People of City: Meet the EDI team
City’s EDI team talk about their current priorities at City, share reflections from the pandemic and discuss the key challenges facing EDI in the sector
Communications Officer (Staff and Stakeholders)
No matter who we are or what we do at City, we all have our own stories and experiences to tell. Our People of City series will delve in and find out more about the people who we work with – beginning with the Equality, Diversity and Inclusion (EDI) team, a whole team who has started, or returned to, their roles during the pandemic.
After what has been a busy, and at times very challenging, year of change for our expanding EDI team, we caught up with Tom, Sabah, Joey, Natasha, Emma and Michelle to chat about their roles at City, challenges they face in the sector… and a few good additions for your bookshelves and podcast playlists.
Also in the team are Michael Jannetta, Senior EDI Officer, currently on parental leave; and Kavita Powley, Race Equality Charter Manager, currently on maternity leave.
I’m Tom, I’ve been at City for over six years and am excited to be joining the EDI team in September as Senior EDI Officer (Equality Charters and Data). I’ll be supporting Emma and coordinating the renewal process for the Athena Swan award. That will involve ensuring that the Athena Swan requirements are embedded across City’s policies and communications. I’ll also be supporting the work towards the Race Equality Charter, and working with City’s Affinity Networks and other stakeholders across the University.
I am City’s Race Equality Manager, covering for Dr Kavita Powley while she is on maternity leave. My key priorities are ensuring the institution authentically embraces and acts on its race equity commitments, while realising that many intersections inform how we look, sound and work resulting in systemic inequities experienced every day inside and outside work. I am also managing and driving fulfilment of the Race Equality Charter requirements; and strategically and operationally planning, aligning and intersectionally connecting race work with wider equity, inclusion and anti-racism work to help set City up for success on this journey.
I’m Joey, my pronouns are he/him and I’m an Equality, Diversity and Inclusion (EDI) Officer. I’m still settling into the role having joined City two months ago. I’ve been getting stuck in talking to network co-chairs to see how I can support them, reviewing our Staff Hub EDI pages ready to be updated and helping set up working group meetings.
I’m Natasha, currently on secondment to the EDI team in a newly created role, Senior EDI Officer (Race Equality). My current priorities are coordinating our submission to the Race Equality Charter Award, supporting anti-racist education through the Diversify your mind Club (open to all staff!) and shaping the institutional approach to Race Equality.
Hi I’m Emma, I’m the Equality, Diversity and Inclusion Manager and joined City in summer 2017. I oversee the work of the EDI team, and my current priorities are guiding City through the renewal process for our institutional Athena Swan award and implementation and delivery of City’s EDI strategy. As an Advance HE panel member and assessor for Athena Swan and Race Equality Charter applications, I also support and oversee wider charter work and internal advisory and guidance in a variety of equality, diversity and inclusion areas.
I’m Michelle, Senior Student EDI Officer in City’s Education and Student Strategy Support Unit (ESSU). I have responsibility for a number of projects and initiatives to foster inclusion for our student community. I work closely with colleagues across the institution including EDI colleagues on the staff side, colleagues in Schools, across professional services and the Students’ Union. I support students and staff by providing information, advice and guidance on student EDI matters.
Some of my current priorities are supporting work to address degree awarding gaps, reviewing/creating policies (such as our existing TIGNC policy and creation of a policy relating to religious observance and exams and assessment), and looking forward to begin work with colleagues in the SU and across the university to plan for diversity events in the new academic year.
What do you consider to be the main challenges facing EDI at City, or in the Higher Education sector, at the moment?
Tom: I think the biggest barriers can be ideological and even stem from a lack of awareness and understanding of what EDI means. We all have a commitment and responsibility when it comes to EDI.
Sabah: There are many but some critical ones that often create barriers include: whiteness in power and positions of influence that impacts on having the correct representation in engagement and contributions to decision-making, as well as ensuring practices and programmes are inclusive and anti-ractist. Also, leaders and higher education institutions still feeling more comfortable with traditional agendas and approaches and treating EDI as a sub-strategy that still needs a business case. Often they may want to take decisive action on race related agendas and issues but hesitate due to lacking expertise, playing it politically safe, or being scared of getting it wrong or upsetting others.
Emma: Nationally, the EDI agenda is often insufficiently resourced and seen to be an add on in many organisations. Higher Education is moving towards EDI becoming an integral part of universities core strategies and this is critical in helping to tackle the systemic changes needed to drive forward equity and inclusion work. These challenges and areas of focus for much of the sector include structural racism, bullying and harassment, and supporting marginalised groups such as people with disabilities and from LGBTQI+ communities. The possible changes to the freedom of speech bill and the government recommendations to adopt the IHRA definition are some other national challenges linked to EDI work.
Michelle: I think it is really important for the sector to think about EDI intersectionally. There is a tendency, and a necessity to a point, to categorise people into groups in order to address a system of oppression that impacts them by belonging to said group. However, we have individual experiences and our different identities can result in intersectional oppression. If we only look at EDI through a race lens, and then separately through a gender lens for example, we will never address the intersectional oppression that individuals experience because we will never be able to identify it.
Natasha: The categorical challenge UK HE institutions face is that our institutions were built on colonial elitist structures and we lack the imagination needed to liberate and decolonise them. We acknowledge that the current system doesn’t work for everyone and is based on colonial ideas of what knowledge we should value and moulded to fit a historic archetype of who a student is. The current system heralds competitive individualism and commercialism. We need emancipatory pedagogy to tackle this crisis and to radically reimagine the way universities work.
Joey: There’s an awareness that more needs to be done for all staff and students to be fully included and that changing exclusionary culture may be challenging and uncomfortable. That’s a great starting point. Turning awareness into action requires time commitment for self-education and self-examination of what barriers you can remove in your area of work. The EDI team are always here to support teams with those changes and take forward the care for resourcing EDI work at City.
The return to campus and the future of higher education following the pandemic is an opportunity as much as a challenge. New styles of blended learning and hybrid working can be deliberately designed with access and inclusion for everyone.
What’s something positive that the pandemic has taught you, or a change that you hope continues into the future?
Joey: I think lots of people have grown in empathy during the pandemic, and an awareness that the circumstances we live in is different for everyone. My life experience is not your life experience. I hope we can collectively take forward empathetic mindsets and actions.
Natasha: I’m afraid I haven’t found the pandemic experience particularly positive. I’m a carer for my grandmother who I live with. Anxieties have been high, it has been tough to shield and hold a constant fear of passing on the virus to her. But I’ve learnt to find the joy in missing out and the peace and movement of nature that reminds me change is constantly happening.
Michelle: Like many, I’ve found the pandemic very challenging, but one positive is that it provided the opportunity for us to do the things we have always done in new and innovative ways. I dance in my free time and many teachers have moved their classes online which has meant that I have been able to train not only with my regular teachers but also with teachers from across the world. While I miss in person classes and look forward to being back in the studio, I do hope that some online opportunities continue.
Tom: I’ve been moved by how much of a community there really is at City, and how it isn’t contained within the walls of the campus buildings. I think we’ve all started to see each other beyond our job titles and gained a better understanding of individual circumstances and working preferences, and I hope to see that build to more flexible approaches to working in the future.
Sabah: I have learnt that vulnerability is power and comes about by being true to yourself authentically and always working from a place of integrity while aligning our personal values with that of an organisation. It is often not as scary as it first appears and moving past fear (and with faith) in ourselves is a good place to consider and begin from. Often, we are led by deeply held belief systems that we may need to unlearn, along with trauma-informed responses which we may or may not be aware of. Through continuous but manageable self-work and self-healing (by finding the right kind of environment to support our individual personal and professional development), we can benefit from improvements to our mental and physical health – now and long beyond the pandemic.
Emma: I returned back to work in January after nearly 14 months of maternity leave, so I returned back to a completely remote working environment, which was very different to working in the Gloucester Building. Remote working certainly has its benefits, including making the nursery run less stressful, but I am missing the buzz of working on campus and I am looking forward to being able to meet colleagues in person.
Joey: I started in April, just as lockdown restrictions eased and we could socialise in groups outdoors. I found starting a new job at home at the same time as this continued change and uncertainty way harder than I realised it would be. But having regular coffee breaks with my team and wider department, and being open with my manager about my mental health and wellbeing have really helped. Every week I feel more settled and more part of the City community.
Sabah: Joining virtually has been a unique challenge. To feel integrated into City and not excluded from key spaces is not always an easy experience, especially as a Woman of Colour with a variety of intersectional identities. I am also at a higher risk with a weaker immune system and have experienced extreme personal pandemic-related trauma with many deaths in the family recently due to the Delta variant.
However, in a lot of ways, it has also been extremely helpful to be able to work from home, have flexible support and the option to be able to work onsite when it feels safer. There are a lot of benefits to being part of a team that is driven by the values of inclusive leadership. It is positive to see an organisation that is embracing hybrid working, working from home, moving away from a traditional presenteeism-driven approach and allowing managers to manage flexibly.
Natasha: I’m looking forward to having more freedom, seeing my friends and having fun!
Sabah: I am looking forward to really moving forward City’s Race Equality Charter application, while supporting the different RECSAT subgroups to progress critical initiatives. We have been talking to Directors and Deans across the University and are keen to collate their responses into actionable solutions that will support our leaders and managers in the context of race and intersectional inclusion, equity and anti-racism work. Particularly of interest is really bringing to light lived experiences, encouraging our staff and students to share their thoughts on the work we do and re-energising how we communicate the progress we are making.
Emma: I’m looking forward to visiting more friends and family and having a family staycation later in the year.
Tom: Getting stuck in to my new role and new team. I know some of the team fairly well already through my role as a current LGBTQI+ Network Co-Chair but I get to shift my focus slightly and flex my data muscles. In my personal life, I’m getting a puppy (a pug named Ripley) in July, so look out for her debut in the Wellbeing@City Teams pet corner!
Michelle: Spending more time in person with family and friends, getting back into the dance studio, and hopefully some more sun at some point (I won’t hold out too much hope on that last one!)
Joey: I live next to Victoria Park in East London and I’m lucky to have a view over the park when I work from home. I’m looking forward to summer days sitting in the park with friends and more swims outside at London Fields Lido and West Reservoir in Stoke Newington. It’s also my brother’s wedding down in Devon in September so I’m looking forward to picking out a new outfit and having a week away. Like lots of people, it will be the first time all my family have been together for a couple of years.
Sabah: I’m reading How to Do the Work: Recognise Your Patterns, Heal from Your Past and Create Your Self by Dr Nicole LePera which is beyond insightful for a self-healers journey. I am also continuing to explore the work and wisdom of Rajkumari Neogy, a phenomenally humble Woman of Colour and Executive Coach who brings together uniquely healing business and personal insights from a crossover of psychology, epigenetics and neurobiology. I have found these two women particularly helpful through what has been, for me, a traumatic pandemic. It has definitely helped me move forward from racial and personal trauma to self-healing, internal growth and mindful empathy and compassion.
Tom: I listen to a lot of Queer podcasts. Shout out to the Bitten Peach Pod hosted by ShayShay. It’s a Queer Asian talk show that’s featured a few of my friends in the drag and cabaret world, and its been so educational, especially recently with the continued conversation around Asian hate crime. I’ve also recently started listening to Brenda, Call Me!, a silly fun podcast co-hosted by Drag Race alum Courtney Act, and one of the features teaches listeners a new Polari word each week. Polari was the secret coded language gay men used to communicate widely in the 50s and 60s. Finally, watch Pose on Netflix!
Emma: I’m currently reading Brit(ish) by Afua Hirsch, which is a fantastic book on race, identity and belonging. I’m also really enjoying listening to the podcast Off Menu with Ed Gamble and James Acaster.
Michelle: I’m currently re-reading The Little Book of Talent: 52 tips for improving your skills by Daniel Coyle. I think it’s an interesting read, deconstructing the concept of ‘natural’ or ‘innate’ talent and providing practical tips for acquiring and developing skills from a growth mindset approach.
Natasha: Dark Academia: How Universities Die by Peter Fleming discusses the metrics-obsessed, hierarchical world that makes up the neoliberal university.
Joey: Queer London by Alim Kheraj with photos by Tim Boddy is a beautiful book going through the past, present and future of London’s queer scene. It gives rich descriptions and photography of the venues, community groups and people that have made the scene as wonderful and welcoming as it is, with accompanying photos. It’s the perfect guide to Pride Month when our celebrations are a bit smaller and more remote than usual. You could pick up a copy from Gay’s The Word in Bloomsbury, a 20-minute walk from Northampton Square.