Equality, Diversity & Inclusion at King's College London

Tag: race equality

Bias or No Bias? The EDI Question

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


Often EDI is reduced to conversations about unconscious bias training, which was seen as a panacea when it first arrived. Like much in the EDI arena, it is a useful tool and mechanism, but is not in itself a complete solution to complex and interconnected structural issues.   

The purpose of providing Bias training is to create awareness, in individuals and groups of employees, about the concept and reality of implicit bias.  

Implicit attitudes are positive and negative evaluations that are much less accessible to our conscious awareness and/or control. Essentially, they are thoughts and beliefs that shape what we think and how we act, which we are unaware of.  

Bringing in the perspectives of others and creating self-awareness helps to highlight thinking and/or behaviour that is done unwittingly, provide ways of adjusting automatic patterns of thinking and eliminate discriminatory behaviours. It also highlights what behaviour is expected in the workplace. This training can take many forms, from e-learning programmes or PowerPoint presentations to in-depth workshops with interactive talks and exercises, the latter having the greater impact on building awareness and helping to change behaviour. At Kings this kind of training is a key component of our strategy. We have developed Diversity Matters and Trans Matters training which we deliver and tailor to staff teams of 5 – 20 people on request. In parallel, we support and build communities through our staff networks, which provide peer-support for staff with particular protected characteristics, and the More than Mentoring programme, which pairs staff members who share personal characteristics to enable a deeper understanding and connection between participants. Please follow the links above and get in touch if you are keen to engage with any of these projects! 

For training programmes to be effective, they need to dovetail with other initiatives so that employees see training as part of an ongoing journey in changing behaviour and creating a more diverse and inclusive workplace. This is why Kings has an ongoing programme of senior leadership development in relation to EDI and our management and leadership passports. To ensure that awareness continues long after training is completed, we encourage activities such as asking participants to share stories on social collaboration channels where we generate ongoing discussions. To join the conversation you can follow us on Twitter and our internal intranet pages or join a network 

Throughout the organisation we need to provide communication that helps all teams to build empathy for, and understanding of, the experiences of minority or disadvantaged groups. Success comes when the responsibility and accountability for diversity is clearly part of the organisations leaders’ objectives. This needs to be coupled with active encouragement and systemic support for people to share any instances of bias, and crucially for these to be followed up and dealt with effectively. At Kings we are doing a variety of things, these range from introducing cultural competency modules to ensuring we have an Anonymous Disclosure Tool which staff, students and external visitors can use to anonymously disclose incidents of bullying, harassment, sexual misconduct or hate crime. 

Job adverts are an important area to consider when addressing bias. There are two types of bias in job adverts, explicit and implicit (as with everything else). Explicit biases are those that we can control or be clear about, such as levels or types of qualifications, particular audiences and types of candidates. In contrast, implicit biases are unconscious perceptions, stereotypes and beliefs that have been developed from past experiences and influences. These can be very powerful and are much harder to pinpoint.   

Much work has already been done at Kings to make job adverts more inclusive. We have tried to address gendered words, remove jargon and ensure straightforward titles that specify the role, skills and experience required.   

Like many organisations we are taking major steps towards becoming a more welcoming and inclusive place to work. We take the opportunity to demonstrate this in our job adverts by stating our commitment to be an equal opportunity employer. This positive step shows our commitment and the importance we place on it. 

Another tool for reducing bias is a name-blind recruitment process. This removes information, such as age, gender, name, education and even the number of years of experience from CVs, which might otherwise prejudice an application. This is a proven way to overcome unconscious bias and promote greater diversity. It has increased in popularity over the last couple of years after a series of studies, including one by Nuffield Colleges Centre for Social Investigation, showed that people with ethnic names needed to send out 60% more applications than job seekers with white’ sounding names before they got a call back . Name-blind CVs encourage the recruitment of new employees without identifiable information, so that personal bias doesnt creep in.   

To implement a name-blind recruitment process well, an organisation should start by determining the absolute necessities an applicant must possess to fill the role and remove the information that has no bearing on a persons ability to competently carry it out. If needed, the extra information can be collected but separated from the application process. The success of your name-blind hiring would be captured in diversity recruitment metrics by measuring the statistics for shortlisting, testing, interviewing, hiring and retention before and after blind hiring. When I first arrived at Kings the concept of name-blind recruitment was felt to be near impossible at a University. Whilst we have not yet implemented it, people now regularly ask me why we are not doing it – this shows how times change.   

So, Ill end as I began – training and awareness on unconscious bias is an important part of any EDI strategy, as is understanding where and how it shows up in practice. So please all take all the opportunities available to undertake training and build your awareness. But the critical difference is made when you a) apply that learning and b) use that learning to develop a real curiosity as to why inequalities exist and persist.   

Jessie Krish on Black Lives Matter & Race within the Arts and HE

Jessie Krish, who recently joined Equality Diversity & Inclusion as a part-time Project Assistant, and works outside of King’s as an independent curator, shares her reflections on the Black Lives Matters protests of the summer and how they inform work in the Cultural Industries and Higher Education sector. She recently co-edited a ‘Reader’ for e-flux journal on Loot and Looting.


After Minneapolis Police officers killed George Floyd, protests grew, and cities around the United States saw their buildings boarded with sheets of plywood: a defense against the threat of looting. With workers who usually inhabit these buildings absent due to Covid-19 lockdowns, the boards were there to protect commodities. Donald Trump’s command “when the looting starts, the shooting starts,” was a violent call to protect property, even at the expense of human life.

Whilst it is crucial to maintain the distinction between political protest and particular instances of looting that occurred in the recent wave of Black Lives Matter (BLM) protests, it was looting in particular that escalated the protests, polarised public and political opinion, and contributed to the explosive impact of the BLM movement. Some viewed these acts of theft and vandalism as symbolic rejections of structures perpetuating state violence, systemic racism, and capitalist exploitation. But mainstream coverage in the United States’ media tied looting to people of color, and failed to connect these actions with the histories of systematic dispossession that Black Lives Matters activists protested, or the racialised extraction that subtends economic activity almost everywhere.

In the midst of the protests, American Artist presented an intervention at the Whitney Museum of American Art’s online collection, in which all digital images of the museum’s artworks were temporarily replaced with a plywood texture. The title of this project, Looted, pointed directly to the imperial legacies and colonialist practices of many Western museums, as well as activist and artistic institutional critiques in which the uncomfortable figure of museum “loot”, stolen from indigenous peoples and foreign nations and yet to be repatriated, is often central.

A screenshot of Looted on the Whitney’s website

Presenting Looted as an act of ‘redaction and refusal,’ the Whitney sought solidarity with activists, and to reframe the narrative around the boarding up of the museum’s building during this period. American Artist’s Looted highlights the extreme contradictions that cultural institutions must hold (for example, guarding looted national property, whilst developing convincing and inclusive postcolonial narratives) when they engage with decolonial work. Work which requires structural, material and cultural change.

The boarded museum and its website populated with squares of rendered plywood, is a visual reminder of the close proximity of current state violence to the museum’s stolen imperial acquisitions. Whilst they can feel worlds apart, the street, museum, and university are at close quarters, and activities in each domain stand to impact cultures, structures, and material outcomes across the board.

I’m writing following the recent publication of Universities UK’s report Tackling Racial Harassment in Higher Education (November 2020). Following the Equality and Human Rights Commission’s publication of evidence of widespread racial harassment on university campuses just over a year ago, this report calls on university leaders to acknowledge that UK higher education perpetuates institutional racism. It cites ‘racial harassment, a lack of diversity among senior leaders, the Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic student attainment gap and ethnicity pay gaps among staff as evidence’. Recognising that racial harassment is just one dimension of structural racism in the Higher Education sector, it acknowledges the depth of this problem and the breadth of work required, making detailed and evidence-based recommendations beyond the scope of the guidance, including the need to diversify predominantly Eurocentric and white university curricula.

Reflecting on a year in which the BLM movement has exploded and been met with the force of the state, racial discrimination has risen, and racial health inequalities have been exposed as a matter of life or death with grossly uneven outcomes for coronavirus patients of different ethnicities, I am heartened to see UK Universities addressing harassment so thoroughly. I share their positivity for the impact that the HE sector could have, with the potential to shape the minds and attitudes of 429,000 staff, and 2.3 million students, a generation whom, particularly in London, will be unprecedented in their diversity. Time to get to work!

Let’s keep talking about race

About 18 months ago I stood before the SMT at their inaugural structural inequality development session, a programme I had designed. I was terrified. This was my big chance to put into action all that I had learned as an activist and as a more junior member of staff.  Meaningful and sustainable change starts with leadership commitment. Why was I so frightened? This was exactly the job I had been asked to do. But, as I think any person of colour will tell you, it feels like you are a flashing beacon when you stand in front of a group of (mostly white) people and tell them that there is inequality all around us, that there is racism around us and, as the leaders of the organisation, that it is their job to act. I was pleased that day that the response was overwhelmingly positive. There was a real thirst for knowledge and an appetite for action.

Since then, we have seen gradual changes and improvements. However, the brutal murder of George Floyd has shown us that we don’t have the luxury of time. Our community need us to do something now. Our steady strategic action plans move too slowly for the toxic, pervasive and all-consuming virus that is racism. Our Race Equality Chartermark self-assessment tells us we have a lot to do. Our recruitment processes are not operating fairly, the BME attainment gap shows not all our students are provided with the opportunity to attain according to their academic potential. Crucially, while we have a lot of ‘BAME’ (Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic) staff and students, we have far too few black staff and students. Recognising and naming this is important if we are going to progress.

I have a friend, an amazing black man of Jamaican heritage, who is an activist and a leader Rob Neil OBE (Order of the British Empire or Obviously Black Everyday – you take your pick!)  Rob talks about his journey – that it was only some 10 years into his career that he ‘became’ black, having formerly perceived himself to be ‘colourless’; that merit had no colour; that if he worked hard enough, he would succeed.

I feel the same. Here I am not far off my half century. Little, old, Sarah Guerra, the brown girl that started life in Edmonton Green on the Joyce Avenue Estate. That I find myself as Director of Equality, Diversity and Inclusion at King’s College London is improbable. Don’t get me wrong, I have always been bright and capable. My Trinidadian dad schooled me in arithmetic and letters from the earliest age, and I arrived at school way more advanced than the others in my class. But I, like many others, went through school, college, and university being passively or actively discouraged and urged to lower my ambitions and expectations. It’s a cliché, I know, but it’s true, that in parallel to that, I had the constant refrain at home – ‘you’ve got to be twice as good, Sarah’. At the same time as all of that coded and not-so-coded messaging – what we today know as implicit racism –  hardly ever did the fact that I was brown-skinned figure out loud in a conversation or, for many years, in my own mind.

A photograph showing the Joyce Avenue estate. A tall block of flats dominates the scene. There are a few trees in front of it, and a few cars on the road as well.

It was there as clear as day, but not something to be mentioned. I became a ‘black’ woman maybe in my early twenties when I started to build my own race consciousness and fought off the imposter syndrome demons.

Today, as, arguably, a firmly middle-class woman, a mother of dual-heritage children, and an EDI practitioner, I have to continuously reflect on how to tackle racism without perpetuating, for my daughters, that same imposter syndrome.  Supporting King’s on its path to equality improvement, I carry with me the many years’ experience of ‘the fight’; of the anger and disappointment, but also the joy of hope and the energy that comes from having been able to make a difference.

A photograph of the author smiling sat on a yellowish chair.

I’ve been at King’s for 3.5 years now. I find us to be an organisation of enormous heart and ambition. We are also complex, and can be slow and ponderous much of the time. I am proud to work here and to contribute to our staff, students, education, research and vision for the world. As a woman of colour, and a human being, I can also attest to being regularly exhausted by the need to second guess how I might be received or interpreted, by the need to have the conversation, and by the overwhelming task that is dismantling structural inequality. As a senior leader, I recognise I am in a position of privilege and am buffered and deferred to in a way that many more junior colleagues are not. Yet racism – or the fear of it – still touches me most days.

These last few weeks have been some of the most intense of my life. We always talk about ‘what’s the burning platform’ – and never in all my years has the heat been so strong. The eruption of world feeling and attention to anti-black racism has created a window of opportunity for a step change.

King’s, without a doubt, still has a lot to do and has made mistakes. But, personally, it was utterly refreshing in my conversations with our Principal and Provosts (and many others) to not be faced with the task of having to persuade them and instead to be met with their demand and determination to tackle the roots of inequality.

I am proud that we have responded so substantially and fully, recognising that you all want and need more commitment to anti-racism than words on a page.

The following resources were suggested and requested by our amazing Race Equality Network colleagues, a network that had its first birthday very recently. They wanted to show solidarity with staff and create a safe and supportive space for us to discuss various topics around race. To give people ‘permission’ to say what’s on their mind and share their feelings and resources. They and I would like to hear from you and offer any support you need.

A clear message from our recent leadership summit was that there is a difference between not being racist and choosing to be actively anti-racist. One way we are enforcing that commitment is to include EDI-related issues in every issue of King’s Essentials, to continue to build our EDI work into the DNA of King’s. That is what we must all strive for.

I originally wrote this piece to accompany the Race Equality at King’s Splash page. I was at that point advised it wasn’t suitable, so I am publishing here as a blog instead as I wanted people to read it. We will be holding further follow up summits with Heads of Department, BME ECRs and PIs in the autumn to deepen and extend our anti-racism work. Look out for details on those.

In the meantime, you can get involved in the efforts we’re sharing with you here. Join our incredible staff networks and get involved in the wonderful, intersectional work they’re doing. Engage with the training opportunities we have on offer, including Diversity Matters. Have conversations, commit to self-education, and play your part in making sure King’s is a safe and welcoming place for everyone. Are you a budget holder? A hiring manager? You can take direct action to examine how these things are supporting our ambitions to tackle racism. Everyone can also pay attention to who is speaking, notice who is around you, choose to disrupt your social media or reading with different voices, and call out racism and microaggressions when you see them.

Most of all, as you read, please ask yourself: what is my contribution? How do I contribute to the problem? What power do I hold?  More importantly, how do I contribute to the solution?

I’d like to thank Jenny Agha, VJ Sidhu and Rob Neil for supporting me in writing this and helping reinforce my courage to say what needs to be said.

Cultural identity and insecurity: Growing up South Asian in UK schools

Michaela Tranfield is a final year English undergraduate at King’s. She discusses how a normalised culture of racism in UK secondary schools made her disconnect from her cultural identity. Michaela also has her own blog where you can find some of her other writing:  https://michaxlawrites.wordpress.com/

The culture of racism in UK schools has undoubtedly been normalised. Racial abuse and throwaway comments have been condoned by British society and either ignored by teachers or worse still, orchestrated by them. It breeds a culture of racist attitudes and biases weaponised against young Black, Asian and Latinx people for the comedic satisfaction of others, making them question themselves and feel ashamed of their identity.

Despite growing up in London, I went to a white majority school where any form of racial difference was consistently mocked. Secondary school ‘banter’ is something that is part and parcel of your teenage years, but there is a very fine line between friendly teasing and clear racist insults that use a veil of humour to deflect from intentional prejudice.

In the past few days I’ve been talking to some of my friends about racism in our high school. A common factor in our experiences was that any kind of difference was always made to seem weird or unnormal. If your skin, hair and culture strayed away from the status quo, it was pointed out in the most negative way possible. My friends had their traditional sarees and lehengas laughed at, with someone even asking them why ‘their people’ wear bedsheets for clothes. When one of my friends went to music classes near our school in traditional Asian clothing and maliha flower (jasmine strands) in her hair, she always feared she would be spotted by kids from school and become the target of their jokes for the next few weeks. I was told that I didn’t smell like an Indian or wasn’t like other Indians, as if it is something I should be thankful for. Our body hair was laughed at as people pointed out our upper lip hair and some found it incomprehensible that we could grow hair on our hands and arms, one even calling me a monkey because of how hairy they thought I was.

We also found that people showed a real disregard for our individual experiences and ethnic backgrounds. People were intentionally ignorant. It didn’t matter where you were from in South Asia to them, whether it was Sri Lanka, Nepal or Bangladesh, because to them if you had brown skin you must automatically be Indian. If you tried to correct people for mistaking your identity, they arrogantly remarked that all brown people were the same so what did it matter, even though our histories and experiences were vastly different. These occurrences and many more are specific to the British Asian experience, but for most ethnic minority students who attended UK secondary schools our difference was always seen to be humorous. Our culture was seen as a joke, something obnoxious people could pick up, use against us and then dispose of at their whim.

My friends and I could all relate to being conditioned into thinking that we were overly sensitive if we spoke up about how the racist comments and actions made us feel. Somehow even though we were being mocked or insulted we were the bad ones for ‘taking it to heart’ or ‘not understanding a joke’. This is exactly how a cycle of prejudice continues – racialised people are made feel as though they are the issue. Our feelings were never validated. Truthfully, they were never considered in the first place.

During adolescence so much of your life is spent at school, so when your peers use your culture as a tool to create humour, you also fail to see anything positive in your culture. As the ridicule of our culture, negative stereotypes and unwarranted ignorant comments continued, I became more and more disengaged with my South Asian culture. Although many of the people who mocked racial difference will fall back on the excuse that it was not their intention, it seems to me that this deflection is used to protect themselves from criticism. People always talk about intentions, but they forget to consider impact. Whilst they could take pride in their culture and wave their flags high without having to consider the consequences, my friends and I were made to feel ashamed of ours. We had to question if we were mentally prepared to take on the mockery, judgement and insults that came from taking pride in our cultural differences. We were made to feel insecure about our ethnicity and our heritage, having to try to forget our culture and do the most to fit in.

As new generations of young people grow up and move through the secondary school system, I really want consideration and accommodation to be the new norm. For people to learn about other cultures before mocking them. To see who Black, Asian and Latinx students are before marking them with racial stereotypes. Rather than difference being thought of as intrinsically bad, more people could take the time to learn about other cultures or at least show interest rather than ignorance.

Thankfully, things are vastly different for myself and my friends now. As I rapidly approach my 21st birthday, I can honestly say I’m incredibly proud of my cultural heritage. It’s taken a few years to be unapologetically myself but we’re here now. Instead of having my culture shrouded in negativity, I found much more positivity through more British-Asian female representation on social media, through safe spaces and my circle of friends. Rather than trying not to express my culture, I love reading about South Asian history, going to cultural events and listening to all kinds of South Asian music. Where I would try to hide my cultural identity before, you can catch me belting out Bollywood bangers at any occasion I can find.

South Asian Heritage Month is an event that I am so thankful young South Asians have a chance to experience. In a society where our history and heritage are downplayed through anti-immigrant policy and sentiment, a month dedicated to exploring our culture and dismantling hegemonic ideas of Asian identity is so special. I hope that it will also help others who are not familiar with our culture learn some more and avoid passing ignorant attitudes and beliefs onto future generations. To any young British Asians who are going through identity struggles and have been made to feel as though their ethnicity is a problem, I hope that this month can help you realise how important your being, your culture and your history is to the country we live in today.

“Classy, bougie, ratchet (yeah)”

Hands up who knows what ‘Savage’ is or what Tik Tok is?

The coronavirus pandemic has had many, many impacts on all our lives. Many of them are or feel negative, constraining, or frightening. But not all. There is less commuting, less juggling of work and life balance, more time with family – things I am very grateful for.

It has caused me to think about how I and others react when faced with new challenges. When I feel embarrassed or bad at something, or when it feels hard, am I led to give up or try again?

Years ago, I read Malcolm Gladwell’s Outliers. I love all his books and if you haven’t read any, I would highly recommend them. Outliers is mind-blowing. It turned on its head much of what I had grown up being encouraged to believe. His main premise is that natural talent is a myth; most success comes because people work hard and practice, though they need to have had the opportunity.  I always believed that people are born able to do certain things or are not. This perspective is so crucial as we examine how racism shows up and how we define merit and talent.

The Tik Tok craze is something my two daughters are into. Social distancing and lockdown meant I felt a greater responsibility than normal to ensure everyone was happy and content. I felt like we should consciously try and do more stuff together. So, in my bonding efforts I suggested we do some Tik Toks together.

What does it involve? Basically learning short dances based on those already on the platform and recording them either on your own or in a group.

I’ll share a secret with you – I can’t sing a note and, whilst I love dancing, my movements rarely bear any relation to the music. I have real trouble coordinating my limbs and lack spatial awareness. As all my friends and the video evidence will testify, I am patently not ‘good’ at dancing.

So, we simply gave it a go. Most people seem to be able to watch the videos and mimic what’s on them quickly and easily. Not me. Lyra (13), after watching my first few performances incredulously, was extremely patient. She thought about how to break it down and how to show me in different ways. I never got good but each time I got a little better. I realised I needed to watch them a few times. I need to understand and memorise the sequence of the movements. Practice each individually and then together. What some people could do instinctively I had to learn as individual building blocks. I still was terrible by other’s standards. My family still found it hysterical – but each time I was an incy bit better.

A particularly interesting reflection was how I felt when they were all laughing at me. How I had a burning sensation inside. What shame and embarrassment feel like. The very physical and mental feeling of discomfort.

I realised I had seen others in my family reach this point (with other activities or situations), lose their tempers, or sulk or withdraw. I wanted to do all those things. Instead I told myself it is okay not to be great, okay to be hilarious to them. They love me and while they are ridiculing me it is with love. If I am enjoying this and enjoying being with them, I can carry on.

To grow, you have to take yourself out of your comfort zone. No one is good at something first time and it takes dedication and practice. I talked myself into a scenario where I was role modelling ‘trying’ and being willing to try and go through the stages of early rubbishness.

As we are asking our whole community to consider how we become better at being anti-racist, we are asking many to do something differently or that they haven’t done before. Please, let’s all remember what it is like to learn. For some, learning takes more practice and can feel more awkward than it does for others. And if you are someone accomplished in something perhaps think back to when it didn’t come so naturally to you, and think about how you help others move along the development curve. Happy Lockdown or whatever is now happening!

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