Implementing institutional change can be a lonely journey for the practitioner engaged with the work at hand — especially when introducing ideas that have previously been resisted, like equitable hiring practices.
It takes motivated and inspired leaders like Banji Adewumi, the University of Manchester’s Director of Equality, Diversity and Inclusion (EDI) to illustrate the value of such change. She sat down with GoodCourse Community Engagement Lead Kira Matthews, to discuss her diverse career, journey into the universities space and the initiatives she is proudest of to date.
I studied chemistry and after graduating, I applied to a government department. In those days, the HR department would normally write to candidates telling them whether they were successful or not. The letter I received said something along the lines of “due to your background, you are unsuccessful.” Had they just said I wasn’t successful full stop, that would have been fine — but the letter kindled a desire within me to make a difference and address inequality in whichever way I could.
Unknown to me at the time, there were roles in the EDI space. I ended up in another government department for 12 years, during which time I volunteered as an office representative and in groups where EDI matters were discussed — so I was conscious of the need to address inequality even though I wasn’t aware of dedicated EDI roles.
Something happened before that. The government department I worked in was the Department of Work and Pensions, which is to do with benefits and ensuring that people get their entitlement, as well as preventing fraudulent claims. I had worked across different departments within that branch of government, and saw an advert for a fixed term contract to work on a challenge; giving claimants what they were due but weren’t claiming. I knew I needed to address this challenge.
The elderly residents in this borough weren’t claiming their pensions. I worked across sectors and with different age groups alongside the local authorities to address this issue. The project was successful, and afterwards it made me think that we needed dedicated equality resourcing for local authorities. The experience also made me aware of the diversity of experiences with individuals at different ends of the spectrum.
There is always diversity in the clients you engage with. In local authorities, it’s the community you serve, in hospitals, it’s in the patients as well as the staff — I have the understanding that I’m there to serve and make a difference to the lives of these people.
I was conscious of the need to address inequality even though I wasn’t aware of dedicated EDI roles.
I know that there’s a requirement for me to do my duty to the students, but I also recognise that the entire service is there because of the students, and that my work is embedded in relationships with the greater local community, alumni, and prospective students too. I recognise that we need a collaborative approach when making a difference.
We have a clear understanding in this institution that our agenda serves both staff and students, as well as the wider community. We have developed an EDI strategy which will be launched soon that includes strategic policies that will address student and staff needs.
We have a good relationship with our Students’ Union (SU), and the SU have recently appointed an individual to work in EDI, which gives us an even greater opportunity to work closely with them. I think we’re heading in the right direction.
Data is important in this space and our strategy is evidence based. There are some consistencies across the sector, such as the under-representation of women in senior positions or over-representation of certain communities. With individuals passing through the institution, there is a gap in attainment, and even looking at recruitment data, we can see that something happens at the shortlisting stage. We have no issues attracting applicants, but when it comes to shortlisting after interviews things can go pear shaped. We see this data across the board, so we use it to identify the gaps, which will then inform the interventions we need to put in place.
That isn’t necessarily for my team to deliver on, but we have a fantastic team at this university looking at student success and attainment. Access is at one end of the student journey, but when exiting the organisation, we also need to ensure that students are on a successful ongoing journey. We have to ensure that those measures are included in our EDI strategy, which is owned by three streams — social responsibility, teaching and learning, and research. I monitor the respective reporting platforms to ensure accountability and transparency.
At Barts Health NHS Trust, a group of us looked at the issue of career progression for Black and female colleagues, especially for those in clinical roles, and came up with a solution for this well known challenge.
To cut a very long story short, we knew that there was a need for coaching, having role models, and career planning. So the initiative allowed participants to see and hear guest speakers talk about their own life journey. You could see how the audience connected with our speakers who had overcome the barriers to their career progression. The value of having a role model was evident — I remember one nurse who had been in the same band for roughly a decade said ‘Now I can see myself in a senior position.’ It became a possibility for her by virtue of seeing a Black nurse in that position.
This programme, the Career Development Programme, won the Nursing Times Team of the Year award. At the time, we didn’t think that a totally Black group could get national recognition, so it was incredible to receive that award.
Three things. Number one is self care. Number two is identify your strategy for survival — when you face a challenge, how do you re-strategise? Your truth might not be another person’s truth, so use the data to hand and communicate in a way that your audience can understand. And number three is have fun — EDI can be a lonely journey, so find a network of colleagues to get support and enjoyment.
I would recommend Living While Black, by Guilaine Kinouani, Luyanda Lewis-Nyawo, et al., and also Viral Change by Leandro Herrero which has some pieces in it that I find useful when dealing with the frustrations of being a change agent.