Equality, Diversity & Inclusion at King's College London

Tag: Gender (Page 1 of 2)

Posts related to gender

Ace and Agender – Turning Discomfort into Confidence

Ali Gibson (any/all pronouns) is the current Vice President Education (Health) at King’s College London, and a third-year medical student as of September. Ali’s blog talks about experiences growing up and the euphoria of finding a gender identity.

I was 16 when I first found and started using the label ‘Asexual’ to describe me, after at least two years of feeling different. Whilst my friends entered and experimented with sexual relationships, my teenage years came and went without sexual feelings and as you do, you put it down to something else; I was yet to hit puberty, or to meet the right person, when I would be magically fixed and all about the sex. It never materialised, and so I ended up internet searching ‘no sexual attraction’ and found Asexuality. Labels can be contentious but for me, finding that there was a group of people who didn’t experience sexual attractions or desires in varying forms was eye-opening. It didn’t cause a revelation of something I wasn’t already, instead it just made sense and came with a community who had all been (at least similar) boats. 

The one thing I neglected confronting as a teenager was my gender. It would be wrong to look back now and not think I have probably questioned my gender for about the same length of time as my sexuality. It’s hard to explain what it feels like as all our references come from within the binary society we live in, but I never felt like a ‘girl’, and I never felt like a ‘boy’. Nor did I really aspire to either perception I had of what that meant. As I grew up I was proud of the fact I didn’t own any make-up, skirts or dresses, things I considered feminine, and I spent most of my childhood scraping my knees on scooters, bikes and rollerblades. I was a ‘tomboy’, and proud. But that label fades and I went through puberty to find myself confronted with being a woman, with breasts and periods and a reproductive health condition to boot. I have long hated my tight curly hair, despite much adoration from others, shaving it off at 17 under the guise of raising money (which I did do, so not all selfish). I’ve had an unnecessary complex around being able to wear a baseball cap and not look like cartoon character Crystal Tips, which has bothered me for seemingly no reason. 

At the end of January just past, having bought a baseball cap on sale, I twisted my short but significant curls up onto the back of my head and (with great skill) put on the cap. I looked at myself in the mirror and for the first time in an immeasurable amount of time saw someone who looked like me, who looked like I want to. Full of emotion I laughed in surprise at myself and this person I saw in front of me. It followed weeks of wondering if I should change my label; I was four months into my time with KCLSU in a job where there’s a short time to get things done, nevermind having to reintroduce yourself. And I knew I wasn’t unhappy being a cisgender woman (someone born biologically a woman who also identifies as a woman) – but could I be happier and more comfortable as someone non-binary? 

Ali, KCLSU Vice-President Education (Health) and soon to be third-year medical student

I took time off at the beginning of March and came back using my new name, Ali – a name I used online which had been wholly accepted by the people I met there and felt like a name and a person I had created for myself. This was the new me, the me that university had bloomed, the me that felt I had a place. I am so thankful to all of my colleagues across KCLSU and King’s who have wholeheartedly accepted my name change, some astute colleagues even picking up on it before I formally let people know. If I had to stick a pin in it, I’d say my gender is ‘Agender’ – I have none, I just don’t feel it, and I’ll keep my hair short and wear t-shirts with television references and baseball caps as long as it feels good. Where in the past I was uncomfortable with someone drawing attention to my non-femininity (bullies would jeeringly ask me, a complete stranger, whether I was male or female, a common sentiment used by transphobic people), I now actively don’t mind what pronouns someone uses for me, and find it quite liberating when someone’s assumption differs from my biological sex.

It’s taken me five, maybe seven years to get here, but meeting people who are transgender, non-binary and gender diverse has shown me the alternative, and is one of those things I wish 14-year-old me had been exposed to. Because it’s only when we break out of the binary, and share with our young people the vibrancy and inclusivity the LGBTQ+ community has to offer, that we can turn discomfort into confidence. 

Ali Gibson (any/all pronouns) is the current Vice President Education (Health) at King’s College London, and a third-year medical student as of September. Ali’s blog talks about experiences growing up and the euphoria of finding a gender identity.

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)



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.

International Women’s Day: I Believe Her!

For International Women’s Day, Equality, Diversity and Inclusion Director, Sarah Guerra, pens a blog about the Netflix series, Unbelievable, and the way it navigates sexual assault and related traumas. 

CW: sexual violence, suicide 

One of the areas of work facing me when I first arrived at King’s was to tackle sexual misconduct effectivelyAs a rape and multiple sexual assault victim/survivor, this issue is something I personally know the importance of and take very seriously.  

A principle of our work in the Equality, Diversity & Inclusion team has been to center victim/survivors and to take a traumainformed approach to tackling sexual misconduct. This approach recognises the signs and symptoms of trauma in clients, families, staff, and others involved in the system; it fully integrates knowledge about trauma into policies, procedures, and practices, and, most importantly, actively seeks to resist re-traumatisation. The act of reporting shouldn’t be worse or as bad as the original experience. 

Watching the recent Netflix series Unbelievable was difficult but ultimately very affirming. The series dramatises the real life story of Marie Adler and other victim-survivors of a serial rapist. Unlike many dramas examining this subject, Unbelievable doesn’t glorify or dwell on explicit scenes of violence or victims suffering during the crimesMuch of the misery is instead relayed in flashbacks and tiny excerpts, most clearly showing how the horror and violation that victims feel impacts on their daytoday lives after the assault. 

A major narrative arc in Unbelievable examines the way ‘the system’ works: how the (mostly male) police, press, courts, social services all interact (or not as the case may be) to meet or fail to meet women’s needs. There are many heart-breaking aspects to the story. Some made me cry and others made me scream and shout with anger and frustration: seeing vulnerable 18-year-old woman who has been raped face suspicion from the (male) detectives who are supposed to be helping her; watching the hours after Marie’s rape where she is forced to recount the attack repeatedly in cold, harsh environments totally lacking in comfort;  watching the male, and clearly untrained, police detectives find minor inconsistencies in her story, leading them to suggest that she made the whole thing up; ultimately, leading the traumatised young woman to question herself and lose faith in the idea that she is worthy of support, and to feel life would be easier if she just acquiesced and withdrew her claim. 

Unbelievable clearly contrasts Marie’s experience with the trained, empathetic approach used by the women detectives. These detectives sensitively, patiently and carefully engage with the victim/survivors, weigh each interaction for necessity and at every juncture seek to prioritise sensitivity over speed. It was a stark demonstration of how important it is to understand the issues facing victim/survivors and their potential reactions. It reinforced to me why a traumainformed approach is so important: the victim/survivor’s welfare must always be a paramount consideration.  

You don’t sound crazy to me. You sound like someone who’s been through a trauma and is looking for a way to feel safe again and in control. And there is nothing crazy about that.” 

The series puts the impact on Marie of being disbelieved and, as a result, recanting her statement into crushing focus. She loses friends, risks losing her sheltered housing, is vilified in news reports and can no longer count on the few adults she trusts. She attempts suicide. She is even charged and convicted of filing a false report and has to borrow money to pay the fineMeanwhilethe rapist is shown to be free and raping other women, ruining more lives. 

As the story unfolds, we find Marie’s initial account had been devastatingly true. I found myself furious that she couldn’t receive the due care and attention every human being in distress and pain deserves, and incensed that more women were raped because of the inherent sexism and incompetence of the first police team and the overall systemhope that other viewers felt the same. 

The producers of Unbelievable have performed a public service: vividly bringing to life what is expected of victim/survivors of sexual assault and the long term impact it has on their lives. 

One rape victim-survivor says “They say that routine makes you vulnerable, so anything routine, I just stopped doing.” 

The portrayal is unflinching in its examination of how badly things can go, how poor criminal justice systems and processes are and how easy it is to be unsympathetic to victim/survivors. The original police officer’s devastation and personal questioning when he realises his mistakes is palpable.  

Detective Parker :I mean, I’ve been trying to figure out how I could have been so off. I wish I had an answer. I don’t. I’d do anything to go back and redo the whole thing. To just start all over and do right by you. I really would. 

I take heart in this production relating this awful story in a sensitive and informed way and really showing the difference that can be made when people understand the core issues related to a subject, choose to empathise and are willing to put in the effort to work something out properly. The two lead female investigators, Detective Stacy Galbraith and Sergeant Edna Hendershot, have gone firmly into my hero bank. Every so often when my own resilience is low, I will bring them to mind and re-energise myself.  

Puede decir las verdades más profundas con las mentiras de ficción

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


 We need to be more diverse

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

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

Glass Ceilings and Glass Escalators

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

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

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

Collaborating for Change

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

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


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

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

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

Geography’s Athena SWAN Bronze Reflections

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Empathy Epiphany

I joined King’s 2½ years ago, and am seeing the end of my third academic year. It has always made me laugh how many people ask if I get the holidays off –  if only! As much as a long summer holiday would be attractive, one of the main reasons I wanted this role was that it brought together the staff and student focus. I believe D&I applies to everyone everywhere in our organisation, and making and sustaining improvements requires looking at King’s as a whole.

An intrinsic part of my role is understanding our student body and forming good working relationships with the Students’ Union (KCLSU) elected Officers. Recently, I was privileged enough to attend this year’s outgoing Officers leaving party. I was astounded when I joined King’s and learned what was expected from student Officers. Taking a year out from their degrees, they are responsible for overseeing the work of the Students’ Union as a democratic charity, making collective decisions with other KCLSU Trustees, championing change and student activism, and supporting and empowering King’s students to influence change. This often involves them sitting on some of the College’s most senior or influential bodies like Council and Academic Board. It’s a steep learning curve and the stakes are high.

I found the leaving event really moving. Denis Shukur (CEO of KCLSU) and Evelyn Welch (Provost and Acting Principal) both gave lovely speeches recognising the Officers’ achievements and contributions. Then each of the Officers made a speech reflecting on their year; their election, the highs and lows, how they had formed and performed as a team and are clearly, now, close friends.

Denis Shukur (CEO of KCLSU) and Evelyn Welch (Provost and Acting Principal)

I was particularly affected by Jessica Oshodin’s speech. She was overcome with emotion and gave a living, breathing exposition of imposter syndrome and the isolation that comes with being the only black and female team member. She had been surprised to be elected. Each of her peers had clearly recognised, in their speeches, her hard work, her leadership, her competence and her legacy. While in post, Jessica ran the She Should Run campaign to encourage more women and those that self-identify as women to run for part of KCLSU’s elected positions. This hard work has resulted in two women winning elected positions in the 2019/20 KCLSU Officer team.

Jessica was brutally honest about how hard she had found the year and it made me cry.

Cry for so many reasons; because I was proud to know her and have played some small part in her journey. I had seen her in action and know her to be a woman of integrity, intelligence and effectiveness.

Because so much of what she said had personal resonance. I have often been the first or only woman/brown person somewhere and know well the feeling that I’m not good enough or worthy.

Because, even now, I believe she is still self-questioning, having completed her degree at King’s and been the Vice President Postgraduate officer in a pretty tough year. As someone with a Masters in exactly what she wants to do, she still holds a heap of self-doubt that is to do with her identity, not her capability.

It may surprise readers to know that I am often felt not to be a very empathetic person. Empathy, Google tells me, is the capacity to understand or feel what another person is experiencing from within their frame of reference. Simply, the capacity to place oneself in another’s position. It is a difficult thing to admit as core to my role is enabling others to develop and practice empathy. It’s an element of my personal development that I have worked on consistently over the years.

I believe myself to be and have been told that I am a good listener. What I am not is patient or good at listening without ‘helping’, which is what real empathy often requires: being able to listen and show that you understand and, in some situations, just allow the other person time and space. I am a ‘fixer’, I love to problem solve and act – so believe I am helping by advising and chivvying. I have had to learn to stop myself and I continue to try but know it’s not something that comes naturally.

Another area of improvement that I have recognised is that I need to stop immediately thinking about how I would feel or what I would do in a situation, but to step back and really make myself focus on understanding how the other person is feeling in the situation they are in. The more I have reflected, the more honest I have had to be with myself and know that I am not good at that particular element of empathy.

Being able to imagine myself in a situation is not the same as understanding how someone else is experiencing something. At the leaving party, l was truly able to see things through the individual Officers’ eyes and understand – I had an empathy epiphany! Their storytelling really stopped me and made me listen. Their stories also made me want to work harder to prevent future Jessicas and Mohammeds from feeling isolated and othered simply because of who they are and instead allow them to revel in their talent. So, as we face a new academic year, I will commit to redoubling my efforts to build my empathy skills and to more proactively supporting our newly elected KCLSU Officers.

#WomenofKings: Kyla Jardine

To celebrate Women’s History Month and #WomenofKings, we have invited Kyla Jardine (News & Events Manager  for Arts & Humanities, Social Science & Public Policy) from our Gender Equality Network, Elevate  to reflect on the launch event, the wonderful speakers and what we have to look forward to. 

Elevate exists to provide a formal networking platform for professional services staff at King’s. The Network aims to address and challenge issues of gender inequality at King’s, providing an integral platform for staff to share their experiences and by informing KCL policy and strategy.

Elevate’s aim is to empower staff to reach their potential through events, mentoring and training, and to act as a community who provide support both personally and professionally to one another.

Elevate is inclusive to all individuals and specifically addresses the challenges and barriers faced by those who identify as women and as non-binary; staff can join in this capacity, or as an ally.

When we decided to launch on the eve of International Women’s Day, we wanted to host an event that would be both insightful and useful and reflected the diversity of our staff at King’s.

For our panel discussion on, ‘How to Find Your Own Leadership’, we wanted to demonstrate that leadership exists at every level and grade within an organisation, especially one as complex and varied as King’s, and that paths to leadership can be more than achieving an executive or senior role.

It was also important for us to connect with King’s other networks, and our panellist reflected this breadth of experience and interests.

Our speakers were:

It was a pleasure to have Tessa Harrison, Director of Students & Education officially launch Elevate as our senior sponsor and an advocate for our cause.

She rounded out her speech by displaying and iterating some core leadership attributes: understanding how our own social privilege can create blind spots and knowing that every person has something of value to offer:

I learned something about the importance of recognising my privileges – I recognised with some discomfort that to some I am no different to the very privileged white men who have been the butt of my endless challenges over the years. It’s an uncomfortable truth that each generation becomes unreconstructed in the face of the next generation.

So, my ask of all of you engaging in this new network is to be kind to each other as you start working through the issues and ideas that each of you have.

Over the course of the evening, we explored what leadership means, shared advice for aspiring leaders, and looked at how we can navigate challenges. We also discussed how to access support and opportunities within the College, including the importance of becoming an active member of King’s networks, like Elevate.

Afterwards, we all enjoyed the opportunity to meet and chat over drinks, surrounded by the stunning exhibition ‘Visualising the Margins: Gendered Perspectives’ in The Exchange.

Thank you to everyone who supported the launch and has become a member of the network so far. Don’t forget to tell your colleagues and sign up to our newsletter to keep up to date with our ongoing activities, including our upcoming event on the 4th April. Stay tuned for details.

Kyla Jardine, Elevate Committee Member

#WomenofKings: Sarah Guerra

I’ve said it before, and I hope to be able to say it always! I love my job. The last week culminating in International Women’s Day, March 8th, has been such a buzz. I have had myriad opportunities to reflect, listen and learn about women’s equality.

I started last week sharing a platform with the amazing Ihron Rensberg, former Vice-Chancellor and Principal of the University of Johannesburg, leading an inclusive leadership session for on personal power and influence in a volatile world with King’s Senior Management Team. The middle of the week was co-hosting the D&I and Global Institute of Women’s Leadership International Women’s Day Inclusivity at King’s event and last night we launched Elevate, the new King’s Gender Equality network.  Sadly I wasn’t there as I had a long-standing night booked out with my own personal ‘network’ – 9 women who I count as sisters and my mum.

Fittingly enough we were at the theatre seeing 9-5 – Dolly the musical.  

Then on Sunday I watched RBG, a lively documentary about Ruth Bader Ginsberg, the US Supreme Court Justice, whose work transformed the legal landscape for women.  All through this I have been reading Michelle Obama’s Becoming – which has provided a daily dose of wisdom and inspiration as well as reducing me to tears on every commute. If you haven’t read it, stop everything NOW and go buy it.

Last week I opened the Inclusivity at King’s event with a passage from Ms O – page 284 for those interested. The event featured many, many amazing #womenofkings (check it out on twitter or on our intranet) on the platform and in the audience. The two that impacted me most were Professor Funmi Olonisakin, King’s Vice Principal (International) and Tessa Harrison, Director of Students and Education.

Funmi combined her academic field of expertise with personal insight to inspire women in the room, while Tessa shared incredibly honest and personal reflections about her own struggles to come to terms with how her feminism is perceived. The entire room showed what really listening to each other with a willingness to learn can do and how that can help us deal with our 21st century equality challenges. The event closed with me getting the thrill of sharing a platform with Julia Gillard as she talked through why we  as a society would want to do the right thing for diversity. Now that was a real career high!

My thoughts really crystallized watching 9-5.  For those unfamiliar it is a musical based on a film that features 3 female office workers and their male chauvinist pig boss. It was originally made in 1980 and is on at the Savoy Theatre now. Some might think it’s a parody, it is funny and light but also incredibly uncomfortable to watch and realise that this was the reality for many women. These 3 women each compete with and snipe at each other – resenting and judging each other for looks or status while all being demeaned, diminished and held back by their boss and work place standards.

I was a teenager in the 80s. Many of my friends that I was at the theatre with were young women in the workplace in the 80s, as obviously was my mother. They all recognised the play as being what was normal then. We reflected that we are grateful that in many places that things have changed. Watching RBG provided further evidence of how far we have come  – as a result of so many fighting so meticulously and vehemently to get here! We can take heart that looking back it really is unbelievable what the norms were, and I wonder what my daughters (26, 24, 15 and 12) will think when they look back on this time? What will they will find scary, hilarious or unbelievable?  However, testimony at our own International Women’s day event tells us we haven’t yet reached nirvana – women at King’s still experience gender-based discrimination, making it hard to make our lives work so we can succeed professionally and balance our other commitments.

Putting Michelle Obama, Ihron Rensberg, IWD, 9-5  and RBG together, I have been inspired by how positive people have been about King’s and the many practical suggestions. I have been reminded that to make change we need to follow Ruth Bader Ginsberg’s lead of working step by step and see the big picture and we need to start with ourselves.  We must understand our own identity, we must think about what we want and how to get there. We must recognise how we have been socialised, what privileges we carry, which ones we acquire. This takes work. This can be uncomfortable and scary. 9-5 reminded me that I have had to work hard to shake off a learned behaviour of judging other women (and myself) by the way they look, by other’s opinions of them, that these  tropes are patriarchal norms that I have absorbed. These breed unhealthy competition, they breed fear and suspicion – yet when we open our minds and our ears, when we listen respectfully and reflect and work collectively, collaboratively we achieve so much more.

I ended the Inclusivity at King’s event urging people in the room to be vocal and demanding. We here at King’s, women in the UK, in London experience some challenges but we have also achieved so much progress in gender equality but that isn’t consistent at King’s and it certainly isn’t something women everywhere enjoy. Change comes when we notice and agitate. Lets all play our part in making the world a better place with by never settling for less than we are worth. As my pal Michelle says, “Do we settle for the world as it is, or do we work for the world as it should be?”

When in doubt – ask what Michelle Obama would do!

#WomenofKings: Em Flemming

To celebrate International Women’s Day and #WomenofKings, we have invited the panelists who will be speaking at our Elevate – Gender Equality Network launch, to reflect on finding their own leadership. Em Flemming, one of our Parents & Carer’s Network chairs, speaks about leadership as having a vision of success AND a strategy for everyone to be able to be part of it.

I never planned on finding myself in an official position of leadership, so sitting down to write this feels both exciting and a bit scary. Imposter syndrome’s whiny little voice loves to ask me why I think I have the right to hold forth on, well, any topic really but this one in particular is a doozy. What do I know about leadership?

I know what I value in a leader – someone who knows where they want to go, and is committed to bringing others along with them. Someone who can see the bigger picture, and communicate it clearly to those around them. Someone who is excited for the future, for change, but doesn’t forget that everyone will be at a different stage in the journey.

It’s a leader’s job to get to the top of the hill, check out the view on the other side and shout back to the whole gang to come and see how amazing it is. It’s their job to work out how everyone is going to get up there, and down the other side. Even the people who really hate walking up hills. Especially the people who really hate walking up hills. Good leaders look out for those guys.

Leaders are those people who see when things aren’t working so well, and bring people together to make them better. King’s vision is to make the world a better place, and mine is to make my bit of King’s a better place – whether that’s for my immediate team, for the part of the university I work in, or wider as part of cross campus initiatives like the Parent & Carers network.

So perhaps I didn’t plan on becoming a leader, but I know what kind of leader I want to be. And I was brought up in the Pennines, so I’m pretty good at getting up hills. Watch this space!

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