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Balance for Better - achieving true equality

Fiona McPhail, EBI Equality, Diversity & Inclusion Champion

Fiona McPhail, Elizabeth Blackwell Institute Diversity and Inclusion Champion

International Women's Day logo

21 March 2019

Fiona McPhail, Elizabeth Blackwell Institute Diversity and Inclusion Champion reflects on International Women’s Day and gives her thoughts on what it will take to achieve true equality, diversity and inclusion in University research communities.

I write this on International Women’s Day, having recently joined the team at an Institute named after Elizabeth Blackwell, a woman who was instrumental in many campaigns for reform and who dedicated her life to fighting for equality. The theme for this year’s campaign was ‘Balance for Better’ with the message: ‘Everyone has a part to play - all the time, everywhere’. As a sector, Higher Education has been grappling with how we enable all groups to enter and thrive, striving to become institutions which are fair for all and where everyone can achieve according to their ability.

We have travelled a long way, with sector wide initiatives providing a platform for change and a structured and assessed methodology for analysing outcomes. We know, however, that despite our efforts, we are not yet there and there is more for us to do.

So, what do we mean when we talk about ‘Equality, Diversity and Inclusion’, or EDI for short? It may be a familiar phrase to some, but what do the three areas actually mean and how do we go about achieving them?

Equality is not about treating everyone the same; it is about treating people in such a way that the outcome for each person is the same.

Diversity means that we recognise and celebrate differences, we do not just ‘tolerate’ them. Recognising and celebrating differences is about creating communities where we all contribute and where we can all bring our experiences to the group so that we create a richer shared experience for the education of others.

Inclusion is about positively striving to meets the needs of different people and taking action to create environments where everyone feels that they belong, that they can contribute, that they are valued and respected, and where they can thrive.

If we are truly going to achieve our EDI goals, it means that we must scrutinise what we do through lenses in addition to our own. This will almost certainly mean doing things differently and doing different things. It is not about trying to ‘fix’ people so that they fit into prevailing patterns of universities, it’s about taking a detailed look at what we do and how we do it, and to ‘fix’ that, if what and how we do things creates a barrier to inclusion and success.

This is important in health and biomedical research because greater diversity in our research teams will provide us with the broadest range of knowledge and skills, which are unlikely to come from a homogenous group. Diversity can help us to ask better questions and to look at things from different standpoints. [INVOLVE, National Institute for Health Research].

Similarly, we need to ensure that we embed EDI not just in relation to what we do, but whom we include. How do we get the input from those we hope will be the beneficiaries of our work? This means including not just those who are ‘easiest’ to reach but ensuring that we benefit from the insights and experience of those most affected and who potentially have a lot to offer.

Across education, employment and research we need to take positive action to attract people and ensure that we are accessible and innovative in our approach. So far, consultation has been undertaken across the Faculty of Health Science and Faculty of Life Sciences in order to gain input and insight, and to start to establish priorities. These priorities will run alongside and enhance the actions already being taken centrally by the University of Bristol, but recognising the need to have a unique focus, which engages with, and benefits health and biomedical research communities.

I have always thought of EDI as a journey - where are we now, where do we want to be, and how do we get there? It is about asking questions about what is working well and should be shared, what could be better and how can we make it so. Put very simply: what do we know, what should we start doing, what should we continue doing and what should we stop?

Inclusion is the key and so I would welcome the chance to work with groups across the Faculties, to hear views and ideas on the actions that we can take to make a real difference. How can we identify innovative and novel approaches? As a first step, I am planning to run some sessions to facilitate consideration of some of the things that we do through an equality lens to enable us to ask and answer these questions. I would welcome thoughts, ideas and input from all colleagues across the Faculties. Everyone has a part to play - all the time, everywhere.

I am happy to meet one to one or with groups, or I can be contacted if preferred via email fiona1mcphail@bristol.ac.uk

Further information

Have you thought about applying for specific funding for diversity and inclusion through Wellcome Trusts' Research Enrichment scheme? More information.

We are proud to be part of the EDIS coalition - promoting equality, diversity and inclusion in science and health, with the power to influence and drive evidence-based change.  Read about the EDIS group.

Find out more about what EBI is doing to champion and challenge equality, diversity and inclusion within health and biomedical research communities at the University of Bristol.

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