Equality, Diversity & Inclusion at King's College London

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International Day Against Homophobia, Biphobia & Transphobia Reflections

In our latest Diversity Digest Blog, Jake Orros (he/him) an Equality, Diversity & Inclusion Project Officer here at King’s College London reflects on IDAHOBIT DAY. That’s International Day Against Homophobia, Biphobia & Transphobia which is marked across the world on the 17th May.  He explores why the day is needed in 2022 and signposts to how you can make a difference and also access support. 


Jake Orros standing on the 8th floor balcony of Bush House with Views of Westminster in the background as the sunsets.

Jake Orros, Equality, Diversity & Inclusion Project Officer.

IDAHOBIT Day – that’s International day against homophobia, transphobia & biphobia is marked this week. Now observed annually across the globe on the 17th May since its inception in 2004. The 17th of May is significant because it was on this day in 1990 the World Health Organisation declassified homosexuality as a mental disorder. This year’s theme “Our Bodies, Our Lives, Our Rights”.

In 2022 some may ask ‘why IDAHOBIT is still needed?’  And the same question could be asked of pride events and other LGBTQ+ observances.

After all it has been 32 since years since the declassification of homosexuality as a mental disorder. And from a UK perspective; sexual activity between men was decriminalised in 1967; the ban on LGBT people serving in the armed forces had not been enforced since 2000 and fully lifted in 2016. In 2001 the age of consent was equalised. Section 28 was finally repealed in 2003. In England & Wales the first same-sex civil partnerships were entered into in December 2005 & marriage followed in March 2014, with Scotland & Northern Ireland following (although it took the latter until 2020 and with a nudge from central government in Westminster). Trans people have been able to change their gender since 2005. LGBT people can build their own families and adopt children. All these stops on the journey to finding true equality, belonging,  acceptance and inclusion should be celebrated, despite arriving with much delay at each of these!

In 2022 IDAHOBIT Day is still very much needed. Despite all the advances listed from a UK perspective – more needs to be done, both at home and abroad. The fight for true equality, acceptance and inclusion is still very much in progress, and now is not the time to ease off the accelerator in the battle against homophobia, transphobia & biphobia globally. Here are some examples:

From a UK perspective

Conversion Therapy – The Government has still not banned harmful conversion therapy, 4 years after promising to do so. There have been repeated delays and U-turns. In the recent Queen’s Speech the government proposed a bill to be passed this parliament to ban conversion therapy, however, the government has indicated this legislation will only protect LGB individuals and not members of the Trans community. This is deeply worrying, with many including the British Psychological Society expressing concern that not all members of the LGBT community will be protected by this new legislation. Any legal ban on conversion therapy must be inclusive of all forms of supposed ‘therapy’ and must be implemented without further delay.

Hate Crime – Instances of reports of hate crimes against members of the LGBTQ+ community have been on the steady rise, more on this can be found in this article. Additionally, the figures collated by the charity Stonewall make for a sobering read on their LGBTQ+ facts and figures webpages. A combination of factors are likely to be behind the increased reporting of instances of hate crime against LGBTQ+ people. 1) A real terms increase in instances where LGBTQ+ people are target; 2) the true extent of the problem is being revealed as more feel able to share their lived experience. What is clear is that LGBTQ+ people in Britain are still targeted because of their sexuality, gender identity or gender expression.

Global perspective

Legislation – approximately 69 countries still have legislation on the books that criminalise LGBTQ+ people. Let that sink in. By simply living as their true authentic selves’, individuals risk prosecution or worse. According to the Human Dignity Trust 11 jurisdictions currently impose or have the sentencing option to impose the death penalty on those engaging in consensual sex between same-sex individuals in private. And 15 jurisdictions criminalise transgender peoples expression/gender identity. Some may say that prosecutions of LGBTQ+ individuals in many of these jurisdictions are low/non-existent. This argument misses the point. This legislation stigmatises being LGBTQ+; it creates a hostile environment that legitimises homo/bi/transphobia. The impact & burden on the mental and physical health of LGBTQ+ people should not be underestimated.

In the shadows of historic legislation – In countries where legislation no longer remains criminalising members of the LGBTQ+ community, the laws that once stood can cast long shadows over the community. Anti-LGBTQ+ sentiment and fear may remain engrained in cultural norms and collective societal behaviours. It can take time for social acceptance of LGBTQ+ people to become the main narrative.

An example of this has recently come to light in the UK press in response to Her Majesty’s government’s proposal to send refugees landing on the UK’s shores to Rwanda. Many have questioned the Home Office’s proposals and the impact it would have on LGBTQ+ people. The Home Office acknowledges that there are indeed concerns. Stating in their own Equality impact assessment of the new partnership that ‘Homosexuality was de-criminalised [in Rwanda] in 2010. At this stage, investigations point to ill treatment being more than one off, but it does not appear to be systemic.’ Coupled with this the UK’s Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office website issues the following guidance to LGBTQ+ travellers to Rwanda – ‘Homosexuality is not illegal in Rwanda but remains frowned on by many. LGBT individuals can experience discrimination and abuse, including from local authorities. There are no specific anti-discrimination laws that protect LGBT individuals.’

What is clear in this instance is that it can be a mixed bag abroad. Lack of anti-LGBTQ+ legislation does not equal universal acceptance or safety. It should be noted that individual experience can differ for those living in a country and for those visiting temporarily for work or holidaying. There can also be regional variances and wider rural vs urban considerations to take into account. The takeaway here is that we can use IDAHO day to highlight both the archaic legislation that remains on the statute books across the globe; and the homo/bi/transphobic views held or perceived to be held by a significant minority that may persist long after decriminalisation.

Personal perspective

Homo/bi/transphobia does not always manifest itself in large overt attacks on an individual or community, often it is delivered via small actions that may be best described as microaggressions. These low intensity actions delivered over numerous occasions have an accumulative effect that can be equally hurtful, harmful, and damaging.

Earlier this year I visited a friend who lives outside of London. The weather had been beautiful, and we were heading out to grab some locally produced ice cream to wrap up what had been a brilliant day. At some point on our hunt for ice cream we started holding hands. Such an innocent act. In 2022 two men holding hands in public should not be revolutionary or an act of defiance. Everyone should be able to hold hands with the person of their choice and feel safe, feel confident and feel free.

As we approached a pub, an individual sitting outside made eye contact with myself and my friend, they turned to the person they were sat with and brought their attention to us. Both locked eyes on us and our connected hands as we approached. We continued walking. Then came an inaudible comment from the individuals sat down, clearly about us, about our connect hand, delivered in a tone that was certainly not welcoming. We did not let go but tightened our grip as we glanced at one another, decided to avoid confrontation, and walked on towards ice cream. I was stunned and angered by their small but overt act. Their microaggression.

Do people make comments about mixed-sex hand holding? Imagine holding hands with someone of the same sex and walking down the street and being met with multiple mini incidents like the one I recently experienced. Sure, you can shrug it of once, twice, three times – these microaggressions accumulate. It can be exhausting. It can be isolating. This is why we need to tackle all incidents of homo/bi/transphobia no matter how big or small. Regardless of size it is not acceptable.Power of Love IDAHOBIT Day Poster.

IDAHOBIT day acts as a rallying point to call for an end to abuse, stigma, and discrimination. The day also acts as an important opportunity to recognise and celebrate LGBTQ+ identities, individuals, and the wider community. Celebrating who we are is important; it grounds us, gives us renewed purpose & determination and reminds us why it is so important to continue to push for a world free of injustice, intolerance, and hate.

In the past month there have been several stories that should be amplified and celebrated;

  • Firstly, this week Jake Daniels has become the UK’s first openly gay male professional footballer to come out in 30 years whilst still playing. He follows hot on the heals of Australian player Josh Cavallo who publicly came out last October. Jake’s public action at the start of his career is courageous. There are already many out players in women’s football and there are countless other LGBTQ+ players who are not out publicly. I personally hope that we will reach a point where the idea of ‘coming out’ is not a news story and that people are simply accepted for being themselves. This said the fact that Jake feels confident and able to share his story and use his influence to enact positive change should be applauded. Now let’s focus on his sporting prowess and not his sexuality alone.

 

  • Secondly, the Netflix book adaptation of Alice Oseman’s ‘Heartstopper’ has recently hit the screens. The show has received phenomenal reviews for its wholesome portrayal of teens falling for each other. The show is hugely relatable. The show and comics were written about teenagers with teenagers in mind as the primary audience; the show has gone on to attract a much larger audience. Twitter has been full of LGBTQ+ people commenting that they wished they had a show like this, characters like this and a plot like this when they were younger. It is brilliant to see authentic & relatable LGBTQ+ stories for all audiences entering the mainstream.

 

  • Thirdly, the UK now has a dedicated LGBTQ+ museum called ‘Queer Britain’; it has just opened its doors to the public in its first physical home 4 years after the museum was founded, it is situated near King’s Cross. The museum sets out to document and celebrate LGBTQ+ histories & identities that have often been forgotten or not given the attention they deserve in the mainstream. The museum will act as a rallying point and showcase the diverse stories of the community.

What you can do to help

We all have a duty to stand up to hate. We all have a responsibility to counter homophobia, biphobia and transphobia. We can each take steps big and small to tackle hate & injustice and celebrate amazing LGBTQ+ individuals.

Here are some things you can do to make a difference:

  • Visit the IDAHOBIT Day website.
  • Donate to an LGBTQ+ charity tackling hate – we have listed some in the section below.
  • Write to your MP to support a trans inclusive ban on conversion therapy. You can do this really easily via a charity like Mermaids.
  • Volunteer with an LGBTQ+ charity or event or help fundraise for them.
  • Report hate crime via the independent charity Crimestoppers.

For members of the King’s College London community you can:

  • Visit our LGBTQ+ allyship toolkit.
  • Get involved with our LGBTQ+ staff network Proudly King’s.
  • Attend one of our upcoming training courses:
    • Request Trans Matters Training for your team.
    • Attend Microaggressions training.
    • Check out our Diversity Matters training, including the new e-course.

Where you can seek support

For members of the King’s College London Community:

External support available to all: 


Want to Learn more about Equality, Diversity & Inclusion at King’s College London?

International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination

To mark the United Nations’ (UN) International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, Sarah Guerra, Director of Equality, Diversity & Inclusion at King’s College London shares how you can make a difference and tackle racial discrimination. 


The United Nations’ (UN) International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination is observed worldwide on March 21 each year. The day aims to remind people of the harm caused by racial discrimination. It also encourages people to remember their obligation and determination to combat racial discrimination.

I only just this year learnt that the International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination was established six years after an event, known as the Sharpeville tragedy or Sharpeville massacre, which captured worldwide attention. This event involved police opening fire and killing 69 people at a peaceful demonstration against the apartheid “pass laws” in Sharpeville, South Africa, March 21, 1960.

The UN General Assembly called on the international community to increase its efforts to eliminate all forms of racial discrimination when it proclaimed the day as a UN Day of observance in 1966. It also called on all world states and organizations to participate in a program of action to combat racism and racial discrimination in 1983. It held the World Conference against Racism and Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and Related Intolerance in 2001.

“Youth standing up against racism” is the theme of International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination 2022. A theme that should be close to all university’s hearts especially those like us that have declared themselves determined to be anti-racist.

Young people have the option of posting their opinions regarding discussions on human rights and racial discrimination at Voices of Youth, which is UNICEF’s online bulletin board for young people.

As part of the King’s community, there’s various ways for you to play your part in standing up against racism. EDI will be hosting active bystander training for students on 28th & 30th March and 1st April which you can sign up to here.  We are also delivering microaggression training to staff & students, which will teach you to identify, call out and respond to racial microaggressions. If you have witnessed racial discrimination and wish to report it, you can find out how on our Dignity at King’s webpages.  This also includes the option of reporting anonymously, which helps us monitor patterns to inform our proactive work.

Our Race Equity Inclusive Education Fund (REIEF) has provided over £99,000 across 13 projects, two of which are particularly relevant to today (Gargie Ahmad is bringing anti-racism into education and training for mental health research and practice, and Sapphire Williams is exploring anti-racism globally). Gargie will be telling us more about their research in an upcoming blog.

Embedding wellbeing in uncertain times

Joy Whyte is Strategic Director, Education & Students, and the professional services lead for student mental health and wellbeing. To coincide with University Mental Health Day (3rd March 2022) Joy explores how we can embed wellbeing in uncertain times.


At the start of this academic year, the Student Mental Health and Wellbeing Steering Group met in its newly configured form for the first time. I co-chair this group with Professor Juliet Foster, the academic lead for student mental health and wellbeing, with Wilna Gracias as the remarkably dynamic and knowledgeable Head of Student Mental Health & Wellbeing Strategy.  

Joy Whyte leans against a stone rail, set alongside the exterior of a stone building. She is a white woman with auburn hair tied in a low plait and wears a teal top and jacket.

Joy Whyte, Strategic Director, Education & Students.

We started the meeting of the newly constituted group with a round of introductions, asking participants to share a time they were well supported and to describe the impact of that support. Rounds such as this – common in community organising practice, as a means of connecting group members – normally take 10 minutes at most. Ours took 50 minutes. In at an atmosphere of trust and confidence in one another, and a willingness to be collectively and individually vulnerable, we all shared stories of times when we had been challenged, and described the ways in which we had each been supported.  

Except for my own, those experiences are not mine to share, but anyone who has lived through two years of a global pandemic will have plenty of stories of their own: of isolation, of bereavement, of the difficulty of balancing work and family life (writ large as schools closed across the country), of caring responsibilities – both immediately and distantly, of health concerns and illness, of financial worries, instability around housing, difficulty in getting out to buy essentials, to name but a few. And sometimes a great many of these factors, in combination, exhaustingly set within a context of the intense ambient anxiety caused by a global health crisis.  

We also know that these factors have been felt differently – that black people and people of the global majority have been at greater risk from Covid, that women have carried a disproportionate childcare burden (affecting time for research, work, and rest), and that living arrangements have impacted in varyingly problematic ways for those who live alone, in shared accommodation, with a violent partner, or as a single parent.  

“More people have experienced a mental health crisis during the coronavirus pandemic than ever previously recorded”. – Mind, 2020.

The Prime Minister may think that we’re in post-pandemic times. But, even if you think the global health risk has subsided (and I believe only vaccine equity will assure that), the reverberations of living through such destabilising and precarious times seems set to be with us for some time. In November 2020, Mind revealed that “more people have experienced a mental health crisis during the coronavirus pandemic than ever previously recorded”. Mind warned of the risk of a second, mental health pandemic, and called for urgent action to mitigate the impacts of this, including investing in mental health services in the community. 

In February, the Office for National Statistics reported that 16-29 year olds feel significantly more anxious than the general population. 42% reported high levels of anxiety in the first half of February compared with 34% on average. Many King’s staff will be in this age group, and many more are directly supporting students who are experiencing these feelings of anxiety. The Student Minds Planning for a Sustainable Future report observed that “the human relationship between staff and students is still the key factor in the student experience and in supporting student mental health and wellbeing. How staff are supported becomes an important consideration.” 

In the 2018-2020 Student Mental Health and Wellbeing Report and Strategic Plan, we set out a pyramid support model. There are undoubtedly students – and staff – who need support at the uppermost levels (university specialist support services, and external specialist support services). Indeed, Professor Steve West, Vice-Chancellor UWE and President of Universities UK (UUK) noted in a One King’s leadership session on 24 February that “the increasing demands being made on Mental Health and Wellbeing both within university, NHS and 3rd sector agencies is significant. Universities are being expected to support high risk mental illness as the pressures on the NHS increase. This is being worked on by UUK working across Government Departments to encourage a joined-up solution”.  

Yet the base levels of the pyramid are equally important, and as King’s moves into the next phase of our strategic plan, the steering group’s focus is on illuminating further the Education Strategy’s ambition to “support positive wellbeing as a fundamental ethos of the university” and to “support and enhance the mental and physical wellbeing of students and staff through all aspects of the university experience”.  

Going back to our October meeting, individual stories about challenges sat within the context of the support we had each received – a meeting with a colleague or line manager in which we felt heard; a note left on a desk or in a locker by a co-worker; someone asking ‘how are you?’ months after a difficult event, and meaning it; cups of tea made; diaries cleared for a conversation; understanding and compassion. These were often seemingly small actions – of kindness, concern, and support – and they were profoundly meaningful.  

“Local factors play a significant role in staff wellbeing. Having a supportive team and a good direct line manager has been shown to be important for good wellbeing…” – University Mental Health Charter.

These experiences reflect the findings of Student Minds, whose University Mental Health Charter (which King’s is  working towards) states “Local factors play a significant role in staff wellbeing. Having a supportive team and a good direct line manager has been shown to be important for good wellbeing, in both the literature and feedback from staff participants in the Charter consultation.”  

Importantly, though, Students Minds note: “However, this can be precarious if not supported by the general culture of the university. This suggests a need for a combination of a general healthy culture and specific structures and practice, which ensure managers can and do support good wellbeing within their teams and respond appropriately to staff experiencing poor mental health.” 

For my own part, I think that whilst our individual experiences can catalyse change, by illustrating what support can work well (and conversely where an absence of support has heightened difficulties), the Education Strategy’s ambitions can be genuinely transformative. In the words of the King’s Community Charter we partly demonstrate our collective commitments to making the world a better place by “creating a culture that promotes positive mental health and wellbeing, and supports a proactive and holistic approach, whilst recognising the needs of the individual”. As a steering group, we look forward to sharing with you more details of what this means in practice, as we prepare the King’s application to the University Mental Health Charter.  


For guidance on mental wellbeing, and details of a range of sources of support, including Togetherall, see staff mental wellbeing 

Organisational Development are currently conducting a review of the support available to staff, with the outcome of the review to be shared in early May. If you’d like to share your views on King’s support for staff wellbeing, Organisational Development invite you to send your thoughts to OD@kcl.ac.ukusing the subject line ‘Wellbeing Review’. 

LGBT History Month Reflections from Professor Bronwyn Parry

Introducing Professor Bronwyn Parry, Vice President and Vice Principal (Service), King’s College London’s new Senior Sponsor for all things LGBTQI+.


Having been at Kings ten years this year (where did the time go!) I am delighted to say that this anniversary will also coincide with my elevation as KCL’s Senior Sponsor for all things LGBTQi+. The past decade has seen some very significant advances in thinking about such matters and there is much to celebrate in this year’s LGBTQi History Month.

Professor Bronwyn Parry

Professor Bronwyn Parry.

One of the most significant of these has been the inclusive ways in which we have worked to support members of the wider King’s community who are trans, non-binary or gender non-conforming. I remember very well how difficult it felt, in years gone by, to secure acceptance from colleagues and the wider community for anything that deviated, even marginally, from what was at the time, a seemingly all consuming hetero-normativity. And yet, here we are, not so many years hence, when I find that I can say that wonderful phrase ‘my wife’ without producing even a marginally raised eyebrow.

All of human life and behaviour undergoes continuous change and evolution. Ideas that some thought were completely unacceptable in the past (opening universities to people who came from working class backgrounds, for example) have now, thankfully, been fully revisited and our conceptions of what is fixed and fluid productively re-worked, as a consequence. By extending allyship to those in the trans community we create a safe space in which we can all reflect on the fluidity of what for many have been seemingly fixed categories. Transitions of all kinds, whether in gender or thought can be personally challenging, but also, consequently, highly generative of new understandings and approaches to matters that we thought, perhaps, long settled.

To help us with these ruminations, Proudly King’s has created a wonderful set of interactive events that that will open many new perspectives for all of us. I hope that everyone will take up opportunities that these afford to create fresh conversations and partnerships across and between our varied, staff, student and professional services communities in ways that help us improve understanding and knowledge of the experiences of all those whose lives do not directly mirror our own. This is, in essence, the promise of inclusivity that lies at the heart of all our EDI ambitions, one that I have, and will, work to deliver in my new role.

I wish everyone a very happy and productive LGBTQI History Month, one in which we come together to celebrate the strengths that diversity, in all its colours, can bring to the enhancement of life!


LGBTQ+ History Month Reflections from Professor Evelyn Welch

In celebration of LGBTQ+ History Month, Professor Evelyn Welch, Senior Vice President (Service, People & Planning) reflects on King’s College London’s commitments to our staff & students.



At King’s College London, we are committed to ensure that all members who identify under the LGBTQ+ umbrella feel safe and welcome. We promote respecting equality, diversity and inclusion within and beyond our community.

Proudly King’s is our network for LGBTQ+ staff members and allies and has worked hard over the past 18 months to amplify the voices of trans, non-binary and gender non-conforming people and campaign for their rights.

Last year, Proudly King’s created and distributed new progress flag lanyards for staff and students which include the colours of the trans flag, as well as black and brown.

In June 2021, Proudly King’s launched their Allyship Campaign, encouraging colleagues to make a pledge to the LGBTQ+ community. 333 people have pledged so far, and over half of you specifically mention support for trans, non-binary and gender non-conforming people working and studying in our community.

Proudly King’s has organised an LGBTQ+ History Month which focuses on trans, non-binary and gender non-conforming experiences. On Twitter, they will celebrate a trans trailblazer every day in February. Please sign up to their exciting events.

Both the Equality Act 2010 and our internal Dignity at King’s – Bullying and Harassment Policy protect individuals from being harassed or victimised because of sex, gender reassignment (without need for medical intervention) and sexual orientation.

At King’s, we are proud of our commitments to LGBTQ+ staff and students. We promise to empower:

  • all colleagues who identify as trans, non-binary, gender fluid and intersex
  • all students who identify as trans, non-binary, gender fluid and intersex
  • those who promote and protect trans, non-binary, gender fluid and intersex rights

We will support anyone who experiences discrimination, bullying, harassment or victimisation because of their trans, non-binary, gender fluid and/or intersex identity. We will address issues promptly and treat everyone with dignity and respect.

I invite colleagues and students to promote this ethos within our community and beyond.

Finally, our central Equality, Diversity and Inclusion team has created an LGBTQ+ Allyship toolkit on SharePoint which includes resources and advice on how to be a better ally to trans and non-binary people. Allyship is an active process and we must always strive to do more.

Professor Evelyn Welch

Senior Vice President (Service, People & Planning)


For more information you can visit our equality, diversity & inclusion webpages here.

Proud to Be Me

This blog is part of a series celebrating Black History Month 2021 and the theme ‘Proud To Be’.

Aysha Nasir Rao, a third year History Student and Executive Assistant to the Chief Executive of the KCLSU, reflects on this years Black History Month theme of ‘Proud To Be’ and her experience studying the module ‘Investigating the Colonial Past of King’s College London’.


I am proud to be a Muslim.

I am proud to be Pakistani.

I am proud to be a woman.

I am proud to be the child of immigrants.

When I think of what I’m proud to be, these are the first that come to mind. The list could go on and on, but I think the things about myself I carry the most pride in are the things I was taught to be ashamed of, my heritage and faith being two of them.

Being a 90s baby, my formative years took place in a post 9/11 world (I was 5 years old) in Canada where it was definitely not a good thing to be a proud Muslim or Pakistani. This was made abundantly clear to me and my family living in a very small suburban town in Ottawa, where my family’s faces were some of the only brown ones I saw.

Some of my earliest memories are of beautiful Canadian winters, playing in the snow during Christmas time, lights and snowmen lining the streets. But this handful of memories are some of the only happy ones I can recall. The moments that I remember surprisingly clearly over twenty years later are of me in class being taunted by other students, of my teachers not stepping in when this happened, and of this tangible feeling that almost overnight people in my everyday life no longer liked or trusted me or my family. Even as a child I noticed how differently strangers would treat us, and worse how those in our own lives did.

It’s funny the things that leave such a lasting mark on us and affect us years on. That moment for me took place outside my family home. My neighbour was also my closest friend at school and who I sat next to everyday. It used to be a routine for me on the weekends to take my toys to her house and sit and have lunch with her family. This one particular weekend, around a month or so after the attacks, we were talking about her birthday party. She said to me, in the nicest way I think she thought she could, that her parents no longer felt I should be coming over to their house or playing with their daughter anymore. I remember not understanding why, I mean her family knew me so well and had only ever been nice to me, I spent more time at their house than I did at my own most weekends. She mumbled something or the other about what her parents thought of my family, which I assume was shared by the other parents at school because the same thing happened every time a birthday came around in class. Eventually I stopped taking the bus to school, I’d walk to my seat and spend the day not talking or being talked to. I started to learn to be quiet and slowly a sense of shame grew in me.

I think if my parents hadn’t made the decision to leave, I wouldn’t be writing about my pride right now. I credit a lot of this change to the community we made in Manchester. Though I was surrounded by so many different cultures, faiths and faces it was the first time I felt embraced and comfortable with people outside of my family (at the age of 7). I eventually got back in touch with my faith and my culture. I tried to re-learn Urdu, I started praying and proudly wearing my cultural dress, and it felt as though I unlocked another part of me. Like I wasn’t fully me because I wasn’t accepting all of me. And now that I’m in touch with my roots, I’m knowledgeable of my heritage and the incredible shoulders I stand on, I am so proud of who I am and what I represent. A brown Muslim woman.

Now as an adult I’ve reflected on how these events shaped me. Though it’s given me a great deal of resilience, once I got to KCL I noticed how much it was still affecting me in a negative way. King’s was certainly a culture shock. Though at the heart of the most diverse city in the world, Strand and more specifically for me the history department, was far from it and I found myself feeling alone and out of place again, a feeling I hadn’t felt at this level since I was a child. It’s not like those in my classes weren’t welcoming or kind, but looking back the last time I felt this out of place and was in a majority white space, I was five years old living in Canada.

I really found it difficult to feel the sense of community others felt and began to look for this at other universities where I felt more comfortable to express myself and where I was surrounded by more black and brown faces. This lack of comfortability was cemented in my first semester for my ‘Worlds of the British Empire’ module. When discussing the significance of Robert Clive’s statue, otherwise known as Clive of India, I shared what I felt his memorialisation represents especially when someone from my background is to walk by and see it. This was met with barely an acknowledgement, a sigh or two and was ultimately brushed off easily by the other students and not touched on again. By the time I was in second year, 2020 finally brought some much needed attention to the Black Lives Matter movement. Though this was brought about by instances of horrific police brutality with the death of George Floyd, and dozens of other black men and women during the summer alone, the world was forced to stop and listen to the conversations that have always been had within family homes and black and brown communities the world over.

Here in the U.K, people were also forced to confront the histories of some of their most celebrated figures, Nelson and Churchill for example, who have deep ties with the slave trade and colonial legacies. I saw some changes being made past appearances at King’s, the creation of the ‘Investigating the Colonial Past of King’s College London’ led by Dr Liam Liburd being one. I again debated the presence of another statue, but luckily to a much more empathetic class.

Part of the assessment for this module was to create a poster based on our own research into King’s colonial past through King’s extensive archive (though we were limited due to COVID). Mine, which is attached below, went with a Star Wars theme and likened the British Empire to that of the Emperor Palpatine’s Imperial Army. It serves as a summary of some of my key learnings from the module.

King’s: An imperial story poster

Though it’s only scratching the surface, I wanted to highlight what King’s stood for at its inception but to end on what King’s legacy and what it aims to be now, especially since I am now a tiny part of that legacy. With an institution as old as King’s, Oxford and Cambridge being the only two older English institutions, there wasn’t much doubt that the university I now pay a large sum of money to had a hand in subjugating my ancestors through empire and has its own links to the Atlantic slave trade. Looking at the poster again, it raises the question for me of if we can ever achieve a fully decolonised curriculum at King’s or if those two things are in conflict with one another. It’s an interesting question for all of us to think about.

Being a history module, the class was not the most diverse (to be expected), but Dr Liburd and the other students created an encouraging space for us all to share our thoughts which were respected and not belittled and where empathy was always present. Though Dr Liburd this year has gone on to a great position at Durham University, the module is continuing with Dr Jean Smith. Speaking with Dr Smith earlier this month, it was lovely to hear how committed and determined she was to making this classroom space just as safe and comfortable for students.

For any single or joint honours history students on the fence on selecting this module, I can definitely say you won’t regret it, even if colonial history isn’t your main area of focus. The debates we had in class opened my mind to new ideas, I learnt the histories of abolitionists that were never taught to me in school, I learnt how to conduct research on my own which we don’t get a chance to do until third year, and most importantly, my beliefs were challenged regularly in a way they haven’t been in other classes. And as a bonus, it’s also a welcome break from writing the longform essays we’re unfortunately too used to.

Change always happens slower than we would like, but on the brighter side the History department is in the process of redesigning the first-year curriculum and have just met this week to discuss the second-year curriculum, both with decolonising themes being at the centre of these talks. For me this means in a few years, the history degree will be more attractive to those from minority backgrounds, and they will have a chance at studying a more honest view of world history. On this subject, I was able to have an open conversation with Professor David Brydan about decolonising the History curriculum, what challenges there are and what he sees happening moving forward.

 

Aysha Nasir Rao in conversation with Professor David Brydan

How do you define decolonisation it in relation to the curriculum?

It means different things to different people. The simplest strand is a deep diversification, that there is a diversity of voices in our primary sources, secondary reading and the geographical scope of the topics we cover. Then, on a level up, it is about challenging ourselves on what we teach and the perspectives we teach from. For example, I teach the global Cold War. One of the easiest things to do is to have load of primary sources from all over the world, but the more difficult thing to do is saying that the Cold War is a Western construct and thinking about the second half of the twentieth century as “The Cold War” is a very narrow, western-centric view of that period of history in which the Cold War was one of lots of different strands of things going on, of which decolonisation was one. Thinking about how and to what extent, even if at all, we can think about the Cold War beyond the western lens is not something easily done but is something you must embed into all of the conversations we have in our teaching. And finally, I think with conversations surround decolonisation you have to think of anti-colonialism as well and people who fought against it. Sometimes I worry that the language is a bit too neutral in a way and instead what we should be talking about is anti-colonialism in the same way we talk about anti-racism and an ant-racist curriculum, rather than a de-racist curriculum. And bringing it back to the Cold War, you can easily include a lot on the fight against colonialism in all of its forms and anti-colonialists in the source material.

Do you see or feel that there any roadblocks to having that open safe space within a classroom to discuss conversations such as this?

I don’t think it’s necessarily about specific roadblocks and I haven’t found situations where there are individuals who are hostile to having these conversations. There are a lot of people who don’t care that much and there are people who see these conversations through a hostile lens, but I’ve never experienced that in my classrooms.

I think it’s more about what we have been discussing before where it’s the wider political environment makes people reluctant to engage in the conversation because they fear that they will be misinterpreted or create difficult situations in even raising these topics. It’s such a difficult thing to target because it often comes down to the dynamics of the group and the institutional dynamics and you can’t just pretend it’s like having an open conversation amongst friends where you won’t necessarily be judged. I think working out how we create these kinds of environments is really hard but one if the things I was struck by the other day was the importance of dialogue, not just amongst students, but staff-student dialogue and I was interested by what you said about having these conversations with staff members made you feel more comfortable and changed your perspective as well. I think if everyone was able to have those detailed conversations with us and vice versa, then we would be able to create those environments where people are more comfortable. We’re limited with the time we have with students in a group setting so what we need to do is find a way to almost shortcut that process, for lack of a better word. So dialogue is what I would put the most emphasis on, but I’m not entirely sure how we would create those environments for all students in the little time we have with them in each class.

How would you tackle apathy to these issues within the King’s community?

Again, I would emphasise the process of dialogue. I think if you were to throw the question of decolonisation in with no preparation, then those who are inherently interested in it will already have ideas and those who haven’t thought about it before won’t have a clue what you’re talking about. And so, for the people haven’t been exposed to these ideas before, I think we really need to embed it in the formal conversations we have throughout the year so that people in lots of different classes covering a variety of periods and topics have had these important conversations about what a decolonised curriculum means and what a decolonised approach to their topics means. And through that people will develop. People will not be apathetic because they will gain a greater understanding if its importance, especially in a historical context. And this needs to be a long-term pedagogical process, not something that is just thrown in every now and again in isolation but discussed throughout the modules and built into the curriculum

And I would say, the only times I’ve had unsatisfactory conversations about it has been when I have just thrown it in there without giving students that preparation, and where it has worked well is where there has been an ongoing dialogue.

Are there plans for introducing decolonisation topics for specific modules that are compulsory for history students throughout the course for example, HSSA or History and Memory?

I think faculty members are doing that anyways because of conversations being had by a lot of people, especially more recently. There is currently a curriculum reform process going on in which these conversations re being had in the background, but I wouldn’t say there’s a set strategy where every module will have it set out this way. But I think one of the things we should do is talk to students about that, which is what we’re doing with the redesign of our first-year curriculum, and say ‘this is what we’re doing, what do you think about it, what reading would you like to see, are there any topics you feel we missed etc..’, and then thin king about decolonising the curriculum as part of those conversations would be really useful thing to do.

Do you know if there are any plans to include modules which directly deal with this subject matter, such as Black in the Union Jack or King’s Colonial Past?

We are reforming the curriculum year by year and we are in the process of reforming year 1 right now. We actually have our first meeting about year two this week and this is where students can be more selective in their modules choices and focus on their interests. I don’t have specifics about this, but this is why dialogue like this is so useful, so when it comes time for departmental meetings about reforms to be made all of these conversations can feed into those discussions.

In your time at the department (3 years) have you noticed any change with regards to embracing decolonising movements?

I can see that a lot has changed since the three years that I arrived at least in terms of the modules that I’m aware of being taught, but I also don’t think there’s been a grand transformation either. I think the process was already happening beforehand and it’s definitly an ongoing but slow moving. And so yes is my answer, but I don’t think by any means the problem has been solved. Going back to your first question, this is very much a process and it’s not something where we can do ten things and it’s not an issue anymore. Inherently this is something that must be embedded in our thinking going forward and we will naturally find new and different ways to decolonise the curriculum because the problems won’t always be the same. And we need to constantly be including students because it is a process of dialogue and people’s ideas around this and how to best tackle these issues will change over time, and I think partly changes in the department will come from constantly pressure and dialogue with students.

With regards to having a more representative student body, how do you think we should engage students from underrepresented backgrounds to be interested in history in HE, especially as there is this disparity compared to other faculties?

This is definitely a humanities problem, I think. Generally, History attracts people from higher socio-economic backgrounds whose university choices aren’t necessarily dependent on job prospects straight after graduation, as well as the perception that humanities won’t lead to as well-paid jobs which then feeds into the backgrounds of the students on our courses. But it also has to do with History and the way it is taught in schools and what is taught in schools.

So, with regards to what we can control I think working with schools is really important. I and other members of the department have done a lot of work like this and have these conversations that we’re having but within the school context as well, which is difficult because they’re more constrained by a national curriculum. For example, Toby Greene in the department designed an A-level module on pre-colonial West African history and put together resources for teachers to use with the intention that this is something that schools should be teaching and incorporating, especially since topics like this aren’t available for A-level students to do. So yes, if we can help to decolonise schools in regard to what they’re teaching then that will hopefully feed through to the backgrounds of the students who then come to study history at university. And if your experience of history is studying the Tudors over and over again in school, why would you feel like a history degree is relevant for you.

School teachers have more constraints that at university because they need to get their students to get good grades and they have a curriculum they have to follow and exam boards and so the desire to do this kind of work may be there, but they don’ have the time or resources to do so. I think in university we face fewer constraints and have more intellectual freedom so in that sense it’s easier for us. However, we do have institutional constraints. For example King’s at the moment thinks that we should have fewer modules and all modules should be run by multiple members of staff, so that for example constrains to some extent what we can do, but we still ultimately have the freedom to teach what we want. But also, for us I think the constraint is also a time constraint because it can take quote a long time for change to happen especially since it’s all very collegiate and there are processes to follow which ultimately delays things. Partly, there’s also a degree of institutional inertia in that it’s easier to teach things you’ve already had to teach and kept the same than it is to prepare new courses every year which teachers don’t always have the time to do that especially when a lot of staff are early in their career and people are on fixed-term contracts, they are normally coming in a picking up pre-existing courses rather than having the time to design their own.

The publication you were a part of in 2019 raised the problem of syllabi struggling to keep track of re-interpretations of history and thus teachers resorting to teaching the history they were taught at school. How do you think can we integrate new ideas and topics into these very familiar narratives?

The teaching and learning document we did was a collaboration between historians and schoolteachers, and it was written for the Historical Association for schools. It was published three years ago but the initial thoughts to do it started about five years ago.

I don’t think we talked a lot of decolonisation in this, but we certainly had thought about it. I had written about the Cold War, and I tried to write about the Global Cold War and introducing decolonisation topics into that.  But the interesting thing about this is that I think if we wrote it now, we would do it differently and I think both the academic historians and the teachers who contributed to it would have possibly put more emphasis on Black history, history of migration and on decolonising the curriculum generally because these conversations have been more prominent in the last five years.

I think reading it, it was quite ahead of its time but also so much more has changed especially with what has been brought up in the world with the BLM movement and so on. It suggests how fast things can change and how slow some of these processes are because when this was published it was thought to be cutting-edge research to give to schoolteachers but now the world has changed so much and suddenly doesn’t seem so cutting-edge and needs to be re-evaluated.

And we don’t know what’s going to happen in the world in the next five years and the way we understand history is always shaped by what is going on around us and so this is very much going to be an ongoing process.

Is there anything else you would like to add?

I think I would just emphasise the dialogue point. I think it’s easier to think that this is something for academics to do and that it has to be a top down process but if we’re talking about decolonising the curriculum as a shift in power dynamics that extends to the classroom as well, it has to be partly about democratising the curriculum to a certain extent and integrating the views and ideas of the students in dialogue with academics, a kind of partnership model of education and curriculum reform. This might sometimes be quite difficult to do practically but I think that dialogue and collaborative working is so important.

It Starts With You – Mutual Mentoring and Data

EDI Consultant and Mutual Mentoring lead, Nicole Robinson, explains the link between data and King’s Mentoring Schemes, and how a better understanding of our our university can benefit all staff. 


Have you ever wondered what King’s does with your personal data? 

It is common to see information about data protection and storage, but you may wonder why we need this information from you in the first place. You may be reluctant to provide this information to your organisation. This may be especially true when we are asking you to provide personal details, such as your sexual orientation or trans history.  

One of the positive outcomes of providing your data however, no matter who you are, is that it helps us to develop evidence-based, targeted equality, diversity, and inclusion (EDI) interventions including our Mutual Mentoring and More than Mentoring schemes.  

In December 2020 King’s launched the first pilot wave of our Mutual Mentoring scheme. Mutual Mentoring aims to increase confidence across King’s in championing all areas of EDI by matching a senior leader with a volunteer who has knowledge or experience of a prioritised area of EDI. The senior leader, in turn, can offer guidance on leadership, career progression and development. The scheme is currently in the pilot stage, and there are hopes to scale it up in future. 

In the first wave of the pilot, EDI Project Officer Lauren Blackwood was matched with VP Education, Professor Nicola Phillips for six months. In reflecting on the partnership, Lauren said; 

‘We both felt safe and comfortable to talk quite frankly. I was very surprised about how authentic I felt I could be on a frequent basis. It was great to be signposted to academic materials related to my interests, and to understand why specific approaches were taken and the constraints that exist at different levels. I feel proud of my growth over the last two years, and I have gained so much from both the Mutual and More than Mentoring schemes. 

The More than Mentoring scheme is separate from the Mutual Mentoring scheme. For the last four years, the scheme has matched mentors and mentees with shared lived experience to foster deeper understanding and connection between members of the King’s community. Staff who have participated in the scheme have reported feeling more connected and supported, and many staff return to participate year-on-year, often moving from mentee to mentor. The scheme has grown each year, partly because of testimonies and encouragement from other staff. Staff like Nirmal Sampathkumar, a Post-Doctoral Researcher from IoPPN, who took part in the scheme this year. Nirmal shared his experience working with Lucy to colleagues as part of a collaborative webinar, and encouraged others to join the scheme; 

https://web.microsoftstream.com/video/af2c40dc-7d0e-4460-96af-6c7beac80c15 

We’re looking forward to opening the scheme again in the new academic year.  

To be able to run positive action initiatives, King’s must be able to evidence why they are needed, which is why King’s needs to be informed about your personal data. King’s mentoring schemes are a direct result of staff updating and providing their equal opportunities and diversity monitoring data. When these interventions are recognised by external accreditations such as the Race and Gender Equality charter marks, they also improve our ability to access funding for even more initiatives: it flows back into research, back into our staff experience, and to supporting our students.  

diagram showing the progression of how data is collected and used

How is your data collected and what is it used for?

And it starts with you.  

To submit your Equal Opportunity data today:  

  • Log into HR digital services 
  • Access My Profile (click your photo in the top left or right-hand corner of the screen)  
  • Click Equal Opportunities in the drop-down menu on the left and update the details in My Profile.  

All your personal data is anonymised will never be identifiable. Visit Equal Opportunity Data webpages to see how your data is used and protected.  

 

It’s time to give ourselves a break: How to overcome parental guilt during the COVID pandemic

Emma Warnock-Parkes, Clinical Psychologist and exhausted mum of 2, shares 5 strategies for overcoming parental guilt.


Emma and her children smiling and laughing

I’m sitting in a lunchtime zoom meeting of fellow parents working at my university. The topic of discussion is how the pandemic has impacted on us. I’ve never met any of these people before but looking around I know we have one thing in common: we are all knackered. Many of us sit with a child on our lap or one repeatedly appearing in the background requesting more snacks. We simultaneously shovel down some lunch and keep an eye on our emails. As I half listen (a skill many of us have acquired thanks to COVID), I’m struck by the fact that in addition to all being exhausted and desperately needing a haircut, we are plagued with a common problem: guilt.

‘I’m not spending enough time with my kids’; ‘I feel bad they are stuck with me and cannot see their friends’; ‘He should have had a better birthday’; ‘I’ve given them too much chocolate’; ‘they are on screens far too much’, ‘I’ve shouted’, ‘I’ve sworn’, ‘I’m irritable with them’, ‘the house is constantly a mess’, ‘I’m not helping them enough with their school work’; ‘they are falling behind’. The list goes on.

I listen to other mums fighting back their tears as they beat themselves up over what has undoubtedly been the most difficult year of our lives. I’m suddenly overwhelmed with sadness and deep compassion for these amazing women, and for myself. This last year parents have faced unprecedent challenges. We have managed the anxiety and uncertainty of a global pandemic, alongside performing an impossible juggling act that no generation of parents has faced before. We have done all this while adapting to remote working, without our usual social supports, while being stuck inside our homes in an unrecognisable world. Many of us have had to worry about job or financial security, had friends and family who are struggling, coped with illness and loss. So why are we all being so hard on ourselves?

Given what a common experience it is, there is surprisingly little research on parental guilt.
Some psychologists argue that women feel more guilt than men, and that maternal guilt has an evolutionary basis motivating us to provide care (Rotkirch & Janhunen, 2009). One would hope this would change as parental roles become more shared. That said, I just asked my husband what he has felt most guilty about during the pandemic: he has eaten too much ice cream and not learnt enough Italian apparently. As this is a sample of one, and I happen to know Dads who have struggled with COVID parenting guilt, I’ll say no more.

As I listened to other parents talking, it struck me that as a psychologist and CBT (cognitive behavioural therapy) therapist I know quite a bit about helping people overcome guilt. Yet, like many good psychologists, I’m terrible at taking my own advice. I vowed that later that day I would get out the chocolate biscuits, put on yet another episode of Paw Patrol and give my pangs of guilt a self-therapy session. Here is what I found:

5 CBT tips you may find helpful for addressing COVID parenting guilt:

1) Spot your guilty thoughts.

Guilty feelings are driven by guilty thoughts, so spotting what you are feeling guilty about is the first step to overcoming it. Guilt arises from the perception that we have done something wrong or harmful to another: “should” thoughts. “I should be spending more time home schooling my children”, “I shouldn’t have got so angry” etc. These thoughts leads to feelings of guilt, and at times anxiety or low mood. This can understandably impact on what we do. We might dwell on our guilty thoughts or withdraw from others. This can become a vicious cycle, leading to more negative thinking and guilt:cycle, negative thoughts lead to feeling guilty low, anxious. cycling to behaviors and then back to negative thoughts

If you feel parental guilt about many things since COVID began, try to spot the thoughts that
makes you feel most guilty. For me this is not spending enough time with my kids.

2) Are you as responsible as you feel?

Feeling guilty does not mean that we are guilty, it may mean that we are taking on too much responsibility. A helpful CBT technique here is drawing out a responsibility pie chart. It can help you to see that there might be other factors that have some responsibility. This is done in 3 simple steps:

Step 1: Start by writing down how responsible you feel. For me, as Netflix helpfully asks whether my children are still watching Paw Patrol, I write, ‘I feel 100% responsible for not spending enough time with my kids during the pandemic’.

Step 2: Write a list of all the other factors that can take some responsibility. Here I write down: the COVID virus; the government for poor outbreak management leading to childcare closure; people who did not follow guidelines early on; my work; my husband; myself.

Step 3: Allocate percentages of the pie to each thing on your list (make it add up to 100%). Give a percentage to all the other things first, ending with yourself. Then draw out the pie chart. This is what I ended up with:

My Responsibility Pie Chart: 

pie chart of my responsibilities: me 5 percent, my husband 5 percent, governtment 30 percent, covid-19 40 percent, people not following guidance 10 percent, my work 10 percent.

Drawing it out is a powerful reminder that despite feeling 100% responsible, we really cannot blame ourselves for a global pandemic and the impact it has had on our lives.

3) Focus on what you have done, not what you haven’t.

The pie chart helped, but I still feel some guilt. Guilt is often maintained by discounting what we have done, and instead focusing on what we have not. I spend a few moments writing down the things I have done for my children during the pandemic. I find this hard, so ask my husband to help. I also look back through the photos on my phone for the past year. This surprises me. I half expect to see nothing but photos of my children screaming through my zoom meetings as I throw snacks in their general direction. What I see instead is smiling faces in the garden, happy walks in the park, a couple of outdoor meet-ups with friends and family last summer, even a few shots of them eating fruit, instead of chocolate. All of these memories have been totally blocked by my feelings of guilt.

What strikes me is I how much I have done this last year to get us through. If I had time to frame or make a collage of these photos I would. I clearly don’t (cue more guilty thoughts). Instead, as a reminder of what I have done, I save one of us all smiling as my phone screensaver. It is an exercise I thoroughly recommend you try.

you have done much more than you think. Give yourself some credit.

4) This year has been hard enough, so do what’s helpful.

Self-criticism and guilt go hand in hand and may have become a bit of a habit. It can help to explore what impact this is having on you and your family. Ask yourself:

a)Is being hard on myself helping us at all? For me, the answer is no.

b)Are there any disadvantages? For me, it makes me feel rubbish and much more in my own head, which in turn makes it harder to have fun with the kids.

If beating ourselves up is not helping us, or our children, it is probably a good idea to try to notice when dwelling on it, and to let it go. For me this includes dropping my standards. The kids won’t be getting any home-made hummus this year, and that’s ok (to be honest they only did once before COVID and, on account of it tasting like Polyfilla, nobody ate it anyway). I realise comparing myself unfairly on social media has not been helping. An Instagram photo only shows a one second window into the lives of others. You may see little Jessica eating a rainbow food bowl or practicing her phonics, but what you don’t see is the tantrum and screen time that come after. I decide to unfollow all the mummy food accounts on Instagram that tend to make me feel bad about myself. Quite frankly, if any of us manage to throw the occasional bit of broccoli in with the fish fingers this year, we are winning.

“Try not to compare yourself to other parents on social media.”

5) Be kind to yourself – What would you tell any other parent?

Thinking of the compassion I felt upon hearing my colleagues’ struggles, I remember how key it is to tune into kindness for yourself when struggling with guilt.What would we say to any other parent who has gone through/is still going through what we have? I spend a moment thinking of a close friend of mine who has had a hard year juggling work and kids. I first imagine what I would say to her. When I tune into my feelings of compassion, I then start writing a note to myself:

‘Dear Emma, give yourself a break! You have done the best you possibly could in the hardest year of your life. You’ve juggled full-time work and childcare for two children during a global pandemic. All while getting used to working at home, away from family and friends, with little sleep and no break. You deserve a medal rather than being so hard on yourself. Extra TV and snacks is essential COVID survival. You are doing a great job, even if you don’t feel like it. Be kind to yourself.’

Writing a compassionate message to yourself and reading it back may feel like a strange thing to do, but I wholeheartedly recommend trying it. Once you have, try to plan in a regular small act of self-kindness. I make a plan to take a proper lunch break away from the screen each day that week and read a little of my book (and when I managed it, it felt amazing). Our children can only benefit from treating ourselves a little better.

Feeling a little lighter, I close the laptop and turn off Paw Patrol. Once the whinging about the TV going off has stopped and I have mediated another row over Lego, my eldest son digs his elbow into my tummy, “squidgy mummy” he reminds me. He spots the exasperated look on my face and corrects himself: “you are the best mummy” he says.

For once I decide to let myself believe him. And you know what? The rest of the afternoon felt a little better for it.


If you are struggling with excessive feelings of low mood or anxiety, do reach out for help. Many employers, including my own university, offer psychological support through employee assistance programmes. There are helpful resources, including information on accessing talking therapies, on the Every Mind Matters NHS page.

NEST is our dedicated staff network for supporting parents and carers at King’s. they provide support to staff with parental and/or caring responsibilities through a range of events, an online community, and by offering guidance and representation at a strategic and policy level. You can find our more about NEST here.

The case for diversity quotas in recruitment

In this blog Timothy Ijoyemi, Research Fellow and Equality, Diversity & Inclusion Advocate at Durham University, explores the  case for diversity quotas in recruitment. 


Of the numerous ways to address BAME under representation in higher education and many other sectors, diversity quotas are among the most controversial. To suggest that a portion of roles within an organisation should be reserved for applicants from underrepresented groups is to invite accusations of unfairness, discrimination, and naivety. After all, shouldn’t a meritocratic society let people rise and fall on their merits? Isn’t it naïve to think that hiring on any criteria other than aptitude and experience won’t negatively impact productivity? This post outlines some of the arguments in support of quotas, as well as research findings that should give opponents pause for thought. 

The myth of meritocracy 

One powerful argument against the charge that quotas undermine meritocracy is that there’s no meritocracy to undermine in the first place. Power and privilege define the metrics of merit – however reasonable they might seem – meanwhile structural and implicit biases make it harder for members of underprivileged groups to convince recruiters that they satisfy these criteria. Ironically, by helping to level an uneven playing field, quotas could actually bring us closer to the very meritocratic ideal so often invoked to contest them. 

Softer methods of increasing diversity don’t always work 

Of all the levers available to recruiters wanting to increase organisational diversity, quotas are one of the most powerful. When implemented as temporary measures, they can kick-start progress that might otherwise take decades to achieve, or never materialise at all. There is ample evidence from corporate American, for instance, that ‘soft’ approaches to increasing diversity – including diversity training, hiring tests, performance ratings, and grievance systems – don’t reliably translate to more diverse work forces or company boards. By comparison, stronger “affirmative action” initiatives in U.S. college admissions have had considerable success in increasing admissions of students from underrepresented groups, with one study finding that students of colour were 23% less likely to be admitted to elite institutions in states where legal challenges had succeeded in banning these initiatives.  

While quotas don’t necessitate affirmative action – or positive action as termed in the UK’s  Equality Act 2010 – they would strongly incentivise recruiters to find and attract talent from underrepresented groups. They would also give a solid rationale for implementing positive action, such as preferentially hiring a candidate from an under-represented group over a non-minority candidate where the two are equally qualified. 

Existing BAME talent can meet organisational demands 

On its face, the concern that quotas would require lowering recruitment standards smacks of prejudice, seeming to rest on the assumption that members of underrepresented groups are less likely to possess abilities that make members of privileged groups generally more suitable for (particularly higher level) organisational roles. A more charitable take is that those expressing this concern know that structural and overt discrimination hinders attainment for many underrepresented groups, seeing differences in hiring rates as a regrettable, but inevitable, outcome. Aside from passing the buck for increasing workplace diversity to institutions dominant earlier in the pipeline (e.g., schools), this attitude reflects a poor estimation of BAME talent. Educational attainment at GCSE is now higher among many BAME groups than white British pupils, while the percentage of 18 year olds from every BAME group entering higher education has risen dramatically over time. Despite this, examples of under representation in the workplace abound. To take just one example, while over seven percent of first year postgraduate entrants in 2017/18 were black, only 0.6% of university professors belong to this group. Diversity quotas would help to close the gap between BAME educational attainment and success in securing commensurate workplace roles.  

Initial concerns dissipate after quotas are introduced 

Some argue that diversity quotas are simply too divisive to be used. While it’s true that quotas are generally viewed unfavourably by members of privileged groups in the UK, there’s good reason to believe that this is at least partly rooted in suspicion of the unfamiliar. Indeed, research conducted in the U.S. and Europe has found that attitudes of board members towards gender diversity quotas are more favourable in countries with quotas than without. And this doesn’t simply reflect pre-existing differences in opinion. In Norway, even company directors who opposed gender diversity quotas before they were introduced eventually came to view them positively. Far from seeing their fears realised, these directors said that increased female representation on boards had led to better governance and decision making. Considering the numerous benefits that accrue to organisations with more ethnically diverse employees, it seems likely that broader diversity quotas would also be viewed more favourably once their positive effects were felt. Sometimes bold leadership is needed to implement good but unpopular solutions. 

Diversity quotas are not a panacea for the barriers to employment that underrepresented groups face, nor are they without controversy. Nevertheless, delivered in a targeted, time-limited way, they could be the shock to the system needed to break through the diversity ceilings that more tepid approaches have failed to breach. 

Love and Rage – but right now, mostly rage

Lauren Blackwood, Equality, Diversity & Inclusion Project Officer at KCL reflects on this years UK Black Pride theme of ‘love and rage’. 


Content Warnings: black death, trans death, ableism, racism, and queerphobia.  

It is somewhat bittersweet that I have a platform to write about my rage. It is not often that black people get to do this and be heard, comforted, or accepted by our audience (Ashley 2014; American Psychological Association 2020). Even whilst writing this, I must perform a level of palatability on this platform – juggling respectability politics, tone policing, colonial ideals of professionalism, providing citations for my literal lived experiences so that I’m seen as credible, and my own authenticity – it’s peak. It’s also peak that we – my community, my ancestors, and I – even have to feel this rage and to have carried it over generations for over 400 years. We do not need anyone to validate our outrage, and we don’t need anyone to justify it. I would much rather just exist in a world where we’re loved, and feel love, and I’d get to just write about love. But honestly, that remains an out of reach utopia, even in big-big 2021.  

This year and a half has been a perfect opportunity for non-black people to hear black people, see black life, suffering, and rage. In addition to this, we’ve seen the love that black people continue to extend to one another for the sake of love, survival, and community. To be clear, it is not that these opportunities were not available to non-black people before; it just became a lot harder to avoid engaging with these walks of life. To make it even more shit, what they have witnessed is only a tiny snippet of our lived experiences. Even this opportunity given to non-black people was at the expense of the ongoing detriment of black peoples, and a result of our global suffering and consequent rage.  

We’ve had to watch non-black, and non-queer, people find out for the first time that black people disproportionately account for 14% of UK missing persons – but makeup only 3% of the population (White 2021), “Black and migrant trans women of colour [being] more vulnerable and frequently targeted” (Trans Respect 2020) and “People of colour mak[ing] up 79% of the 28 trans people murdered in the USA” (Trans Respect 2020) in 2020, that the school to prison pipeline exists and has historically targeted black children and youth in Britain (Graham 2016), that there’s a lack of public health services tailored to meet black people’s needs (Mind 2019; La Roche et al 2015). None of this is new news to those that it effects, but it’s so incredibly enraging that change so heavily relies on white people, and cishet people, catching up with what we already know and have been protesting about for generations. And just as a note, we’re hardly even close to having proportionate data on black queer lives to be centrally collected and easily accessible in the UK.  

But in the face-off all of this historical and contemporary violence, failure, and exclusion from our institutions, queer black people still manage to love and support one another; Lady Phil has given queer black people, Black Pride – a space to exist authentically and unapologetically; Melz Owusu has founded a first of it’s kind University, the Free Black University, alongside completing their PhD giving black people the freedom to regain control and access to our own education and epistemologies; Azekel Axelle founded the Black Trans Foundation supporting black trans and gender non-conforming people access healthcare through fundraising and establishing a network of Queer, Trans, and Intersex, People of Colour (QTIPOC) healthcare experts; Eshe Kiama Zuri initiated the Mutual Aid Fund supporting marginalised people, at the intersections of oppression, across the UK. Even when thinking about all of this love and community response I’m perpetually enraged that it even needs to be done. Imagine if we didn’t have to pour ourselves and all of our energy into meeting our basic needs as queer black people – imagine if that kind of love existed beyond our community. Bruh, rage!!! 

Donate to queer black people and organisations this month and every month, whether that be time, requested resources, or money; continuously invest your energy into self-educating about queer black lives, experiences, and history – I promise that you will not run out of valuable things to be learnt; listen to queer black people and act on what you hear – I’m tired of repeating the same requests for meeting basic needs and liberation.  

Happy Black Pride, I guess. Pop up if you want my PayPal (for professional and legal reasons this is a joke).  


American Psychological Association. (2020, July 2). Prospective teachers misperceive Black children as angry [Press release]. http://www.apa.org/news/press/releases/2020/07/racialized-anger-bias 

Ashley W. The angry black woman: the impact of pejorative stereotypes on psychotherapy with black women. Soc Work Public Health. 2014;29(1):27-34. doi: 10.1080/19371918.2011.619449. PMID: 24188294. 

Graham, K. (2016). The British School-to-Prison Pipeline. Blackness in Britain. 

Mind (2019) https://www.mind.org.uk/news-campaigns/legal-news/legal-newsletter-june-2019/discrimination-in-mental-health-services/ 

White (2021) Accessed at: https://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/home-news/black-people-missing-b1827530.html 

La Roche, M. J., Fuentes, M. A., & Hinton, D. (2015). A cultural examination of the DSM-5: Research and clinical implications for cultural minorities. Professional Psychology: Research and Practice, 46(3), 183–189. https://doi.org/10.1037/a0039278 

Trans Respect (2020) Accessed at: https://transrespect.org/en/tmm-update-tdor-2020/ 

 

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