All posts by Candy

Worrying about words: is language a barrier to talking about equality and inclusion?

This week, I attended the first of three workshops on the language we might use to talk about equality, diversity and inclusion (EDI) issues, organised by staff from our School of Psychology. Whilst I was secretly hoping for a clear steer around what terms I should (and shouldn’t) be using, I got a lot more from the talks and discussions we actually had.

The idea for the workshops stemmed from some first-hand experiences: it is easy for even well-meaning staff to upset students with the words they use without even realising it. And when acceptable language can change quite quickly, it can be particularly challenging for people to always use the right words in a particular situation.

The workshop had three fantastic speakers, all with their own perspectives and approaches to the importance of language around EDI. The first speaker was a young researcher from our Faculty of Humanities, Arts and Social Sciences, Katie Markham. Katie eloquently talked through some recent examples of where things said on social media had dramatically gone wrong. Through exploring these, what I learned was the importance of listening to the complaint if we use the wrong language: it is OK to feel the sting of criticism, but so important to learn from it.

Our second speaker, Nadeem Ahmad, who has worked in a number of EDI advisory roles and is a Trustee of Show Racism the Red Card, directly addressed whether there should be a list of “dos and don’ts” in the language that we use. Whilst I was hoping there would be an easy “yes” answer to this, his answer was, “no, there shouldn’t”. That’s because when we become prescriptive about what can and can’t be said, it opens up the opportunity for people to argue that there is nothing wrong about certain words being used under particular circumstances. Instead, he suggested that we should all have a list of words we try to avoid, and that we should be asking ourselves, “Do I need to use that word?”. This seems a much more pragmatic solution, and one to keep in mind.

Our final speaker was Chi Onwurah, MP for Newcastle (Central), who spoke about some of her personal experiences of growing up in Newcastle, and the importance of discussing the language we use. She spoke powerfully about the problems she has with the use of the term ‘political correctness’: my personal feeling is that this term can be used to mute criticism from those affected by what is perceived to be insensitive language. But surely we need to be making sure that we don’t cause offence to people unintentionally, not defending language deemed to be inappropriate?

My take-home message was, that whilst it is clearly worth putting in some work to understand what words are offensive or acceptable (and the University will be producing some guidance on that shortly), interpretation of language depends upon the context that it is used. But when people are offended unintentionally, the key response is to listen, understand, and learn for next time. I’m sure that other people will have different points of view, but we are all individuals, with our own views, and our own ways of expressing them. The key thing is to make sure that what we say, whatever the situation, is respectful and as considerate as we can be. And if we are challenged on the words we’ve used, listen carefully, and think about whether there might be a better way to say it next time.

Candy Rowe, Director of EDI (FMS)

There are two more workshops: 10th October 4-6pm with a focus on mental health and disability, and 17th October 4-6pm with a focus on trans and non-binary language the legalities of what we can and can’t say. All sessions are held in the Atrium with an afternoon tea provided. Book here.

Resilience Workshop: October 12th

Resilience is our capacity to adapt positively to pressure, setbacks and challenges. It is about our ability to keep going, maintain our wellbeing, learn and develop.

Following the successful workshop series that the Faculty ran last year, we are offering a lunchtime workshop to give staff and students tools and techniques around resilience that can applied at work or at home.

The workshop will be delivered by Lisa Rippingale (Senior Organisational Development Adviser), who has been trained by Dr Mandi Sherlock Storey (Chartered and Registered Practitioner Occupational Psychologist, and Head of Leadership Transformation with the North East Leadership Academy), who originally developed these workshops as part of her PhD research on Resilience. Lisa has successfully delivered similar workshops at a number of organisations in recent years, and her workshops come highly recommended from our own staff.

Friday 12th of October, 11am – 2pm
L2.2, Leech Building, the Medical School

To book please go to:
Places will be allocated on a first-come, first-served basis.Previous sessions have been extremely popular, and early booking is advised. There will be a break for lunch, so please bring your packed lunch along.

For any queries please contact Malasree Home (ext. 85423).

Improving Communications around EDI: What do we do, and why?

Whilst many of us have been taking holiday over the summer break, our FMS EDI Student Interns have been working hard to make sure that we can improve our communications about the equality, diversity and inclusion work going on in the Faculty.

Feedback form various surveys and focus groups have told us that we need to do more to let our staff know what we are doing, and why. For example, staff in the EDI Focus Groups that we ran in January, scored us only 4.6 out of 10 on our comms, which has an impact on their ability to engage with what we’re doing. People wanted to know more about what we are actually doing, and why, and have access to more information about the support that is offered and the benefits that it brings.

We hear you!

Over the summer, we recruited two student interns, Georgia and Joe, to help us out. We first set up an EDI Comms Team, committed to ensuring that key messages are communicated effectively, through a variety of different routes. We’ve taken advantage of the new intranet pages to develop our own Faculty EDI site: you can find a wealth of information on it for staff and for students, including an events calendar, and we’ll continue to build resources over the coming months. Let us know if you think we’ve missed something!

Our blog has also been revamped so that we can use it more this year to tell you about who our EDI team are, about the activities and events we will be running, and about projects we are working on and that you can get involved with. Some of the blog series we have planned for the next few months will showcase some of the projects are staff are running with support from the Equality, Diversity and Inclusion Fund, give you some insights into what it is like to be in the senior management and leadership team, and how some of our staff manage working part-time. We are always looking for ideas for blogs or why not write something for us?

Finally, we continue to develop our twitter feed @FMSDiversityNCL. We see this as an important way to keep up to date with what’s happening around the University and across the sector, and to bring in ideas to stimulate our thinking. We also use it to advertise events and keep followers up-to-date with what we’re working on. We have nearly 1000 dedicated followers, so why not follow us?

We are also going to try out some new routes of communication – hopefully, you’ll see some of our new posters in our public spaces – these will be regularly updated. We’ll also be making more use of the screens to help advertise our events and activities. You can also follow our FMS EDI intranet site to make sure that you are first to know about the latest developments, and sign up to training and networking events.

If you want to contact the new EDI Comms Team to tell us some good news, an idea for a blog, an event you’d like us to promote for you, or just give us some feedback on how we’re doing, do get in touch:

Why might the Aurora Programme be for you?

Over the last few years, our Faculty has supported over 20 staff to attend the Aurora Programme, a flagship women-only leadership programme run by AdvanceHE to develop higher education leaders of the future. As we open up our application process for this year’s programme, we hear from Louise Reynard, one of our Aurora alumni, about what she got out of the programme, and the positive impact it’s had on some of our staff.

Despite over 4,600 women from over 171 higher education institutes having attended the course since its inception in 2013, I hadn’t heard of Aurora before it was mentioned by my unit head. I attended the course in 2016/2017 in Edinburgh, at the same time that I was transitioning from being a research fellow to being a lecturer with my own group. I found the course incredibly useful, not only because of what I learned about management and leadership, but because of the people I met, both attendees and speakers.

My favourite part of the course was the Action Learning Set; this involved 8 of us in a small room (with lots of cake!) taking turns to discuss our work related challenges and helping us identify our own solutions and future steps. My action learning group included a librarian, an HR manager, a law lecturer and a humanities professor, amongst others. Despite all being from different universities and having completely different jobs, it was amazing how many challenges were shared. The other people in my action learning group were really supportive and it was relief knowing that I was not unique, and that there were other people having the same leadership challenges as me. My action learning group have kept in touch, emailing regularly and meeting up once a year, usually over cake! Every current and previous attendee that I have spoken to has enjoyed and gained a lot from attending the course, as have other attendees from Newcastle:

‘Without this training I was at a point where I was considering giving up my Leadership role, instead I have identified solutions to reduce my workload and to focus on development of my leadership skills. I have a framework for doing that now.’

‘[I am] More confident in my role and more assertive in what I think can be/should be achieved. I’ve also applied and been successful for a promotion recently which I may not have done otherwise. I certainly wouldn’t have felt able to negotiate my salary before Aurora.’

‘I feel more empowered and I am able to recognise my skills and achievements and sell myself better’.

‘I have a better understanding of my own emotions around leadership and that my insecurities are natural, I am better at recognising and acknowledging my achievements and skill set.’

‘My confidence has also increased in that I am more comfortable in my role even when I don’t have the answers.’

‘I joined the first cohort in 2012 and have stayed active within the programme ever since. It has had a huge impact on my thinking, my networks and my personal development and I would encourage you to apply.’

If you are interested in applying, or even just want to find out a little bit more about the scheme and whether its right for you,  come along to the Aurora afternoon tea, where you can chat to alumni of the programme and get help with applying. The afternoon tea will be 2-4pm on 9th July in G.21/22, Devonshire Building – please email your OD rep to let them know you’ll be attending.

I hope to see you there!

Why make a Faculty Athena SWAN application?

We submitted our first application for a Faculty Silver Athena SWAN Award in May 2018. All our eligible schools and institutes had already engaged with Athena SWAN, and nearly three-quarters of our academic and professional staff were in units already holding Silver awards. However, rather than continue to make lots of separate awards, we decided to change our approach and move to making a single Faculty application. In this blog, we explore why we made this decision, what the benefits (and costs) are, and some reflections on the process. We welcome any comments or questions, and are more than happy to talk to any other Athena SWAN and EDI teams already taking this approach, or thinking of doing so.

Why make a Faculty Athena SWAN application?

This was the question we asked ourselves over two years ago now – should we keep making 10 or more individual Athena SWAN applications, or just make a single Faculty application? We hold 5 Bronze and 4 Silver departmental awards: with around 75% of our staff in Silver departments, was it time to make a Faculty Silver application?

It was a big question, but in the end, one that had a very easy answer.

We discussed the pros and cons widely: centrally with the VC and Dean of Diversity, internally with our Faculty Executive and EDI Committees; and also sought advice externally from other universities, and of course, the ECU. What became clear to us during all these discussions was that the potential benefits far outweighed the potential costs, and that making a single Faculty application was the right thing for us to be doing.

The five most compelling reasons for change were:

  1. We could be fully inclusive of all our staff and students. Our Faculty, like many others, is a complex place, and not all academic and professional staff sit in units that are eligible to make applications for Athena SWAN. We also have a satellite campus in Malaysia, NUMed, with staff and students moving between the two. We wanted to include all our students, wherever they are in the world, in our EDI activities.
  2. We could more easily develop a cohesive and ambitious Faculty-wide EDI vision and strategy, one that could increase visible leadership and engagement in our staff and students, and leave a lasting legacy.
  3. We could tackle those bigger issues, many which lie outside the immediate control of each unit. I’m sure anyone who has attempted to change an HR form or a central policy knows what we’re talking about here. By joining together, we have more clout and also more resources for achieving change.
  4. We could pool all our data to identify issues that can otherwise remain invisible in larger datasets. We have 1800 staff and 5500 students, meaning that we can explore intersectionality for the first time. Datasets can also be too small to be conclusively informative at departmental level, and we wanted to see how far we had come as a Faculty.
  5. We could free-up time from making multiple (and often overlapping) applications and actions plans. We could spend more time exchanging and embedding good practices and addressing joint areas of concern, and more readily expand our EDI work outside of gender equality.

Of course we also had to consider the potential costs. We were concerned that a Faculty award could reduce engagement from staff and students, and that units might lose momentum with the action plan held at Faculty level. We decided to address this by each department continuing to hold a local action plan that not only supports our joint Faculty ambition, but also identifies and addresses local cultural and discipline-specific issues based on their own data. We are also trying to make sure that staff and students are all increasingly aware of the agenda and the part they can play in creating inclusive work and study spaces.

And of course, being a medical faculty, there were concerns about us losing our Silver Athena SWAN status, and the immediate impact that could have on funding success. Not holding a Silver award would also potentially mean that the institution could not apply for its Silver renewal in April 2019. This is where talking to ECU really helped us to identify a workable solution. They listened to what we had to say and, acknowledging the benefits and the potential challenges and risks, have offered us two bites of the cherry. If we don’t get our Faculty Silver award at first attempt, we can keep our current departmental awards and apply again next April. Fingers crossed we don’t have to do that given all the work involved, but this arrangement encouraged us to take the plunge.

At the end of the application process, whatever the result on October 19th, we feel we have made the right decision. We may not have got everything right yet, and we acknowledge that this is just one step in our journey, but we are certainly moving in the right direction towards becoming fully inclusive.

Faculty EDI Team,