Tag Archives: Demystifying Leadership

Demystifying Leadership: New Director of EDI (Simon Forrest)

A few months ago, we published the first blog in our Demystifying Leadership Series, in which Professor Candy Rowe chatted to us about what her role as Faculty Director of EDI had been like, to help potential replacements decide whether it was the leadership role for them.

And it worked! 

We are pleased to introduce our new Faculty Director of EDI, Professor Simon Forrest! Have a read of his Q&A to get to know a bit more about him, why he applied for the role, and what he’s most looking forward to:

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

Like a lot of academic careers, mine sounds like a series of wise choices when I tell in from where I am now. But, in truth, it has largely been about a combination of luck, when opportunity has spoken to my passions.

I began as a professional musician and got very interested in the sociology of health because of the advent of HIV/Aids, and the way that changes in sexual attitudes, behaviours and culture that came about because of that, and the way they were represented in the ‘pop’ culture of which I was part. I met and got involved in very early community responses to HIV through peer education with young people, and the mobilisation of gay men and MSM. That evolved into 30 years of work on sex, sexualities, gender and sexual health.

I am still engaged in advocacy, which often feeds my research, but also some more sedate pastimes, such as bee-keeping.

How did you first become interested in EDI? What are some of the aspects of EDI you are most passionate about?

I can’t imagine how anyone can be involved in the social aspects of sex, sexualities, gender and health and not have EDI running through their work.

I have seen the way that public policy has failed people and also then worked to improve people’s lives. I have seen and, I hope, been part of influencing great positive changes in the recognition sexual diversity, in seeing that the greatest threats to people sexual health and wellbeing are often about failure to provide that and promote respect and equality. What I’ve learnt is EDI is about listening; hearing and making sure we give voice those who get left behind or are disadvantaged by social attitudes, policy or organisations – mobilising their potential to change things for the better for everyone.

What drew you to the position of Director of EDI for FMS?

It’s very simple – FMS is a natural champion of Equality, Diversity and Inclusion.

All our contributions are about making everyone’s lives better, healthier, and happier. We have the opportunity, especially because of the values of the NHS and our other stake-holders, to put that at the heart of what we do. Who wouldn’t want to be able to contribute to that?

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

Finding my feet with the fantastic EDI team, both within FMS and across the University, hearing people being so honest about the challenges in their work and lives, and the energy right across the Faculty, from top to bottom, to effect real culture change so that it heartbeats with EDI.

What are the main things you hope to achieve in the role? Tell us what you’re most excited to get involved with?

To continue the amazing work done so far, and to see that recognised in further external recognition and accreditation.

I want to be an advocate, to empower, and mobilise the skills and expertise in the Faculty and our wider community, and to enjoy the debate, discussion, planning, and work we can do together.

What aspects of being FMS’ Director of EDI do you anticipate will be most challenging? What previous learning experiences do you think have helped prepare you to take on these challenges?

Universities are complex places and knowing how the system works and how to make the system work can be a challenge. I think I have had a lot of experience now and know something about we go about creating transparent and effective structures that support EDI.

What do you hope to learn through the role?

No day goes by when one doesn’t learn something about oneself and other people.

Universities are all about conversations and because I might see students or staff, do some engagement work with our community, and much more in a typical day, there’s always going to be a conversation out there which will make me think. It might be someone asking me a question I don’t know the answer to (that’s very common) or telling me something amazing about their lives that makes me stop and think.

Thank you so much to Simon for giving us a bit of insight into himself and how he’s feeling about his new role. We can’t wait to see all that you do as Faculty Director of EDI.

Demystifying Leadership: Head of the School of Psychology (Gwyneth Doherty-Sneddon)

As part of our Demystifying Leadership blog series, we’ve chatted to staff in a variety of leadership positions across the Faculty. To help you find out more about what a Head of School role might be like, I spoke to Professor Gwyneth Doherty-Sneddon about her job as Head of the School of Psychology in FMS.

What are your main responsibilities in your role?

I lead and manage the School of Psychology. My role is quite diverse, but it primarily focuses on the learning and teaching experience. I work with approximately 35 academic members of staff (whom I manage directly) and about 11 or 12 admin staff to run and deliver a number of Undergraduate, Postgraduate Taught and Professional Training programmes under the School of Psychology.

What does an average day look like for you?

I don’t think there is an average day, to be quite honest. The largest amount of my time is spent strategically, making sure our School’s teaching plan is on track, and working with external organisations to ensure we have the right partnerships in place and that we’re developing new professional placements for students.

Another important part of my role is the leadership and mentoring of staff (academics, in particular). I review their personal development and manage any day-to-day issues, as well as the relationships between them. Due to the School’s recent growth in student numbers, I’m also often shortlisting or interviewing new academics to teach.

What do you enjoy most about your role?

I particularly enjoy the mentoring of staff. Since beginning working with them, I’ve seen a number of them be very successful and receive promotions on the basis of learning and teaching. This makes me particularly happy, as it shows the University values the learning and teaching advancement process.

Additionally, as I know my staff very well, I’m able to look strategically at the School to find projects that would be well-suited to the skill set of a certain staff member. So, to then see them flourish in that project makes me very happy.

What made you want to apply for the role?

At the time, I was an associate Dean for Research at Faculty-level in another institution, where I managed research across a diverse range of disciplines. I had been looking to get back into my own discipline again, so this leadership role was perfect, and I’ve really enjoyed being back in Psychology. I also knew the University wanted this School to grow, so I was excited that there was real opportunity to make a lot of big changes.

What do you think is your biggest achievement so far in your role?

As a result of our growth as a School, the University has invested in a state-of-the-art learning and teaching space within a new building. It will include specialised teaching spaces, such as a forensic laboratory and a psychological therapies clinic. It will be a fantastic environment for all our students and staff.

I feel these new resources are a symbol of our recent success and the University’s belief and trust in me.

What learning opportunities have been available to you in your role?

In much of my career previous to this role, I’ve had to learn on the job, through trial and error, which has been a massive challenge. But within this role, I have done a senior leadership course, which was quite useful, and also a mentoring course, where I did learn a lot, even about myself.

Have you been supported by colleagues, mentors or training opportunities?

I feel extremely supported by the University and the Faculty, and there are some very approachable people with real integrity here. The PVC has been very willing to listen and develop strategic plans. I couldn’t have grown the School to in such a way had the University not resourced more academic posts and invested in a new building for us. This makes me feel as though I’ve been listened to and I’ve been trusted to drive this growth.

The previous Undergraduate Dean (Jane Calvert) has also been fantastic and she was my go-to person when I needed a sounding board. The Heads of other Units also provide peer support and we regularly talk and share advice. Finally, I get a lot of day-to-day support from my colleagues in my school, with whom I have very good relationships and are always there to help with whatever I need.

What has your role taught you about yourself?

My current role has taught me how good I am with people. In my previous job, I was trying to manage 400 people and was never able to get to know them as individuals. So, at Newcastle, I’ve had the chance to realise that I work very well with individuals when I can get to know them, and that I am able to bring out the best in people.

However, management also often involves some very difficult conversations, and I’ve learnt that I can handle this. I’ve become good at knowing exactly when you must put your own emotions aside and how to always maintain my objectivity in tricky situations.

What have you found more challenging in your role?

The diversity of things I have to deal with on a daily basis. We’re a complicated School with 8 Undergraduate programmes (previously we had just 1, when I started). Several of our Postgraduate programmes also involve quite complicated relationships with external organisations such as the NHS, so dealing with the changes in these organisations can be very tricky.

How do you balance the role with your research and/or external commitments (families, hobbies etc.)?

I’m not doing very much research now. I do some through PhD students, but this is importantly their research and not mine. However, I was aware of this when I took the role; it was a very deliberate move for me and I felt it was right for this stage in my career. I do also still do some teaching. In the autumn semester I teach on some of the Masters and Undergraduate courses, and I supervise some of their projects.

In respect to balancing my work with my home life, it’s all about flexibility. I feel I’m getting better at it as my children are getting older. When they were younger I had to work very flexibly and bring them into the office, and also worked at home and in the evenings. So now, by being able to work more in the office, it allows me a better balance and to keep home life more separate. As a School, we’ve agreed to restrict emailing hours, to control the quantity of email traffic being sent in the evenings and weekends. This is something I feel I’ve learnt from my own experiences, which will improve people’s work life balance in the future.

What advice would you give to your successor?

I would tell them to always value and get to know your staff, and to be flexible with them. For the School to flourish, you must get the best out of each member of staff, and this is often done by being willing to be flexible in terms of work-life balance. You can never have a firm rule, you must always do things on an individual basis.

Additionally, I would emphasise to never allow hierarchy within the team from junior to more senior members of staff. Everyone is equal and is respected. As long as they are doing their job to the best of their ability and helping to drive the School forward then I am happy.

Thank you to Gwyneth Doherty-Sneddon for chatting to us about her role! We hope this has given you an insight into what being Head of a School might be like!

Demystifying Leadership: Faculty PVC (David Burn)

So, you think you could be PVC of FMS? 

 As part of our series, Demystifying Senior Leadership, we spoke to our very own PVC, Professor David Burn, about his role.

What are your main responsibilities?

Primarily, the day to day running of the Faculty, to set the strategy of the Faculty in consultation with others, and to be responsible to the VC and the Executive Board of the University.

That’s the attraction of a job like this; there’s obviously some structure to it, but there isn’t really an average day. Every day is different, and that’s what helps get you out of bed in the morning – it’s really great. They’re long days, there’s no question about it, but they’re very varied!

What made you want to apply for the role?

I know it sounds a bit trite, but I really felt I could make a difference!

Newcastle University has a fabulous reputation throughout all the region, and my family and friends nearly all live in the region. Trying to translate some of our great work out into the region, to make a real difference here, first and foremost, as well as beyond, is something I really feel passionately about.

What do you enjoy most about the role?

Probably the interaction with a large number of people. It’s really great to be able to talk to people, and to hear things, and to feel part of networks. I’m able to tap into lots of different sources, which means it’s uncommon that I hear something that completely blindsides me, and also means I’m able to take a helicopter view, to connect people in a way that they may or may not have thought about, which is such a nice thing.

I feel that a get a lot of job satisfaction from the role. It’s the little things, like trying to ensure people feel that their voices are heard, celebrating our successes, and just reinforcing the very positive, inclusive, and transparent culture we’ve got in this Faculty.

What’s the role taught you about the Faculty and University?

Well, it doesn’t get any easier the higher up the chain you get, that’s for sure! Processes, and systems, and ways of getting things through at University Executive Board can seem circuitous and tortuous and, at times, as opaque as when you’re putting in a grant in as a PI!

It’s also taught me that you’ve probably got to be quite broad church in your views, and a good listener, and broadminded. I get people coming in from all different walks of life and everybody has a slightly different agenda, or something they feel passionately about, which you have to accommodate. I’ve had to realise that sometimes you can’t always get everything that you want for your Faculty; that sometimes you have to do it for the common good of the University and take the important ‘One University’ approach.

What has the role taught you about yourself?

It’s taught me that I’ve got a greater capacity to do things than I thought, because I’ve never worked as hard as in this role, and I’ve never encountered more challenging situations!

I think it’s taught me that you’ve got to be, at times, a little thick-skinned, and realise, like Abraham Lincoln said, that you just can’t keep all the people happy all of the time. It doesn’t stop you from trying, but at times you’ve just got to do what you think is right.

What learning opportunities do you feel have helped prepare you for this role?

Learning opportunities are something that I feel are very important. I’ve been very lucky over the years, going back to when I was an Institute Director, or even before that, when I attended Leadership Development Courses and the like.

I also took myself off and had some discussions about strategy setting and had ongoing coaching. I’ve had an informal network of mentorship, which I’ve largely established myself, mainly through people outside Newcastle, and I’ve always found that to be very helpful. They are people who I look up to and respect, and who’ve always given very good advice – not just on work decisions, but on work-life things as well. I certainly see the value of mentorship, and am now a mentor myself through the Academy of Medical Sciences’ IHR Scheme.

What have you found most challenging in the role?

Most definitely it has been the sheer intensity of it, and the length of the days. A lot of time is spent Chairing meetings, so there’s very little downtime between and it’s very physically tiring.

Also, nobody likes confrontation or making tough decisions that will impact on people, but unfortunately, in a job like this, you just can’t avoid that. I think that’s something you always reflect on and think could I have done that better? Or: could I have had that conversation better? That’s been the element the role that I’ve lost some sleep over.

Where do you find support when facing challenges in your role?

You can’t beat your peer support group. This does shrink, the higher up the chain you go, so my main peer support is currently the two other Faculty PVCs, and I’m very blessed there as they are lovely people.

I would also count Julie Sanders, who was formerly the PVC in HASS, as a really great friend and colleague, to some degree a confidante, and a real source of good, sensible, impartial advice. I also I have huge respect for, and would count as a friend and colleague, the VC. For real get-away-from-it type of conversation, and to let off steam, I would say the other Faculty PVCs and the VC would be probably my best source of support there really.

Finally, I have a number of people who I can bounce things off and talk to, particularly within the Professional Staff and Dean Team here.

How to you balance the role with your research, hobbies and family?

My research has largely withered. If you want to be research or clinically active, a role like this really is not compatible sadly. To do it fully and thoroughly I think you’d struggle. I do carry on contributing to papers and outputs for people who work with me, but the amount of time you can contribute is difficult. I have other major external commitments. I’ve recently been appointed Chair of the NHSA Board, and am a Trustee of Parkinson’s UK.  I’m also President of the Association of British Neurologists, which is a pretty big job. So that’s squeezed out other internal things like research.

You should also never lose sight of your family. We don’t have children, but my wife is absolutely outstanding. She works full time herself and she’s incredibly supportive; the worst guilt I can experience is feeling that I’m not giving her enough time. Work-life balance is so important.

I’ve always loved running and cycling, I like keeping myself fit. I also really love listening to and making music, and trying to learn guitar. I’ve got it all mapped out for when I retire though. I’m going to do more photography, and I’m going to try to get music lessons and do some multitracking. And also, construct a model railway; I’m determined to build a real-life model based on a line in Ireland. I think it’s really important to have some little things to aspire to in the future in that way.

When your role finishes, will you miss it?

Hm, interesting question. I think the answer is yes, obviously I will, because of the intellectual stretch that it gives me; that is something that gives you quite a buzz. In some of the harder moments, or times when there’s been a conflict or confrontation, I guess at those times if you ask me that question, I would say I absolutely won’t. But by large, yes, I think most people would miss a job like this.

What advice would you give to your successor?

I would say be true to yourself and be your own person.

And listen to colleagues – you just can’t know everything. I’ve got a wonderful team of people at Dean-level and School Director/Head-level, and they’ve all got amazing skill sets. The success of the Faculty comes from that.

When it comes to appointing my replacement, it would be fabulous if we could have some really strong internal candidates from very diverse backgrounds. There are several people in this Faculty who can do the job, I am absolutely convinced of it. If I could help bring through people who are capable of taking a PVC role, and particularly women, that would be a great legacy to leave.

Thank you so much to David Burn for taking time out of his busy schedule to speak to us about his role! We hope this empowers you to take all opportunities for development available – you never know where you’ll end up!

Demystifying Leadership: Why be the Director of EDI?

In the first of our Demystifying Leadership Series, which will look at what some of our senior leaders get up to and what they get out of their roles, we talk to Prof Candy Rowe, our Director of Equality, Diversity and Inclusion (EDI) for the Faculty. As she steps down from being Director and the Faculty looks for a replacement, we ask what being Director of EDI was like, what she got out of leading on EDI for the Faculty, and why she would recommend it as a leadership opportunity.

Why did you apply to be Director of EDI for the Faculty?

I’d actually told myself that I definitely wouldn’t apply! I had been the academic lead for the successful Institute of Neuroscience Athena SWAN Silver Award, and also chaired the NU Women staff network. These roles took time, and I felt that I should perhaps be concentrating on my research profile to further my career. But in the end, the opportunity seemed too good to ignore. What changed my mind? I wanted a role where I could lead positive change for people, and have the opportunity to do so at a larger scale than I had before.

What does an average day look like for you?

I’m sure you’ll talk to anyone in a leadership role – there is no ‘average day’. What have I done today? I’ve chaired the Faculty EDI Committee, and for the first time had the EDI Leads from NU Med, our Malaysian campus, joining us via teleconference.

We also heard more about race equality from Vijaya Kotur (the University’s Race Equality Officer) and discussed how we could embed EDI more into some of the changes within the Faculty. I then had a catch-up with the fab Faculty EDI team, Ann Armstrong and Malasree Home, just to discuss challenges, clarify and prioritise workload and exchange ideas. I went straight into another meeting about a project being led in the Faculty by one of our Postgraduate team, Karolien Jordens, on experiences of international students here at Newcastle, and how we can improve the support we offer to our postgraduates. Following lunch, I met with colleagues from our Dental School who have won some funding for a project to diversify their student reps. This sounds like a great project, and I always enjoy chatting to people who have identified an EDI issue in their school or institute and are taking steps to address it. I always try to help if I can. In between all this, I’ve been progressing a host of other things – setting up a phone call with an EDI lead at another university to discuss Athena SWAN, helping finalise our International Women’s Day event on Friday, discussing the promotion of a new peer mentoring network for student parents, and tweeting the VC. And now it’s 3pm, and I’m writing this before I need to go and pick up my son at 4pm so he can get his homework done before he goes to a club!

What do you get out of being Director of EDI?

The capacity to change things for the better by empowering people and changing policies and practices that support people and the institution. I enjoy having a broad view of the Faculty and the Institution, which many people at my level don’t have. Working with diverse people, and building teams to deliver change – I love it that I can’t walk across campus without seeing someone I know and stopping for a catch-up.

What has been your biggest achievement?

There is no doubt that bringing everyone together to get our first Faculty Athena SWAN Award has been mine and the team’s biggest achievement. But I am also proud of other things I’ve done and been involved with. Most recently, I enjoyed working with LGBT+ reps and other colleagues to buy and raise the rainbow flag on campus for the first time, and seeing the positive impact of that. I think staff are becoming more aware of the importance of EDI: we’ve been working hard on our comms, including our blog and new Equality Matters email circular, as well as our EDI Week and Bitesize events – a lot of people have given ideas and time to make these work. And of course, all the work we did surveying the experiences of staff and student parents, and getting the institutional commitment through the ‘For Families’ project to make Newcastle University more family friendly by 2020. It’s an exciting time to be an EDI lead.

Who do you talk to about challenges or when the going feels tough?

Oh, all sorts of people – depends on the challenge! Like any job, it has its ups and downs, its successes and frustrations. David Burn, the PVC, is often someone who I turn to for support on advancing key issues for the Faculty – he’s always supportive, especially in times of need. But I also have a network of academic colleagues to talk about more personal career challenges, and a fantastic EDI team, both here in the Faculty and across the institution. I found a lot of people to be very supportive and offer me help and advice when I need it.

What have you learned through this role?

Lots. As I move into a new university-wide role, I can see that having been involved in strategic planning and delivery of projects makes a difference to my confidence in taking on a new position. For the first time, a leadership role feels quite do-able (maybe I’m not stretching myself enough!). I’ve learned a huge amount from the professional staff I’ve worked with, including the value of visualising processes, managing projects, and delivering change. I’ve also learned how to work strategically on decision-making committees, and the value of my own contributions to discussions and decisions. I’ve learned that I enjoy leadership roles, especially those that are new and that give ample opportunity to build something from scratch. And reading this, maybe I am starting to overcome my Imposter Syndrome too…

Have you enjoyed it – would you recommend it as a leadership role?

Definitely – I’ve met some brilliant people in this role, and been lucky to work with some great staff and students on EDI projects. It has been a lot of fun, and in fact, I’m going to miss the team I work with, and the opportunities to improve working cultures in the Faculty. Having said that, I’m not abandoning EDI entirely, I will still be leading on EDI issues in my new role as NUAcT Director, and remain co-Chair of the For Families project. If you’re thinking that this sounds like a fun job and one you’d be interested in doing, I’d definitely go for it. You’ll learn a lot about how the Faculty and Institution works, and your own abilities – you’ll be empowering yourself as well as the people around you.

The job description and details of how to apply have been sent to academic staff in the Faculty. If you think you would like to apply, please send a CV and covering letter to Marian Phillipson by 18th March 2019. Informal enquiries can be made directly to Prof David Burn, Pro-Vice Chancellor of FMS.