Skip to main content

Inspiring inclusion on International Women’s Day

08 Mar 2024 | Anne Mwangi Anne Mwangi is Head of the Race Equality Charter at Advance HE. For International Women’s Day 2024, she shares her story of inspiring inclusion through an intersectional lens.

“I'm very passionate and driven about equality, diversity and inclusion (EDI) issues. And I'm very committed to supporting organisations and individuals to make changes that help bring about inclusion for everybody.

“This is borne out of my lived experience of being a Black disabled woman from the global South who has experienced and navigated all the challenges that these issues bring. These experiences have shaped the person I am my interests, and the career paths that I have chosen.”

Connecting with people

Anne Mwangi is Head of the Race Equality Charter at Advance HE and describes herself as a caring person who is interested and curious about other people. She says, “I'm always curious about how different and amazing we all are. You only get to know this when you connect with people.”

She also enjoys the outdoors – cycling on a tandem with her husband and walking with friends as well as dancing, cooking and going out for meals.

“I hope that my concern and passion for inclusion and equity come through, as well as me being friendly, caring and showing concern for other people. I hope that comes through in the way I relate to other people,” she says.

Growing up in Kenya

Anne was born and grew up in Kenya, moving to the UK in the early 1990s  to further her higher education following an award of a scholarship by the Windle Trust.

She says, “I guess from a British perspective, you might say that my parents were middle class, as my dad was a civil servant and my mother was a primary school teacher. I came from the largest ethnic group in Kenya called Gikuyu. 

“Throughout my childhood, I was aware of the impact of Kenya having been a British colony, as the British mostly settled in the so-called White Highlands, which was the land owned by the Gikuyu. The majority of the Gikuyu were forcibly removed from their land and when they fought back, many of them were killed or put in detention camps. This included my parents’ family members. 

"So, I grew up hearing about this history, which had happened not too long ago because Kenya only gained independence in 1963. The effect of its colonisation still impacts on Kenyans today, in so many ways, particularly for a lot of people who never got their land back.”

Making a career out of EDI

EDI is the thread running throughout her career. After university, Anne started work in local government doing community development work with marginalised communities, and learning and development on positive action initiatives and EDI policy work for around 15 years. 

“I did quite a range of jobs in local government that were really the beginning of my focus in EDI and helped me in my early development around these  issues,” she says. “After that, I worked for the University of Hull for 10 years, leading the EDI function there.

“I then moved to a charity, the Joseph Rowntree Foundation, and the Joseph Rowntree Housing Trust in York, as Head of EDI where I grew and developed the EDI programme, including getting them really engaged in anti-racist work and supporting them to become a Disability Confident accredited organisation.”

Intersecting identities 

“You will not be surprised to hear that experiencing barriers, challenges and discrimination comes with the territory of being a Black, disabled woman,” Anne says.

“Not only have I experienced the barriers and disadvantages faced by most Black women, but I also experience even more significant barriers that are related to my disability as I am visually impaired.

“This is because there's a lack of awareness and knowledge of how to support and meet the needs of disabled people through reasonable adjustments, but more so when one has a disability that requires adjustments on an ongoing basis.”

Anne says this is the most challenging area of her intersecting identities but that’s without minimising the other areas. She’s faced racism, and direct racism, where she’s been called names on the street.

“The overwhelming area of my identity, where I experience ongoing real challenges on a day-to-day basis, is around my disability," she says. "For one to survive with these intersecting issues, one has to become really tenacious and determined to survive the everyday challenges and barriers that colleagues and friends may not see or appreciate.”


Anne’s parents are her constant source of inspiration due to their ambition and the strength they showed during apartheid in Kenya. “The challenges they faced through colonisation and the suffering they experienced; despite all that, they made something of their lives," she says.

“Getting an education and being very, very ambitious for their children to get educated and giving up so much for us as well as for other extended family members who experienced real poverty. They are my constant inspiration having seen what they did to give us a future as a family. 

“Whenever I experience a particular racism, I go back to the writing of Maya Angelou. Despite whatever challenge I face as a disabled Black woman, her poem of transcending racism, Still I Riseinspires me so that I can still rise above them, get on with my life and try to achieve what I want to achieve in spite of those challenges.

“Even though she was the First Lady of the USA, Michelle Obama, experienced a lot of racism while she was in office. She inspires me in how she overcame the struggles she faced growing up with the support of her family. Her background was not privileged at all. They struggled in so many ways - her dad was disabled - but she made it in spite of all that, through scholarships to leading universities. 

“It’s the opportunities one is given on the way by other people; people who open doors for you; people who see your potential and believe in you. That for me, is really important for disabled people and people of colour experiencing multiple barriers.

“I have also been inspired by so many ordinary disabled people that I have worked with who made their own impact on other people’s lives, despite the personal barriers they faced. They may have experienced many more challenges than I have with my own disability, yet they have gotten on with their lives. I've seen the road they've walked and the challenges they have faced. 

"So those disabled people have really, really inspired me along the way. They are the unsung heroes who really survive through a lot of isolation and discrimination yet go on to make something of their lives.”

A seat for everyone at the table

Anne says it’s important to include everyone at the table because it is about fairness. She says, “It is about inclusion and human rights. It is about recognising that everybody is gifted in different ways, and everybody has something to offer. 

“I'm really passionate about this because we cannot write off people just because they have a disability or they are a person of colour, or a woman, or from the LGBTQI+ community. I think it is really important to ensure that we live in a society or work environment where everybody is given the opportunity to be themselves and give their best.”

Race Equality Charter

In her current role as Head of the Race Equality Charter (REC) at Advance HE, Anne’s work supports higher education institutions to inspire inclusion for Black, Asian and minority ethnic staff and students. 

She says, “The Race Equality Charter is a great framework to bring about long-term cultural change in higher education. Evidence shows that the Charter is having an impact in some of the UK HE institutions where it has been introduced, making a difference by galvanising people to really look at where the barriers are for their staff and students.

Buy-in from senior leadership is always a key starting point. But Anne says that in her experience, engagement with middle managers is equally important.

“They are the ones who make things happen. Part of inspiring others on EDI issues is the relationships and trust we build to enable honest conversations to take place,” she says. 

“We provide ongoing support for those who are leading the EDI work within their institutions. We recognise that they’re the ones doing the really difficult work on the ground and that there are many barriers. But by being there for them, listening and answering their questions as they prepare to submit a REC or Athena Swan [gender equality] application, we work to inspire inclusion every day.” 

We feel it is important for voices to be heard to stimulate debate and share good practice. Blogs on our website are the views of the author and don’t necessarily represent those of Advance HE.

Keep up to date - Sign up to Advance HE communications

Our monthly newsletter contains the latest news from Advance HE, updates from around the sector, links to articles sharing knowledge and best practice and information on our services and upcoming events. Don't miss out, sign up to our newsletter now.

Sign up to our enewsletter