University of Essex
University of Essex

March 23, 2016

International Women’s Day 2016 (IWD2016)

Pro-Vice-Chancellor Education Professor Aletta Norval with colleagues at one of the IWD2016 stalls

International Women’s Day was a chance for us to celebrate some extraordinary achievements across our campuses. We had a full day of events including:

  • Awards for Motivational, Empowering, Inspirational Women of the University
  • A morning of conversations in the Ivor Crewe Lecture Hall on equality and diversity
  • Stalls and events in the squares
  • Exhibitions in the Silberrad Student Centre and The Hexagon
  • An International Women’s day reception in The Hexagon
  • A showing of Rosa Luxemburg, Margarethe von Trotta’s 1986 masterpiece
  • A performance of The Vagina Monologues in the evening at East 15

For us, IWD2016 was part of a week of events on the theme of diversity – matched by the Feminist Society’s ‘Week of Women’, which included arts, events, discussions, exhibitions and film screenings, as well as a day of events around ‘Women in STEM’. Beyond our campuses our staff and students participated in a wide range of events and it is still possible to still see Professor Lorna McGregor, Director of our Human Rights Centre, in a video produced by the Equality and Human Rights Commission (of which she is a member) to mark the day.

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Dr Leticia Osorio

I’m also very proud to say that the week also saw one of our alumni, Dr Leticia Osorio, win an international award for her work. Leticia, a human rights lawyer, won the social impact category of the Education UK Alumni Awards in Brazil organised by the British Council. As Human Rights Programme Officer at the Ford Foundation in Rio de Janeiro, she supports marginalised communities and helps protect their rights. She’s one of four Essex winners in the awards this year – the others are Jianwei Zheng, Dr Abdullah Al Fraidan and Ankit Mehrotra.

Women like her inspired our Women of the Future Appeal, which is well on its way to raising £500,000 for 25 Masters scholarships for exceptional women from around the world. In the lifetime of this University, the number of women getting higher education has grown significantly. Our first intake, for example, was 77 men and 45 women – and women now make up 53% of our 85,000 alumni. But there is much more to do.

We know ability is not determined by gender or by where you happen to be born – and that the social and economic impact of educating women and girls is enormous. The idea of these scholarships is to equip 25 women from around the world with the skills and knowledge they need to become leaders and drivers of change in their communities.

That’s why this appeal will continue as the University’s fundraising priority to make sure we meet our goals – and exceed them if we can. You can visit the appeal webpages to see how the appeal is progressing and you will also receive more information on the appeal and how you can get involved over the coming months.

The women we help with this appeal will join other successful scholarship recipients, such as:

  • Dr Amanda Wilkinson, a research fellow in our Department of History, whose PhD would not have been possible without one of our Silberrad scholarships
  • Dr Yukti Hari-Gupta, whose breakthrough in cancer diagnosis was possible thanks to a Colchester Catalyst scholarship
  • Maria Miranda, a Santander scholar who aims to use her Masters in Speech and Language Therapy to work with children and young adults with additional needs

I look forward to adding many more distinguished names to that list in the years to come, knowing that we have played our part at Essex in making the world a better and safer place for women.

Professor Anthony Forster

Vice-Chancellor

 



March 7, 2016

Our commitment to inclusivity

To mark International Women’s Day and our own Diversity Week, Karen Bush, Head of Equality and Diversity explains why creating an inclusive environment is not only the right thing to do, it also makes perfect business sense.

Karen Bush, Head of Equality and Diversity, here at the University of Essex

Karen Bush, Head of Equality and Diversity, here at the University of Essex.

Our commitment to inclusivity is clearly articulated in our Values, but how does this translate into policy and practice, how does that in turn affect staff and how does engaging in external benchmarking exercises help?

Imagine…

Imagine not feeling able to talk about what you did at the weekend for fear of letting it slip that your partner was the same sex as you? Or not feeling able to have a picture of your partner on your desk or phone or computer. Or feeling that you couldn’t tell your colleagues you’d just got married because they didn’t know you had a partner, let alone the fact that your partner was the same sex as you. These are feelings that are many LGB people in the workplace have and the impact can be huge, both on them personally and their performance.

Similar feelings can also be experienced by staff who fear they may be treated differently because of a particular protected characteristic, such as their age or their ethnicity or because they have a disability.

in 2015 we won the Guardian University Award for best advancing staff equality initiative, for our LGBT Alliance

in 2015 we won the Guardian University Award for best advancing staff equality initiative, for our LGBT Alliance.

A place where diversity is valued

We want to develop a culture which enhances the health and well-being of our staff and for the University to be a place where diversity is respected and valued and unacceptable behaviour is challenged in an appropriate way. We also recognise the value of having a diverse staff population with a wide range of perspectives and we want that diverse population to feel able to bring their whole selves to work and able to put forward views which may differ from those of others, based on their own background or experiences. Empowering staff to bring forward their views and ideas and challenge convention will help to create a truly inclusive environment and allow us to flourish as an organisation.

Making it happen

Articulating this is simple enough but how will we make it happen? We are building a framework of employment policies which will indicate how we do things, what is acceptable and what is not acceptable and empower people who model the ways of working in these policies. We have developed a set of professional behaviours and are working to embed these, together with our value commitment to inclusivity, within key processes such as recruitment, induction, appraisal and reward. We are also improving our consultation mechanisms and gathering staff views in a range of ways including through our staff equality networks, follow-up work in response to the findings of the latest staff survey and our work on the Athena SWAN Charter and the Stonewall Workplace Equality Index (WEI).

Inspiration to continually improve

Engaging in external benchmarking exercises such as Athena SWAN and the WEI is important to us as it not only encourages us to scrutinise our practices and performance in relation to equality, it also inspires us to continually improve. In addition, it provides opportunities for us to be open about our commitment to inclusivity which indicates to prospective and current staff and students the kind of institution we are. Being in the Stonewall Top 100 in 2016 is evidence of how far we’ve come on our journey to improve the working lives of our LGB staff but we are not complacent. There is much work still to do.

Diversity Week 8-18 March

Keep in touch with all our equality and diversity-related activities on our equality and diversity events webpage and get involved in our Diversity Week this week 8-18 March.

International Women’s Day

Find out more about how we’re celebrating International Women’s Day on our news webpage



March 4, 2016

Our support for refugees

Students visiting the Jungle (Copyright Adiran Chira)

Students visiting The Jungle with Colchester’s Refugee Action Group (Copyright Adrian Chira)

I have been following the work of a group of our Essex students who visited Calais with Colchester’s Refugee Action Group with admiration, and I was keen to receive an update from Adrian Chira, the President of Essex Students’ Union on his return from Calais earlier this week. They travelled to Calais to distribute clothing and supplies to try to alleviate the hardship faced by refugees in The Jungle.

I am proud of the way our Students’ Union, our students and our staff, have mobilised to support and fundraise for humanitarian efforts to alleviate the desperate situation so many thousands are facing, and to welcome Syrian refugee families coming to Colchester.

As a University, we have given serious consideration to what practical support we are best able to provide. Our first priority has been to consider our current Syrian students, and the impact the crisis in their homeland has had on their ability to continue to study at Essex. Where necessary we have waived fees to allow them to continue their education – an investment of nearly half a million pounds.

We have reviewed our existing and new scholarships to ensure Syrian and other refugees are eligible to benefit from them, including our new ‘Women of the Future’ scholarships, and we are extending our existing refugee bursary to include postgraduate students. We are also considering other options, particularly how we might support Syrian refugees in Colchester whose studies have been interrupted by them leaving their homeland.

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The Jungle camp in Calais (Copyright Adrian Chira)

As a research university, we are also undertaking work on refugee care, principally through our Centre for Psychoanalytic Studies/Centre for Trauma, Asylum and Refugees. Work within our School of Law, Human Rights Centre and Department of Government also covers related topics including conflict resolution, international politics and EU law. This is addressing a wide range of issues which can help to better understand and respond to the current crisis.

I am keen that we continue to be a venue for debate about the issues surrounding the current refugee crisis. Recently I addressed our Students’ Union’s Welcome Refugees event, and our popular and challenging THINK Seminar for February focused on the crisis and what to do about it.

We also want to continue to work together with other organisations in Colchester to establish how we can target support to be of most benefit, and continue to support the amazing work of our Students’ Union.

Individual students and members of staff can help by donating money, food, clothing, bedding, or by volunteering. You can support the SU’s campaign, Refugee Action Colchester, or one of the international charities listed below: