The Interview UK
University of West London
Director of Human Resources

Neil Henderson

By investing in personal and professional development, Higher Education (HE) institutions equip their staff and students with the skills necessary to navigate the complexities of the modern world. In his role as Director of Human Resources at the University of West London, Neil Henderson makes sure all members of the learning community have the tools they need to reach their full potential. 

Chris Mansfield sat down with Neil to talk about issues including staff engagement and development, the importance of communication systems, and the challenge of making sure everyone feels included. 

Neil's Journey

Chris: Let’s start with a quick introduction to yourself and your current institution. 

I’m the Director of Human Resources and Organisational Development at the University of West London. I’ve been in this role since January 2019. The University of West London is an up-and-coming institution: we’ve risen massively in the league tables, and we’ve won a number of awards for student satisfaction. Much of that comes down to our dedication to our students and our reputation as “the Career University.” Over the last four years, I’ve tried to extend that to our staff — building initiatives and programs to engage with and develop all our employees. 

Chris: How has your approach to staff engagement evolved since joining the university?

Last year, we carried out our first-ever staff questionnaire to find out how people felt working for the university. We got a great response to that — about a third of our staff — and next time we aim to reach even more. We noticed huge positive feedback about working for the institution, especially around our efforts towards inclusivity. But there was concern about a perceived lack of training and development opportunities; I think that’s partially down to communication, so we need to be clearer with our messaging. Eighteen months ago, we had no staff networks: today we have five. That includes a Women’s Network, a Black Women’s Network, a Sustainability Network, an LGBTQ Network, and a network called Thrive, which supports anyone who identifies as a member of a minority ethnic group. About a month ago, we held our first joint session with all five groups on the theme of well-being, which attracted over 60 staff members. 

Chris: People management has changed massively over the last few years, especially in light of the pandemic. What effect did the pandemic have on your approach?

At the start of each semester, our senior leadership teams hold a series of staff briefings to outline our goals and allow staff to ask questions and deliver feedback. During the pandemic, we prioritised improving our communications: we moved meetings online and moved from a clunky old intranet to Sharepoint. So we’ve shown the horse where the water is — now we just need it to drink!

Chris: Staff at universities are busier than ever. How do you find the time to try and engage them on DEI issues?

We want to give our staff a license to learn. We try to make time in the working day for learning and development. So we hold network sessions during breakfast and lunch — we’re mindful that people have different schedules, so we try to design our offerings to give everyone a chance to get involved. We ensure all our events are open-door: a few days ago, we had a guest speaker on Breast Cancer Awareness, so we opened up the lecture hall. It means that people can drop in — it’s a great way to boost participation and engagement. Our HR staff are always getting involved, going out to local executive and department meetings to see what we can do to help. There are no magic wands: you must constantly chip away at it.

Chris: You’re part of your institution's working leadership group. How do you design and implement strategies to be effective across the institution?

Our university has two main management forums: the Vice Chancellor’s executive team and the senior management working group. I’m Co-Chair of the Equality and Diversity Advisory Group, which directly reports to the Vice Chancellor’s executive team. As an institution, EDI is part of our DNA. We’re dedicated to widening access: over 60% of our students are from Black, Asian, or other minority backgrounds, and a majority of our student body is over the age of 25. That’s increasingly reflected in our workforce, and now around 40% of our staff come from ethnic minority backgrounds. 

Chris: What steps are you taking to increase access and representation among staff and students?

We now have an advisory group dedicated to representation: each school and college has the chance to share their efforts, whether it's curriculum development or inclusive reading lists. We’ve endeavoured to make our hiring more inclusive, ensuring our interview processes are more open and accessible. Our efforts have paid off: last year, we were awarded our Athena Swan Award, and next time we’re aiming for Silver. We’ve developed a five-year action plan with six key priorities to increase inclusion and diversity. We’re taking that beyond gender representation, and we’re looking at intersectional representation — whether it’s ethnicity, disability, or any other protected characteristic. 

Chris: What’s the best piece of advice you’ve received in your career?

While working in local government in Hackney, I had a supervisor called Terry McDougall. She told me, “If it feels right, just do it!” You need to take risks: don’t overthink things. I even made the Nike symbol my screensaver to remind myself of that!

Curious to see what the future of training looks like?
Chris Mansfield
Client Services
Chris is one of the Client Service leads at GoodCourse, dedicated to helping institutions better engage their audience to create a more inclusive, safer, and more successful environment. To request to be featured on the series, get in touch at

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