Collaboration is essential to making meaningful progress on tackling the problems of Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion (EDI). Actively listening to students, staff, and faculty and co-collaborating to create solutions is of the utmost importance.
Yvonne Galligan, Director of Equality, Diversity, and Inclusion at Technological University Dublin, knows this well. She sat down with GoodCourse to discuss her successful bids for Athena Swan awards, her career so far, and her methods of encouraging engagement.
I’m the founding Director of Equality, Diversity, and Inclusion at TU Dublin. I have been in that role since 2019. My position covers inclusion for students and staff. Technological University Dublin is a new university established very recently — on the 1st of January 2019. We have five campuses in Dublin with approximately 28,000 students and 3,000 staff.
EDI has been a subject of my research and professional interest for a long time. My background is as a professor of political science; I specialised in gender inclusion and equality in democracy and democratic institutions. This has led me to work with various organisations to tackle the issue of underrepresentation. It seemed a natural move to work on these issues within the university.
The post-Covid period is unique in terms of its challenges to inclusion and belonging on campus. During the Covid period, the murder of George Floyd reverberated, and our campus has been no exception. We have worked a lot on addressing inclusion for ethnic and racially minoritised groups, both staff and students alike. Much of the drive for this comes from the students.
We run race equality reading groups, we have a programme that looks at the library collection with the aim of diversifying and decolonising it. We have developed a guide to diversifying the curriculum for academic staff. We are also building awareness and skills among the students around how to respond to episodes of racial or other kinds of discrimination, either as someone experiencing or witnessing it.
We have had the challenge of increasing student engagement more generally on campus. Having a range of social activities, sports, and societies geared towards giving students a more authentic campus experience is crucial.
The challenges were different on each occasion. I should preface this by saying that those applications were at my previous university, Queen’s University Belfast. In TU Dublin, we have just now obtained our Athena Swan Bronze Award.
The first time, our biggest challenge in getting Silver was in reaching the entry-level required. At the time, a university had to have the majority of its STEM schools with Athena Swan awards, of which one or two had to be silver. So that meant that we needed to have seven schools holding Athena Swan awards. Motivating that performance in science and engineering schools took a lot of work.
The second time around, you have to retain the silver. You must show that your previous four years' worth of efforts had made real change. We had to evidence that impact. We could show that the proportion of female professors had grown from 11% in 2000 to 22% by the time of our second application, as evidence of what we had done. We also had to ensure that our existing schools maintained their awards and that others joined them. It was about consolidation of progress.
The third time, our second silver renewal, our challenge was to make a further step change. Here, we succeeded in getting a KPI into our university corporate plans that reflected our ambitions. This was a target of 30% female professors by roughly 2022. I left Queens at the end of 2018 — at that time, the university was on track to achieve that target. We were digging deep into the structural obstacles to women’s progress. The strength of the Athena Swan framework is that it requires you to be honest about your shortcomings and meticulous about how you plan to tackle them.
This is a very simple formula. There is no secret or magic potion in this. It begins by listening. Listening to individuals and groups who have not always been listened to before is the most important first step. Asking what problems and issues they face and actively listening builds, over time, a relationship that is founded on confidence, trust, and honesty. Because sometimes, what is needed cannot be delivered immediately, which must be communicated. But I use my office to leverage the change that we can deliver. Everyone wants results or at least a direction that delivers results; this is best set by beginning the process through listening. There must be a personal relationship.
This is a big concern indeed for people in my position and for our students. We have a comprehensive action plan addressing gender violence in all its forms. Some of this work is about reviewing policies and procedures, for example, I recently chaired a committee looking at student disciplinary procedures and integrating procedures for gender-based violence into that, so we have one unified student procedure. There is still a lot of work to be done to support those who bring complaints forward, but we have direction now, which is good.
A lot of the work that we do with our students and increasingly with our staff is about awareness raising and staying safe. Standing up for one another in these situations. Giving everyone the skills to be upstanders as well as protect themselves. Prevention is better than cure. Intervention can be a very powerful act.
Our experience has been that our Students’ Union and all officers and representatives are engaged in areas of inclusion, and bring these forward to us regularly. We work closely with them around these issues. We also find that students are particularly interested in sustainability activism and initiatives. Our head of student services is very engaged with supporting our students in sustainability activities, along with our whole action around having a green campus.
Working with them to co-create plans. These plans also need the buy-in of university senior leaders. It is about consistent engagement and co-creation around how to solve problems.