The Interview UK
Northumbria University
Director of EDI

Kelly MacKinnon

Across Higher Education Institutions and the departments within them, no two equality, diversity and inclusion (EDI) roles are the same. Every EDI lead produces unique solutions to their department or university’s problems.

As Director of Equality, Diversity and Inclusion at Northumbria University, Kelly MacKinnon is constantly finding new ways to address class and gender issues. GoodCourse’s EDI lead Kitty Hadaway asked Kelly about what inspires her in her work, and her biggest wins to date.

Kelly's journey

Kitty: Kelly, the role of Director of EDI is relatively new for you - you’ve previously been a full-time lecturer, as well as a professional architect. What inspired you to take up your current position?

I’ve always been passionate about getting more women into architecture. Part of the reason for that is the strong female role models I’ve been surrounded by, in both my professional career and as an academic.

I trained as an architect, and always taught part-time while working in a small office. I never pictured myself working in academia permanently, and when I started as a full-time lecturer, I was the only woman teaching in my subject area.

At undergraduate level, there was a 50-50 gender balance in terms of students enrolled on the course which was not reflected in the teaching team. That didn’t seem right to me, so I tried to encourage more women to come in to teach, to reflect the makeup of the student body. Now in my department, the gender balance is about equal, which is great to see.

I’ve always encouraged my students to be science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM) ambassadors: to get involved with outreach, encouraging school pupils from less traditional backgrounds to explore architecture and related fields like construction.

Other women in my field have always been so keen to help and to share their knowledge, and my male colleagues have consistently supported me in trying to make a change.

Kitty: What are some of the initiatives that you’re most proud of?

As well as being Director of EDI, I’m also an assessor for the Athena SWAN charter (Advance HE), which looks at the number of women in fields across the Higher Education sector. When reading other institutions’ charter applications, what stands out to me is that no two EDI roles are the same and it is encouraging to see the varied initiatives being employed across academic institutions nationally.

At Northumbria, we’re focussing on making progress towards our four-year Athena SWAN action plan. That involves demonstrating to people how EDI impacts everyone, and setting tangible goals – like aiming to increase the number of female students in STEM fields by 10%.

Architecture degrees are much longer than the standard three-year undergraduate course, and the amount of debt created by this can put many students off.

I think we’ve always done a great job of reaching out to schools, diversifying our intake and inspiring young people. Architecture degrees are much longer than the standard three-year undergraduate course, and the amount of debt created by this can put many students off. We’ve now created a new part-time apprenticeship programme to support people get into masters’ study, so that they aren’t limited to the most expensive route.

Kitty: How are you getting your students to engage with EDI initiatives?

One of our most successful initiatives has been the Decolonising Northumbria Network, a collective that aims to raise awareness of what we can do in our university to promote decolonisation.

This facilitated conversations between staff and students about what decolonisation really means, and how to create lasting change. These events started off quite small, but they’re growing – we’ve invited authors, poets and academics to share their thoughts and encourage conversation.

Northumbria University also has an amazing Architecture Society that we work closely with to provide funding and resources, on top of organising study trips and lecture series. I’ve been sharing the Royal Institute of British Architects’ podcast and encouraging students to listen to it, because of how it explores the idea of diversity and inclusion.

To me, it’s about showing students that change starts with them, while they’re at university. They don’t have to wait until they’re practising architects to improve the diversity in their field.

Kitty: How interested are your colleagues? Does it come as naturally to them as it does to you?

Enthusiasm about EDI is always growing. We’re encouraging lecturers to do things automatically, like creating their reading lists with gender and ethnic diversity in mind. We want students to see themselves in academia and relate to working academics.

I created a newsletter for staff that they can look at in their own time, to stay up to date with EDI work at Northumbria. The newsletter also promotes different staff networks – like parent and carer networks – and shares resources.

3 Quickfire Questions

Kitty: What’s your top tip for people coming into the EDI space now?

Know your area, the subject and its big issues – and then consider it through an EDI lens. Every subject and department is different: that’s one reason why our approaches can’t always be number-driven. We need input from real people who have experienced that field in different ways.

Kitty: Who do you most admire in the EDI space?

Marsha Ramroop – the Royal Institute of British Architects’ first Director of Inclusion and Diversity. She’s done so much to make the issue central to what RIBA does, and has produced fantastic resources for students to access.

Kitty: What book would you recommend to anyone in the EDI world?

I love The Handmaid’s Tale, by Margaret Atwood – it’s what made me recognise that I was a feminist.

Curious to see what the future of training looks like?
Kitty Hadaway
Universities Lead
Kitty is passionate about using technology to create safer and more inclusive campuses, and is an expert on student engagement and delivering training at scale. Get in touch at to learn more.

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