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.