Meet the Leads – Hawa Fathi

Back again with another Meet The Leads interview by Claire Bailie, last year’s FMS EDI intern. This interview is with EDI Lead Hawa Fathi, lecturer in Materials Sciences and Technology at the School of Dental Sciences, from late summer last year. Enjoy!

Tell us a bit about your background. What are some of your hobbies/interests outside of work?

It sounds like a series of choices when I tell it from where I am now. I am a lecturer in Materials Sciences and Technology at the School of Dental Sciences. I began as a dental technician and after my first degree I worked in a dental lab for a while. I got very interested in research, so I went ahead and did a master’s in Dental Biomaterials, mainly bioactive glass-ceramics. When I finished my master’s degree I worked as a teaching assistant for few years at various universities where I was involved with different projects. Then I felt that I wanted to do a PhD, so I continued the work that I started in my Masters to developed new glass-ceramic materials which showed to be promising to use as restorative materials. After my PhD, I worked as a teaching assistant at Sheffield University for a couple of years, then this job came up and I feel it is the perfect job for me. I’ve been in this post since November 2016, and last September I was given the opportunity to be the EDI School Lead. In terms of my hobbies and interests outside of my role, I love cooking and baking, I cook all types of food. I like making and decorating cakes and always make sure that my daughters are involved, especially with cake decorations! I enjoy listening to a music as well.


What caused your interest in EDI? What aspects do you feel most passionate about?

What cause me to be passionate about EDI is that I’ve seen a great positive change and I want to continue the amazing work that has been done so far. EDI allows people to have respect for their colleagues and peers, regardless of their backgrounds and characteristics. I wanted to be an advocate, actively involved in planning strategies that support all members to promote and maintain a diverse in the school and wider community, and to enjoy the discussion, planning, and work we can do together.

What made you want to apply for the role of EDI Lead?

To be honest, I didn’t know much about the Equality, Diversity and Inclusion role before, but when I was given the opportunity to be the School EDI Lead, I read the role descriptions and specifications, I took time to reflect on the role and how much of a challenge it would be. I believed it would be a good opportunity to advocate for people to make a positive change, by empowering them, changing policies, and through being actively involved in planning strategies that support all members of the school community to strive for and maintain a diverse and inclusive environment, where all are treated with dignity and respect and valued for their differences. I really felt I could make a difference.

What does an average day look like for you in your role?

I don’t think there is an average day, each day is different. I have two roles, my academic role and professional role. The balance of my time, certainly a lot is spent on the academic role: making sure my teaching is on track, giving seminars on Zoom especially in the current situation of COVID-19, reviewing the course guide, having supervisory meetings with students and assessing with their work, giving them feedback and so on. In regards to the leadership role as EDI Lead, I am a member of the School Strategy Team. During the current pandemic period the Contingency Strategy Team meet daily, making sure that issues are addressed, meeting with the EDI team and EDI Officers frequently and ensuring that EDI concerns are heard and dealt with. I am also ensuring that EDI training is available for all students and staff, and many other commitments we have to deal with on a day to day basis.

Have you had any prior roles or experiences that helped you prepare for this role?

I didn’t have any leadership roles before this, except in academia in terms of course leading. When I took on the role of EDI Lead, I did some management and leadership workshops and I have built up quite a bit of knowledge on how to manage things and how we can bring about change on a larger scale. I feel extremely supported by the Dean of School who has been very willing to listen and develop strategies and plans, also, the EDI Admin Lead. There are some very approachable people with real integrity here. This makes me feel that I have been trusted to drive positive change.

What have you found challenging in your role?

The biggest challenge I find is that people within the school find it very uncomfortable to talk about race and raise any concerns or issues that they are facing. I understand the importance of not only a small minority of people speaking out, but also having everyone’s voices heard so they feel empowered to speak out. We have done lots of work regarding Black Lives Matter within the school, and with the current climate in light of all that has happened recently, including the increase of The Black Lives Matter movement, I feel that diversity and inclusion needs to be promoted more than ever. We have to focus on the crucial issues of racial justice and aim to engage in a meaningful exchange about the impact that students and staff are having. We are looking towards how we can listen and learn together and create a call to action. That will be a bit of a challenge, however working with a fantastic group of people within our school I’m positive that this challenge will become easier.

What do you enjoy most about being an EDI Lead?

Working with a great, lovely, helpful and supportive team, not only within the EDI School Committee but also within the whole school and across the Faculty. Being an EDI Lead gives me the opportunity to recognise how diverse our community is, and has given me the chance to work with a number of diverse people in terms of their roles, culture, position and their quality. It also gave me an opportunity to build up my network widely by interacting with the students and staff. I’ve been lucky to work with a great team of staff and student EDI officers. As a team we understand the importance of Equality, Diversity and Inclusion, we all are working together to ensure that EDI is embedded in everything that the school does and to create a supportive working environment for all members of the community. Being an EDI lead is an enjoyable challenge!

A huge thank you to Hawa for taking the time to talk to us. For a full list of the current EDI team, click here!

Meet the Leads – Stephen Hughes

To continue our Meet The Leads series, here’s an interview Claire Bailie did with Lecturer in Pharmacy Practice and EDI Lead Stephen Hughes from summer last year!

Tell us a bit about your background. What are some of your hobbies and interests outside of work?

I completed a bachelor’s degree in Pharmacy, I’ve worked as a community pharmacist for nearly 30 years and just recently I did a masters and a PhD about long-term condition management; in particular, the interaction between patients and their practitioners around managing long term conditions and how to get the best out of that. For my PhD we were particularly interested in goal setting, a lot of what sits in policy is that practitioners have to support people with long term conditions to set goals for their health, so we were interested in how that actually comes about in practice. 

Since then, I’ve been starting some research but I’m also teaching a fair bit with Pharmacy students, particularly pharmacy practice because that’s my background. I’m particularly interested in supporting practitioners to see the patient’s perspective on what it’s like to be a patient and what it’s like to interact with healthcare practitioners. I think it helps give practitioners more empathy and understanding of patients, and also to try break down that historical paternalistic role of practitioners.

I love the outdoors as much as possible, I’d prefer to live outside than indoors! That includes walking, cycling, swimming wherever I possibly can. I like having a broad range of friends from different demographics, people with different interests and perspectives and I’m always keen to engage in those sorts of conversations. I’ve also got a couple of little kids, two girls.

What caused your interest in EDI? What aspects do you feel most passionate about?

My father went to university, and I went but that’s not the same for everyone – I think particularly in the North East there’s a lot of people who are the first in their family to go to university, so I think that’s an area where we need to support people. If people don’t have that sort of natural role model tohelp you know what to do when you go to university, how to act and who to talk to, and just someone to follow… The ease of thinking and mental shortcuts that you get if you’ve seen someone else do it, if you don’t have that then it’s little bit newer and more difficult or challenging. I see that as important. I think it also speaks to a broader idea of how we can support everybody to achieve their best; whatever sort of barriers that are put up in front of people, thinking of how can we individually or as an institution try and remove some of those is important. Particularly in the School of Pharmacy where I come from, I think we have a lot of students as first-in-families here in the University which is great. How can we support them even in the next level, not just getting that first degree, but maybe going on to second degrees if someone wants to as well?

Have you had any prior roles or experiences that helped you prepare for the role of EDI Lead?

I’m new to the role and to EDI as such, I think it’s a particularly ‘UK’ thing. I come from Australia and obviously there’s efforts to improve equality, diversity and inclusion there,but I haven’t seen EDI couched in such terms. The Athena SWAN charter and the Race Equality Charter are UK specific things. But, with that in mind, my work as a pharmacist is all about equality of treatment for every person that walks through the door.That’s something that I’ve always tried to think about in a practitioner role, looking beyond the outward characteristics of the person that’s in front of you and thinking about them as having innate potential to be able to look after themselves. Don’t see deficits in front of you, see potential and positives. No one’s perfect, it doesn’t always work out that way, but it’s something to be guided by.

What are the main things you want to achieve during this role?

From a school perspective I’d like to see all members of the school view it as important and to individually reflect on their own individual biases, unconscious biases or behaviours that may be contributing to EDI imbalances.I guess that’s probably the main thing. I don’t come from the position of being in a minority characteristic group at all and that might be a challenge for an individual taking on this role, but I have to see it as a strength and how can I use it to convince others in my school that may also have ‘dominant’ characteristics, but have power to be able to change behaviors. 

What does an average day look like for you in your role?

I’m an individual as a Lead, but we agree to work as a committee rather than as individuals. As a committee, we all had a good discussion about it, we went round and said, “Okay, what’s important to you?”. We all decided that for all our activities, in our individual interactions with students or in any other role we have within the University we need to have our EDI lens on, whether that’s gathering information or speaking out where there’s issues. That’s probably the thing that we think about most as the Committee, it’s a valuable role and we need to treat it seriously.Day to day, there’s answering emails and promoting what’s coming from the Faculty and the University, as well as liaising with the School Executive.

What do you feel you get out of your role? 

I think any role that’s a challenge and puts you out of your comfort zone is something we should relish and go towards with open eyes. The interactions with different people with different perspectives, and seeing things with an open mind. A rule of thumb as an EDI lead is to listen more than I talk.

How do you balance being an EDI Lead with other commitments?

We’ll see how this year goes! 

What do you enjoy most about being an EDI Lead?

The thing I’ve enjoyed most is a time when I went to my first School Executive meeting and I opened the discussion up. I said, “Well, these are the things that we talked about as a committee,” and I started to listen, and what I really enjoyed was that every member of the School Executive committee, the high positions in the school, all contributed and robustly discussed EDI issues. From the strengths that the school had and potentially some of the weaknesses, they all agreed that it’s something that’s very important to them. That robust discussion lasted for the best part of 45-50 minutes in a busy school executive agenda. I think that’s something that as a school we can be proud of, that we’re taking it seriously, it’s not a tick box exercise and we’re going to turn our minds towards what we can do as a school, what we have done already and what we should celebrate.

A Reflection on My Journey: Overcoming barriers to personal and professional progression

Last month, the first session of My Journey: Conversations with… took place. This event gave us the privilege of listening to the journeys of Muzz Haniffa, Newcastle Professor of Dermatology and Immunology, & Wellcome Trust Senior Research Fellow, and Dapo Ajayi, Vice President of Manufacturing and Technical Operations at Janssen. These two truly inspiring women guided us through their impressive career journeys and provided valuable discussion on overcoming external and internal barriers to personal and career progression.

You can find the video recording & transcript of the event here if you want to experience it yourself- and we highly suggest you do – but here are some reflections on the conversations had with Muzz and Dapo during the Q&A portion of the session on different barriers we can all face on our own journeys.

External Barrier: “We’re just hiring the best…”

Any member of a marginalised group could likely tell you an experience they’ve encountered with the daunting Leaky Pipeline of STEM. There is a real problem with underrepresentation and a lack of diversity in the community. The problem isn’t necessarily just on an individual level, however: it’s systemic, which makes it much harder to solve.

Muzz pointed out the problem that far too often, the responsibility of highlighting these representation issues falls on the marginalized. She herself didn’t raise the issue until she felt she had the voice and platform to do so – lack of representation is often disheartening, and hard to address. Whether conscious or unconscious, many privileged groups don’t want to change the system because it benefits them. Often, unconsciously, this comes in the form of “we’re just hiring the best candidates” – but the candidate selection field is far too often largely male and white. So how do we combat this?

Muzz and Dapo gave a number of insights. Firstly, diversity has to come from top down to be effective. For real, significant change and stronger representation, systems must be put in place to ensure your selection processes are geared towards diversity. The beginning of this process, says Dapo, is making sure you measure how diverse your workforce is and challenge why your recruitment selections are such a narrow margin. Creating an inclusive environment takes a lot of reflection on how your organisation runs things currently, and has to be based on real belief and commitment, not just lip service.

Secondly, suggested by both Muzz and Dapo: make sure you’re investing in unconscious bias training! Some individuals on a personal level will not feel as though they have an unconscious bias and will pin the problem elsewhere. It’s important to have people acknowledge unconscious bias exists close to home for every one of us, and ensure it is being reflected on when beginning the recruitment and selection process.

External Barrier: Language and Culture

Dapo gave advice on overcoming language and cultural barriers when working globally – something that not all of us will have experienced, but insightful nonetheless! Dapo discussed two main philosophies that helped her while working abroad in unfamiliar environments.

One: Focus on the universals, rather than what separates us. No matter the place, language, or culture, leadership values remain consistently important. You want a leader that inspires you, supports your development, and is interested in helping you succeed. Dapo says she kept this overwhelmingly in mind going into working globally

Two: Make the effort to really understand the culture and its history. This greatly helped Dapo adapt when moving to new countries for work. It is important to invest time in getting to know people and the place you are in to help ease your journey.

Internal Barrier: Impostor Syndrome

Impostor syndrome is another old friend of anyone from any marginalised group. Muzz and Dapo felt it a lot as women in their respective careers; and Dapo recalled when she first became site manager, in large meetings with predominantly men, she was quiet at first. Dapo’s predominant piece of advice is to put yourself forward and give it a go.

Alongside this comes with retraining that doubtful voice in the back of your head and building your self-confidence. Think of what you have achieved! You owe it to yourself and your organisation to feel as though you are able to contribute. Sometimes this takes time, but it is a worthy journey to embark on.

To end this post is a quotation from Dapo towards the end of the event when discussing the feeling of imposter syndrome, that sums up a lot of what My Journey: Conversations with… is about, and is an important mantra for everybody.

“I have a seat at the table. I deserve to be at that table. I have something to say that is relevant and important.”

Thank you so much again to Muzz Haniffa and Dapo Ajayi for taking the time to speak to us. The next My Journey event with new speakers will be taking place in the new year – we hope to see you there!

If you want to experience (or relive) this event for yourself; here’s the link to do so.

Staying Well During Significant Change with Dr. Ben Marram: Webinar Catch Up

In honour of World Mental Health Day 2020, last month, Dr Ben Marram, Highly Specialised Clinical Psychologist at the Newcastle Mitochondrial Service, gave a wonderful talk on maintaining resilience during significant periods of change. This is a brief wrap up of the talk if you missed it; since it contained some very prevalent and poignant advice for the current global situation. At the end is a link to the video recording of the talk so you can experience it yourself – which we highly recommend!

Staying Well During Significant Change – Recap

The talk took place largely because in 2020, World Mental Health day coincided with the eighth month of lockdown regulations across the country. Times like these where the world seems upside down are challenging for the mental health of individuals and teams alike. Dr Ben Marram was kind enough to give us his insight into psychological fortitude during unprecedented, and often scary, change. Here are the five takeaways from his talk:

1. What is resilience?

Dr Marram discussed resilience and whether it can be truly defined. The most important take on resilience, however, was that during difficult times, your mental health does not suffer simply because you are not resilient enough. Resilience is ever-changing and highly malleable, and it is normal for its capacity to feel run down during a global pandemic! So don’t put yourself down for feeling low or off balance – resilience falters naturally from time to time.

2. Impact of COVID: Uncertainty Distress

This pandemic causes huge amounts of uncertainty distress: the negative emotions experienced in response to as-yet unknown aspects of a given situation. COVID-19 breeds this; bringing not just a threat to our health, but ever-changing rules and lack of clarity. In response to this, Ben suggests you try and reduce the number of lifestyle changes happening at one time, if you can, so you aren’t undergoing any massive shifts. Take it one step at a time, and do your best to find time to do things that bring you calm.

3. Psychological Safety in Teams

Dr Marram gave examples of how to encourage psychological safety in our professional and personal lives. For example, admitting to colleagues if you’re feeling nervous, afraid, or struggling to adapt because of COVID: your team can become a stronger & safer psychological space for all as a result. Communication is key to getting through periods of psychological and societal turbulence!

4. Tips for Psychological Flexibility

Finally, the importance of psychological flexibility was discussed: a matter of contacting the present moment; as well as keeping in touch with things and values important to you during periods of stress. He recommends any form of mindfulness (scripted or practical), grounding yourself through your five senses, and really doing your best to reinforce psychological safety.

So there you have it: a run-down of advice on emotional resilience during uncertain and stressful times. We do really recommend you watch the whole thing – Dr Marram’s insight is poignant, and extremely helpful to all of us as we head into a global lockdown. Check it out in the video below. And once again, thank you to Ben for taking the time to talk to & encourage us through this period of uncertainty!

To watch or download the video recording of the event, click here!

Meet the Leads – Anjam Khan

In order to help you get to know the wider EDI Team, we’ve been interviewing EDI Leads across the Faculty to find out more about them and the work they do within their roles. Our first interview is with Dr Anjam Khan, the Biosciences Institute Academic EDI Lead.

Tell us a bit about your background, and some of your interests and hobbies outside of work?

I was born and bred in sunny Manchester, it really doesn’t rain there as much as people say! I studied and worked at Edinburgh and Cambridge Universities. I came to Newcastle as a Principal Investigator – I had a five year plan but I’ve now been here for 25 years! It far exceeded my expectations, I love the University, the city, and most importantly I love the people of Newcastle. I’ve had opportunities to move elsewhere, but I’ve been hooked and have been here ever since.

I’m very passionate about research. My research in the lab is involved in looking at the mechanisms of how microbial pathogens cause disease in humans. I’m also interested in vaccine discovery. I’m Director of the Infectious Diseases Facility in the University and the demands of the role have snowballed in the present pandemic towards COVID-19 research, so it’s been really hectic and busy. SARS-CoV-2 fits particularly well with my research interests in vaccine discovery. 

As an academic I strongly believe in teaching, it’s really important to inspire, motivate and engage students, whether undergraduate or postgraduate, to show them your passion and interest. Captivating and inspiring the interests of the next generation and showing them the beauty of science is a crucial part of my role as an academic. 

In terms of my hobbies, I enjoy football. My father held a Manchester United season ticket since the late 1950s onwards and my family are all supporters of Manchester United. But guess what – I’m the blue sheep of the family, I support Manchester City! That’s caused lots of interesting interactions. I’ve been a lifelong supporter of Manchester City, before they had the money and the success they enjoy now. Cinema is also a strong interest of mine. I’ve got an eclectic taste in films and my favourite directors range from Alfred Hitchcock to Peter Jackson to Quentin Tarantino. During COVID-19, as the cinemas have been closed and new releases put on hold, we ended up subscribing to Netflix and catching up on a broad range of films, especially those that belong to the post-apocalyptic and dystopian genre like The Andromeda Strain or Contagion!

Dr Anjam Khan

What caused your interest in EDI, and are there any particular aspects that you feel most passionately about?

I strongly believe in social justice, where people are judged according to the criteria of ‘who they are’, rather than ‘what they are’. This passion stems from my own principles, but also from my background. I’m from a diverse ethnic Asian Pakistani background and I was brought up in a white working-class area of Manchester. I witnessed and faced racial discrimination first-hand and in different forms from my early years onwards. One thing that increased my acceptance or ‘street cred’ within my white peer group were my football skills. From playing in the school yard to being selected for trials for Manchester schoolboys and Manchester City Juniors, people saw I was good at football and they accepted me much more easily than if I hadn’t been good at football. I think those kind of ‘credentials’ put you in the in-crowd, but the key thing is that nobody should have to be good at football or something else to get accepted, they should be accepted for who they are and not exposed to prejudice because of colour or religion or ethnicity. Then, as a student in Edinburgh I observed sectarianism and how supporters of two main rival football clubs, Hearts and Hibs, were polarized based on religious divisions, belonging to the Protestant or the Catholic religions, and seeing the tensions that existed amongst some rival fans and supporters.

I think one of the key issues we have in society and the world globally is that people focus on differences; what makes me different from you, rather than looking at what people have in common. If people looked at what they had in common with others, the world would be a much happier place to be in. You can take it down to religion, to what city you’re from, you can take it down to which side of the street you come from. 

Through education, through knowledge and understanding, we could change people’s perspectives and I think that should really begin at home, then at school and so on. If you look at young children, they tend to be colour-blind. Children don’t see the differences we see as we get older, which is fantastic. I think we’ve got a lot to learn from the minds of young people.

What made you decide to take on the role of EDI lead? 

Biosciences (NUBI) is a new institute that’s been formed following a major Faculty restructuring and is one of the biggest institutes; there’s about 150 academics, with Professional Services and People Services Staff, and a large number of postgraduate students. The reason I applied for the role was that I’m passionate about social justice and equality for all. In my view, universities should be really bastions of EDI and I think if we are being sincerely self-critical, it is clear in recent years they’ve fallen short of that role. The Higher Education sector in general has dropped well behind where it should be in 2020. If you look at newly emerging companies and businesses in the commercial sector, such as new IT companies, biotech companies, they’re much more proactive in EDI and I think it’s been a bit of a catch-up exercise for universities that’s only really begun recently.

In terms of Newcastle, we’ve got positive histories in supporting black equality. Back in 1967 Martin Luther King was awarded an honorary doctorate by the University, the only university in the UK that awarded him that doctorate during his lifetime. In 2019 the University named a new building after Frederick Douglass, who was an enslaved Black man who became an abolitionist and spent time at Newcastle; he gave an anti-slavery lecture before he became a free man. There’s good history there, and reveals strong positive values on equality, but Martin Luther King was here in 1967 and that’s a long time ago now, and again, naming a building after somebody isn’t necessarily helping EDI per se within the University. When the EDI Academic Lead position became advertised, I applied for it, but the last thing I wanted was a ‘yes-no’ tick box system where we say, yeah, we do EDI, here’s a tick. I wanted to be proactive and involved in the process of promoting and embedding EDI within the culture of the University. I thought this was a great opportunity to contribute towards promoting EDI in the Institute, the Faculty and the University, and to make a genuine and positive impact.

Following the major Faculty restructuring, EDI appeared to become embedded and embraced in the new Faculty structures in a way I didn’t expect, and I was really happy to see that. Most importantly, seeing the wonderful commitment to EDI of my boss and NUBI Director Joris Veltman, and Helen Miller who’s NUBI Head of Operations, made me feel that I could get the key support needed to make changes if they were required, and have a real impact on promoting and embedding EDI within the university culture. We’ve also got some good people in place for guidance and support like, Malasree Home the Faculty EDI Officer, as well as the newly appointed Faculty EDI Directors Amy Reeve and Damian Parry, Judith Rankin the Dean of EDI, and Julie Sanders the Deputy VC, who’s leading on EDI and the Race Equality Charter.  Collectively we have a great team and I feel we can make a genuine difference at the Institute, Faculty, and University levels.

What are your main responsibilities as an EDI Lead? 

Key responsibilities include leading on Biosciences Institute EDI activity, including identifying, promoting and sharing best practice and effective initiatives. Ensuring strategies, policies and practices encompass all protected characteristics, as well as supporting Faculty level EDI activity, including Athena SWAN and reporting to Institute Executive Board and Faculty EDI Committee. 

It is vital to have representation across all sectors of NUBI and listen to a range of voices and perspectives to create more effective strategies for change. I have established and now lead a Biosciences Institute EDI Steering Committee to help promote and nurture a culture of EDI within the  Biosciences Institute. The  Steering Committee includes an Academic Lead, myself, but also Professional Services, People Services, and Postgraduate Research Student Leads. We now have two Postgraduate Research Student leads which is great because we’ve got a big PGR community. We wanted to have a cross section of the Institute on the committee, so I have approached the Research Theme Leads from the Institute to identify people that could be EDI representatives. I was really surprised at the passion and enthusiasm of so many people! Some of the younger staff, early career researchers and postdocs were keen to get involved, but they had no experience – they are now going to be mentored by more experienced people in those themes, and for some themes we’ve got two joint leads. In total as of yesterday, we’ve got 20 members on the steering committee! I’m really pleased with that because it means we can reflect across the different sectors of the Biosciences themes. The Biosciences Institute is based across six or seven different sites across campus and these representatives are spread across those different sites as well. From my viewpoint, the more voices we can have on the committee, the more perspectives we can bring in, the stronger and richer our committee will be. We will hopefully be able to engage all the Biosciences Institute in becoming active in EDI.

One of the other important tasks I really want to do early in this journey is create a website in Biosciences to promote EDI and include our mission and vision statements, useful networks and training opportunities, details of the composition of the Biosciences EDI Steering committee with contact details. If anybody’s got questions, they can easily approach somebody they feel comfortable to speak with. More importantly, I also wanted to have report and support pages. There’s an online form where you can give feedback either anonymously or by name, and say, “This is how we can make Biosciences even better for EDI,”. We’ve also got another very important online form, to allow people who feel they experienced or witnessed issues to come forward and confidentially report them to receive support. Alternatively, issues can also be reported anonymously. I think this feedback and reporting system is really important to enable us to capture any issues which aren’t coming through at the moment. People are very different, I think part of the EDI committee’s role is really to empower people to feel more confident to come forward and raise issues, and for us to demonstrate that those issues will be taken seriously and dealt with appropriately. These issues could be micro-aggressions or something more severe, and this is now an invaluable reporting mechanism to identify and support staff and students.

It’s been a very busy time now, especially sadly with the events in the U.S. and with tragic death of George Floyd. I’ve had a lot of concerned and understandably distressed Black postgraduate students and staff wanting support and help with race issues, and wanting to know how the University were going to address and support the issues raised. This was particularly important as we are in the midst of a pandemic which disproportionately effects the health of people of colour, and many students and staff felt isolated with no support. There are important actions now being taken across the University to address the important points and major concerns raised, and are being dealt with urgency.

Do you feel that you’ve had any prior roles or experiences to help you prepare for your role?

Sure, as I hinted before in my younger days I have faced and witnessed racial discrimination. I’ve also been a member of the University BAME steering group and have dealt with important equality issues. So I’ve got insights into how EDI is organised and operates in the University, and has also introduced me to various people in our University EDI teams who I can go to for advice.

What are the main things that you would like to achieve as an EDI Lead?

I think the University has made excellent progress in the last five to ten years on gender equality, receiving the Athena SWAN accreditation at Silver level. Looking ahead there are important objectives I would like to address. First, I would like to build upon the success of Athena SWAN and help contribute to take this to the Gold level. We also need to expand family-friendly and flexible working policies to support staff and students, and we have shown in the pandemic this can be done effectively.

Very importantly we need to broaden the EDI agenda and intensify the amount of work which is being conducted across other protected characteristics. This is especially true now with the alarming issues of race inequalities in society which have recently surfaced and have been articulated by the Black Lives Matter movement. We need to be totally self-critical of our approach and policies to race inequalities, and investing significant amounts of time and resources into addressing the concerns raised. We then need to have an action plan with measurable outcomes. The University have signed up to the Race Equality Charter, and now an increasing number of activities are being taken behind the scenes at the Institute, Faculty and University levels to begin to address race inequalities. These steps have already generated significant momentum in driving this objective forward.

Stress and anxiety have been witnessed at elevated levels in the Higher Education sector, from the undergraduates to the postgraduates to staff. I think that support needs to be delivered for mental health and wellbeing. There’s a lot more we can do – fortunately during the COVID lockdown the University has been quite active in promoting health and wellbeing – but I think this needs to be carried forward. If you look at the population structure across the UK, at undergraduate and postgraduate age cross-sections, the stress that’s reported is much higher in students than in other sectors of the population in the same age range. I think we need to find out what the reasons are for that, help educate everybody on those reasons, and understand how we can deal with these issues. I’d like us to be more proactive and provide support.

As the Director of the Infectious Diseases Facility, as Chair of the NUBI GM and Microbiological Hazards Committee, and as a PI working with microbial pathogens, training and monitoring staff and students in Health and Safety is a mandatory requirement. I think EDI training should also be given the same importance, as this can have a long-lasting impact on people’s lives, opportunities, and futures. EDI training should be made mandatory for senior management, for supervisors, for anybody who’s involved in the selection and promotion processes, such as for example unconscious bias training as it’s something that everybody is subject to. If you’re aware of unconscious bias issues, you can then compensate and make the necessary adjustments to reduce its negative effects, and be impartial and objective in every situation you can be.

At the same time, all staff and students should be encouraged to attend and participate in training courses on EDI. If you look at the University portfolio, there’s quite a few training courses you can do online. Staff and students should complete these, the same way as we do with health and safety courses. 

What do you think your favourite thing has been about the role so far?

Meeting the fantastic staff involved in EDI across the Institutes, Faculty, and University; and seeing their genuine passion, enthusiasm and commitment  to promote EDI. The Faculty EDI Officer Malasree Home has been great, and really helpful and supportive answering my many questions. That’s the thing I’ve been surprised with, it’s how many new people I have suddenly grown to know and be supported by in the University, as well as meeting new people who feel the same way about equality.

Is there anything that you hope to learn through this role or that you hope it will teach you?

In this role I have been continuously acquiring new knowledge on EDI. You keep your eyes and ears open to pick up new information, training courses, and reading about EDI initiatives in different sectors. It’s increased my knowledge and understanding of EDI, and also importantly given me insights into people as well.  I hope to learn from these processes and to engage all staff and students to proactively promote EDI across the university, as equality benefits all.

Thank you to Anjam for taking the time to speak to us and share his thoughts. To see a full list of the current EDI Team, click this link.

Talking Equality, Diversity & Inclusion in the Faculty of Medical Sciences and at Newcastle University.