The Interview UK
Loughborough University
Director of EDI

Pooja Goddard

Discussions around equity, diversity and inclusion (EDI) are constantly evolving. World events can often be the driving force behind an individual’s journey into the EDI space  – but sometimes it can be difficult to know where to start.

Pooja Goddard came into the EDI space in 2020, inspired by the murder of George Floyd. She is now Director for Equity, Diversity and Inclusion at Loughborough University’s School of Science.

Kitty Hadaway, GoodCourse’s EDI lead, sat down with Pooja to hear about how she’s driving positive change within her university, and some of her biggest successes to date.

Pooja's journey

Kitty: Pooja, you’ve had a very successful career as an academic and came to the EDI space relatively recently. What has that journey been like, and how did you get to where you are today?

I had humble beginnings – I was born in Kenya and came to the UK as an international student at eighteen. I had planned on studying medicine, but it turned out to be too expensive, so I settled on civil engineering. Then after speaking to my personal tutor, I switched quite quickly to chemistry instead.

Becoming a chemist was never my plan, but I didn’t ever look back once I started on my course. I graduated with a first-class honours degree from Coventry University and then decided to embark on a PhD at the University of Warwick to stay in the UK. My parents lived in the UK by then.

After several two or three year contracts as a research assistant in Sweden, Bath and Huddersfield, I got a lectureship at Loughborough University. After sixteen years and several deportation scares, I was granted the right to remain in the UK permanently.

During my time at Bath, I was a resident warden, which meant looking after students on campus out of hours. That was my first real exposure to mental health and wellbeing issues and to EDI work – although it wasn’t called that at the time.

When people can’t talk about these issues, we don’t move forward as a society. I wanted to find a way to create a safe and inclusive space for people to have these difficult discussions.

For a long time, I was totally focused on academia. I didn’t want to engage with EDI issues, even though I started to experience microaggressions as my career progressed. I didn’t want to be seen as a “troublemaker” or as someone who was “playing the race card.”

What made me want to start working in EDI was the murder of George Floyd in 2020 and the world’s reaction to it. I saw that so many of my white colleagues – not just at Loughborough – regardless of gender or age, felt uncomfortable and vulnerable talking about what was happening.

This worried me greatly, and I realised that I needed to get involved in the conversation. When people can’t talk about these issues, we don’t move forward as a society. I wanted to find a way to create a safe and inclusive space for people to have these difficult discussions.

Kitty: How do you engage students and staff to create change?

A lot of EDI work still revolves around collecting data to evidence the problems that we know about, but there is already enough evidence. So instead, I prefer to speak to groups and individuals directly, making realistic changes that can allow our immediate environments to be more welcoming for everyone.

Often, EDI is about the small things – it can be as simple as saying hello to everyone you see, and not just asking how they are doing, but stopping to hear their answer. It is about making every person you come across feel valued, by seeing and hearing them at the basic human level. This can be really powerful.

Kitty: What impact have these small changes had?

I think that the biggest impacts of EDI work always relate to students – not only because we can influence their perspectives, but because they are the next generation and have so much time ahead of them to make a positive difference, both in their own lives and the lives of others.

Often, young people are aware of problems like discrimination and are much more accepting of diversity. The next step is to help them translate that into their everyday behaviour.

When it comes to working with staff, the job often involves helping people understand the scale of discrimination and the impact that individual actions can have.

In almost all cases, in my experience at least, individuals don’t even realise how others have heard them or even understand what a microaggression looks like – simply because they haven’t had the same lived experience. Once it is pointed out, they are usually quite embarrassed and apologetic.

Kitty: How have you seen the reception of EDI work change over time?

Personally, I’ve experienced microaggressions more as I have risen into senior positions. Often people assume that my success is because of positive discrimination – because I am a woman of East African Asian origin, rather than because of my own hard work.

Professionally though, people are becoming more open to discussing issues like race and gender equality. What I’ve learned from speaking to students and colleagues – again, not just at Loughborough – is that microaggressions are still rife in our society. Their passive-aggressive nature is what makes them so difficult to address and call out.

3 Quickfire Questions

Kitty: What advice would you give to anyone hoping to come into the EDI space now?

I would tell my younger self to be better prepared for criticism and to build a stronger support network around myself, particularly when dealing with microaggressions. It worries me when I hear today’s generation really struggling with self-belief – particularly where people have intersecting identities, such as being both Black and female, for example.

There will always be people who tell you that you aren’t going to make it – quite often those people are teachers, and my teachers told me that too. My best advice would be to believe in yourself and know that with enough hard work, dedication and determination, nothing is impossible!

Kitty: Is there someone who has been a role model to you in your journey?

I would say, my mother. She comes from a very humble background with very little formal education, but she always aspired for me to be successful. Most importantly, she believed in me. She is the most welcoming and kind person I know. To me, she is the best role model I could have wished for.

Kitty: What is the most important book that you’ve read?

The Dalai Lama’s Cat, by David Michie. It’s grounding, reflective, and insightful but also funny – I have read it twice already and I am forever grateful for the gift of this book. It reminds me that we always have a choice: a choice to be kind.

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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