In recent years, the push for Equality, Diversity, and Inclusion (EDI) in education has reshaped how we teach and learn, paving the way for a more equitable society. But EDI is not a static field, and it can be challenging to keep up with the pace of change. No one understands this better than Naheed Nazir, Director of Equality, Diversity, and Inclusion at Manchester Metropolitan University, who has drawn on her unique experience to prepare her institution for the future.
Naheed met with GoodCourse to discuss how to build inclusion and belonging on campus, her institution’s progress in advancing gender and racial equality, and what the future of EDI might look like.
I’m the Director of Equality, Diversity, and Inclusion at Manchester Metropolitan University. I started here in May 2022 and I’m the first person to hold the position.
I’ve been working in EDI for well over two decades. I started in the community voluntary sector before moving over to the local authority. From there, I moved into the NHS, working across commissioning and hospitals in the North West. EDI was my passion, and I started to look for a new challenge, but I’d never worked in education before. So when the opportunity came up at Manchester Metropolitan, I took the chance, and I’ve never looked back.
We’ve implemented a lot of measures around flexible working, both for staff and students. The pandemic accelerated our use of technology: online teaching, remote working and virtual workshops have all been crucial. We’ve carried forward many of these initiatives after the pandemic; we hope it will improve access, from both teaching and workforce perspectives.
We’re just about to resubmit our Athena Swan in May — this year, we’re going for Bronze, but we want to earn that Silver award soon. Our target is 2030, but I hope we can achieve that by 2027. I’ve just written the university’s new guidelines on Inclusive Diverse Culture, which should help us get there faster. It’s designed to provide an internal infrastructure, which will allow us to support, empower, and enable our different departments to help progress our EDI goals.
This role was established because the university wants to make EDI a priority. Good work was being done, but they wanted to provide new leadership to increase the pace of change. Before, the focus of EDI work was on the workforce, but I’ve tried to broaden that scope to include students and the whole university community. Our institution is quite forward-thinking: we want to embed EDI at the heart of everything we do. It’s about changing culture. It won’t happen overnight, but the opportunities are endless. If I do my job well enough, then one day the role won’t need to exist at all.
Staff and students demand different approaches, but there’s also a need to bring them together. We’re trying to bring our staff networks together with student groups to talk about the issues facing the learning community. It’s important to create opportunities to learn from each other. Further down the line, we’re looking to bring staff and students into a single forum at the start of each academic year, so they can share personal experiences and break down barriers.
I like to take a personal approach. It helps to go out and speak to people to find out what the issues are. It’s easy to stand on the sidelines and point out everything wrong, but it’s harder to actually change things for the better. So we must take a collaborative approach and invite people to become part of the solution. It needs to be everybody’s responsibility. It might involve some uncomfortable conversations, but we must create safe spaces where people can be open and honest. We need to achieve that if we want to make real progress.
It can be hard to get people involved in policy developments — it’s not easy to entice people to come along to meetings and provide feedback. Policy is important, but it’s often seen as mundane. I see students engaging most on the issues that affect them, and the things they are interested in. We need to strike a balance between the two, and we’re working hard on that moving forward.
When I started in EDI, it wasn’t much of a hot topic. It can be a struggle, as you’re always competing against other priorities. It used to be seen as this nice, fluffy thing you do on the side, but then Covid changed everything. The pandemic shone a light on the inequalities all around us. Though EDI has been around forever, it’s now seen as the new kid on the block. But that won’t last forever — so we need to use this moment to raise the profile of EDI and embed it at the heart of Higher Education. The next few years will be crucial.
You have to create safe spaces. Regarding EDI, people will be talking about different issues around their own lived experiences. So it’s important that they feel able to share without being judged. You need to give people the space to learn — there’s no such thing as a bad question.