example, people can be privileged racially, whilst at the same time being un-privileged economically. It took me a long time to realise that despite being privileged in many ways, a lifetime of racial microaggressions added up to poor mental health that almost cost me my life.

As a mixed-race woman growing up in Canada, with blood from the Philippines, Portugal, Spain and England (and as a recent DNA test tells me, also from France, India, Indigenous Mexico, Northern Africa and Senegal) the most common question I have been asked is “but where are you really from?” It is a question that has haunted me throughout my life, even growing up in the suburbs of multicultural Toronto. The difficulty of living in a place where everyone you know is a first to fourth generation immigrant is that, despite being born and raised in Canada, considering yourself Canadian is not perceived to be enough of an identity. Canadians may still consider themselves Italian, for example, despite being born in Canada, and their parents and grandparents being born and bred Canadian.

What happens when you can’t identify with your country of birth, but also don’t belong to the cultures and heritages of your ancestors? What is a “half-caste” (to use one of the many descriptions others have used) modern woman to do with the knowledge that her body and her existence are the result of centuries of violence — whose blood is made up of both historically colonised and coloniser?

My racial experience has been further complicated by my early life adoption into a white Scottish family. The controversial subject of transracial adoption began to feature in debate nearly thirty years ago, but the cultural assumption is still that adoptees should assimilate the racial culture of the adoptive family. I grew up with the narrative that “we are a family of Scottish ancestry, and this is our heritage.”

I was therefore, at the age of four, thoroughly unprepared when kids on the playground pulled back their eyes at me, mocked, “you’re Chinese!”, and burst into laughter. At this young age, I began to realise I did not fit the description of being white-Scottish, but also had no idea what my true ethnicity was. Adoptees are not allowed access to their own medical or birth records until the age of 18. For all I knew, I could have been Chinese. I didn’t understand why this was so funny.

In my horrified shock, I was silent. None of the adults in my life knew that I was being taunted on the playgrounds. This was the beginning of a lifetime of internalising racial shame.

At eleven, a group of boys started to follow me home from school, laughing and pulling back their eyes. At first, I laughed along, buying into the narrative that they were just teasing me. After all, isn’t that what boys do when they like you? Weeks went by — the laughter stopped, but the ridicule continued. One day, they started to follow me home as usual. My heart was already starting to race when I heard a loud CRACK! It sounded like a gunshot. They’d gotten hold of fireworks and were shooting them at me. I still said nothing to my parents, or any adult in my life.

At fourteen, our family moved from multicultural Toronto to an affluent (Read: All White) suburb an hour from the city. My white parents had no idea that during these teenage years, it was developmentally even more important for me to have racial mirrors in my life; to be able to see myself reflected in the world around me, and to understand that my physical characteristics were normal and acceptable. I was confused when, on the first day of high school, not knowing a single soul, someone shouted down the hallway at me “Asian slut!”

I fought back hot tears of humiliation. I was confused; I lacked an understanding of the violent historical roots of this comment. I did not know about the women who, during western occupation of Asia during the Philippine-American War, World War II and the Korean and Vietnam wars, were forced into local sex trafficking rings to serve soldiers. I did not know about the stereotypes that rationalised sexual violence toward Asian women.

Even knowing these stereotypes now, I look back and realise that I was not a woman; I was a child. I later learned that children of colour are often treated as being more mature than they are, and more mature than white children of the same age, due to a form of racial prejudice called Adultification Bias.

Alexandra Birrell writes about her experiences of being a transracial adoptee

The judgement and rejection got worse for me through those torturous school years. Class after class, I was the only person of colour in the room, and when I wasn’t being taunted or physically threatened, I was completely ignored.

At sixteen, I started to smoke weed. Being with my stoner friends was the only place I felt accepted, and the weed helped to numb the deep pain that I was in. But even my so-called friends laughed at me: “You don’t need to smoke weed, look at you. You’re already chinky eyed!” a friend said in front of a large group. The whole room erupted with laughter. My body went into freeze mode, as it had done a million times before. I had nothing to say; nothing to fall back on. I did not know what it meant to be Asian. I had no ethnic role models in my life. I had no one to teach me about racism.

I did not see myself reflected anywhere in my family or in my wider culture. According to the Journal of Intercultural Communication, Asian/Pacific Islanders are still underrepresented and misinterpreted in mainstream media, forming only 3% of all prime-time characters and primarily being portrayed as “dangerous criminals…unassimilated immigrants… [or] subservient sexual objects” (Ramasubramanian, 2011). And the less interracial contact white people have, the more their views are defined by media portrayals of stereotypes.

With no racial pride to summon up, when I was taunted for my physical features, I simply allowed myself to sink into silent humiliation — a go-to protective response. I began to hate what I looked like. I wanted to be white and just fit in, but never shared this desire with my parents — how could I? They believed I already was.

I worked hard and went to Wilfrid Laurier University in Waterloo, Canada to study psychology. But the psychology I learned did not include the psychology of people of colour. I learned about Sigmund Freud, Wilhelm Wundt, William James, and Edward Titchener — white male after white male, while my white classmates nodded along.

I learned about how race is a social construct; how the differences in our skin tone are only skin deep, a biological response to different climates that we settled in as humanity spread throughout the globe. I learned about how biologically, our similarities are more than our differences. I understood, but it just didn’t resonate. We live in a world made up of social constructs. The fact is that ethnic minorities have different experiences than white people, simply because the world we live in was designed by white people to benefit themselves. This is why the common notions of “not seeing colour” and “all being one human race”, whilst noble and often coming from good intentions, are demoralising and demeaning to people of colour; they deny the difficulties we face in a world where racial discrimination still exists.

After lectures, I was often the only person of colour at the bars my white friends and I went to. One day, I acknowledged this reality out loud. “Don’t worry!” a white friend laughed. “You’re pretty much white!” She meant it as a compliment, but I could read the subtext: The colour of your skin is not acceptable. Only your lifelong proximity to white culture makes you acceptable.

After moving to England, a man at a bar asked me where I was from, then loudly exclaimed, “but you don’t look Canadian!” immediately exposing his own ignorance. “I think you mean that I don’t look like a British coloniser,” I snapped back at him. To be Canadian is to be either first nations, or an immigrant. But despite my quick comeback, his comment seared. He did not know that with his ignorant remark, he was stripping me of any identity I could cling to. He did not know that he was perpetrating a narrative that hundreds of years of colonialism and violence had created — the narrative of history told from the white perspective. The dominant narrative is still that “Canada is 150 years old” as this is when it was “found” by white Europeans. Never mind the native cultures, stories, and lives lived spanning over hundreds of years — they have never mattered in the eyes of the coloniser.

It’s not just history classes you see this narrative perpetuated. It’s in the pushing of white beauty standards on the rest of the world. It’s going to Thailand expecting to finally see myself reflected in the skin tones around me, only to find that there is not a single face cream available for purchase that doesn’t have bleaching agent in it. It’s realising that even there, my skin is wrong. And there is the same focus on white, Western beauty in terms of body size and type. For me, all of the above consolidates the assumption that thin white bodies are the norm, and everything else exists in relation to them.

At twenty five, I tracked down my biological mother and finally got the full story of my ethnic heritage. I bonded with her deeply, finally recognising where my emotional qualities and half of my face came from. But it was also difficult to realise that all along, I had actually been a half-blooded white person. Had I grown up within her side of my biological family, I would have still been the only person of colour. My Filipino father had not known that she was pregnant.

After meeting my white biological family, my many years of racial isolation began to sink in. I found a black therapist who specialised in transracial adoption issues at the Post Adoption Centre in London. Session after session, the rage that filled the room left me terrified. The gag had come off, and the protective survival response of silence could live no more. My therapist and I decided to have a meeting with my parents.

“My whole life, you’ve said that I’m Scottish,” I said between deep sobs of pain and release. “But I’m not.”

“What are you then?” my therapist probed.

“Not Canadian enough. Not Filipino enough. Not Portuguese enough. Certainly not English enough…” A silence came over me as my lifelong reality sunk in.

“I’m nothing,” I finally concluded, the full weight of the sentence finally landing on my chest after years of denial.

Depression set in, but the world didn’t notice. From jokes told in bad Indian accents by white people, to the “ching chang chong” chided by my own family member after I placed down a home cooked Chinese dinner down in front of him; from white people staring at me during professional trainings (of which I was still the only person of colour), to a friend turning to me in a social situation to ask me if “coloured people in society bring more illness”, I was still surrounded by racial naivety. At a party in Barcelona, a stranger bowed to me as I walked into the room and proceeded to nudge me throughout the night, laughing, “Eh, eh, is that how you do it?” bowing over and over as my face reddened each time.

“Do you find it easier that white people don’t tend to fear Asians?” my partner asked, genuinely. It was a good point. Even within the experience of being a person of colour, I am still awarded certain privileges. After thinking about it for a moment, I responded, “Of course I do. The white cultural narrative says that Asians are for laughing at, while other races are to be feared.”

My statement highlights the very nature of privilege — that some have benefitted from a system of power at the expense of others. If you have never had to fear for your safety because of the colour of your skin, that is racial privilege. If you have never been laughed at, humiliated or dehumanised because of the colour of your skin, that is racial privilege. And if you have never been feared because of the colour of your skin, like me, that is also racial privilege. It is up to each and every one of us to humbly and genuinely enquire the ways that we have unearned privilege.

Nearly thirty years after my transracial adoption, I grieved the loss of my own ethnic heritage; my own roots. I allowed myself to feel the lack of belonging; the lack of a true and deep safe space to land that has shadowed me throughout my life.

Screaming on deaf ears became its own form of trauma, and my rage continued to turn inward. An alien plucked from the sky, I fantasised about ideas of “going home” which to me, meant fading into the nothingness I felt that I was. I began to plan my own suicide.

I was not alone in this feeling — the Equality and Human Rights Commission completed a racial harassment inquiry in 2019 and reported that 56% of those harassed are subject to name calling, 20% to physical violence, and 1 in 10 who experience racial discrimination feel suicidal.

Racism is difficult enough to deal with. Mixed race people have a complex relationship to it, feeling that they don’t have any real sense of belonging to either of the cultures their blood comes from. Transracial adoptees, even more so, as we tend to fight this battle completely alone.

Luckily, with the support of difficult family conversations, transracial adoption Facebook support groups, long term therapy and several bouts of long term medication, I am in a different place now. I continue to do my own reading and research about my heritage and ethnicity, forever searching for something to be proud of.

And yet, the recent rise of the conversation of race has re-opened these wounds. The white people in my life either avoid the conversation with me completely, or hop on the bandwagon, posting black squares and hashtags, many of them not knowing a single thing about racism and its complexities. The current rhetoric is that “if you say nothing, you’re part of the problem,” but there is a difference between taking constructive action through personal research and education, and feeling entitled to an opinion about something you haven’t experienced yourself, which is its own form of privilege. Most of the time, if you haven’t experienced an issue yourself, the best thing to do is to listen to people who are, quite frankly, better placed to comment.

After a lifetime of dissociating from racial issues in the name of social acceptance; a lifetime of shutting down when faced with my own racist encounters, seeing people raging in the streets hit a bit too close to home. That rage is what I feel inside and often cannot express, because the reality is that if I talk about my lived experience, I will be labelled as angry, sensitive, self-absorbed, or difficult, which serves to further silence me and ensures the white dominant narrative lives on. At the same time, to speak out is to risk isolating myself from any sense of belonging that I do have within the white world I live in.

During this (hopefully) historical moment in time, I feel the pull to add to the conversation, and to support with education around racial issues, but I am also exhausted from the emotional labour of explaining the complexities of the subject. If you do not identify as a person of colour, please, understand that history is already told from your perspective, question your belief that you need to make a statement about everything that goes on in the world, and share the voices of the people this actually effects. Sit down at the table, pour a cup of tea, and listen up. Because we have lives to get on with, that don’t involve fighting this tired battle.

It has been difficult to come out of my protective shell of silence to acknowledge and honour my story. But shaking with the rage of twenty-nine silent years, I have put pen to paper as a labour of love. For the people of colour who, like me, feel shut down, dissociated, confused, or alone. For those who feel shocked, silenced, gagged, misunderstood, unseen, and unheard. For those who feel threatened, physically unsafe, terrified, traumatised and rejected because of the colour of your skin.

You are not alone. Your voice matters. Your life matters. You matter.


To hear more from Alexandra, you can connect with her through her Medium page, or follow her on Instagram.

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