Written by Sarah Guerra, Director of Diversity & Inclusion
At a research-intensive organisation such as King’s, it is important that ‘diversity’ and ‘inclusion’ do not remain in the hallways of HR. Research staff, although distinct in their roles, face many of the same diversity challenges on an operational level as other types of university staff, most perceptibly in the low levels of female or BME representation at more senior levels. This also extends to other challenges such as the persistence of low levels of disclosures around key protected characteristics such as disability and sexual orientation (and a further silence around why this might occur), the difficulties facing working parents as well as other structural issues such as unclear and informal reporting procedures around bullying and harassment.
In recent years there have been marked efforts to create a more inclusive working environment for all staff, including research staff. Mentoring schemes, such as the Diversity Mentoring Scheme at King’s have sought to provide female, trans and non-binary, BME mentees from often marginalised backgrounds an exceptional and unique opportunity to meet with a more experienced and trained mentor to identify, define and progress towards professional goals that will enhance their career progression, regardless of whether they want to stay in academia or pursue a career path beyond academia. Many mentees have spoken about how the experience has boosted their confidence and helped them identify and reach their professional goals.
King’s prides itself on being a leader and innovator in Higher Education diversity and inclusion by championing such schemes as the Diversity Mentoring Scheme, but there is always more that can be done. I feel that our challenge will be transforming good intentions and goodwill into positive, meaningful personal action in sufficient volume to create sustainable organisational change. On a practical level, this means looking over our behaviours, language, processes and systems with an analytical lens to confront some home truths, as discomforting as it might be. For example, understanding research staff demographics and recognising who is participating and succeeding, and more importantly, who is not, and then acting to change those dynamics in our research environments.
Our Diversity & Inclusion team is a hub of experience and expertise and is able to advise and support the King’s community to understand what it means to be equitable and inclusive as an employer and educator and how research staff can get involved in the various diversity networks and events at King’s. Six weeks into their roles, the team is busy tinkering away on our various programs such as the Athena SWAN and Race Equality Charter Marks, disability access at King’s, the Parental Leave Fund, the Carers’ Career Development Fund as well as our Diversity Mentoring Scheme, just to name a few!
To truly promote diversity and inclusion across research environments at King’s, we need to listen, learn, be honest, brave and bold, and I hope that I can provide the confidence and leadership we need to catalyse the change we are looking for.