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Equality, Diversity and Inclusion Conference 2021

Courageous conversations and adventurous approaches: Creative thinking in tackling inequality This conference brought together the annual Advance HE EDI conference with the biannual Scottish conference with the theme – Courageous conversations and adventurous approaches: creative thinking in tackling inequality.

Courageous conversations and adventurous approaches: Creative thinking in tackling inequality - Supported by the Scottish Funding Council.

The theme of this conference spoke to the reality of EDI work in both HE and FE - a growing focus for attention internally and externally, ambitious, analytical, forward-looking, practical and increasingly complex. As EDI becomes more embedded in institutional values and strategy and becomes more of a measure for the student experience, institutional interest in creative responses to tackling inequality is growing.

Date: 16-18 March 2021
Venue: Virtual
Who: All HE and FE professionals including colleagues from Scottish colleges

Whether focusing on newly emerging issues or dealing with those that are stubbornly persistent, as a sector we can seek inspiration, insight and guidance to navigate the EDI landscape through sharing learning and advancing evidence-based good practice. Learning from both inside and outside the HE/FE sector can stimulate new ideas and innovative approaches to tackling systemic inequalities.

With institutions taking increasingly intersectional approaches to equality work, aspects of inequality once hidden and silenced are emerging in colleges and universities. Once considered taboo, issues such as gender-based violence, decolonisation, the menopause, and privilege, are now emerging areas of discussion and innovation. Creating space for once unspeakable conversations will increase capacity in the sector to examine the experiences of people who may be left behind in traditional approaches to equality and address emerging practical challenges. By linking policy and practice, this conference aimed to facilitate a refreshed perspective to support the sector’s ambitious equality aims.

Supported by the Scottish Funding Council

Conference themes

The theme Courageous conversations and adventurous approaches: Creative thinking in tackling inequality covered the following sub-themes:

Day 1 (Scotland focus)

Breaking the taboo: Addressing hidden and stigmatised areas of inequality confidently and effectively

• Sexual harassment in the workplace and tackling gender-based violence.
• Aging population of the workforce.
• Race equality, whiteness, privilege and power.
• ‘Hidden’ gender issues (for example: infertility, miscarriage, maternity/paternity/shared parental leave, breastfeeding/expressing support, menopause, gender and age discrimination etc.).

Leading the change: Embedding strategic approaches to equality in colleges and higher education institutions

• Mainstreaming equality – embedding a whole-institution approach through cultural and systemic change.
• Diversity in governance – moving beyond gender balance.
• Equality impact assessments – developing a strategic approach to effective and proportionate equality activity.

Positive action: Addressing underrepresentation and inequality through targeted initiatives

• Being brave with positive action.
• Intersectional approaches to advance equality in student access.
• Increasing recruitment of disabled staff.
• Positive action in the promotion process.

Days 2 and 3

EDI and leadership

• Inclusive leadership that really makes a difference.
• Genuine distributed leadership approaches for hierarchical environments.
• Strengths-based/neuroscience approaches to managing inclusively.
• Room at the top/related to top leadership.
• The role of governance in EDI.

Belonging and safe space

• No right not to be offended? – navigating the tensions between protection from harm and freedom of expression.
• Supporting staff and students through hidden challenges (i.e. Infertility, miscarriage, infant loss, bereavement, menopause etc.).
• Rethinking the curriculum (decolonise not ‘diversify’).

Bridging the gaps

• Creative approaches to pay gaps.
• Sponsorship/mentoring/reverse mentoring: creating the environment that supports the progression of marginalised groups.
• Increasing provision and uptake of shared parental caring, paternity leave, flexible working.

Thinking forward: Effective management of EDI in a changing environment

• EDI in the global arena: partnerships, international campuses.
• Ambitious benchmarking/demonstrating impact.
• Innovative HR practices for recruiting, developing, valuing and rewarding approaches that value EDI.
• Crisis or opportunity  – building reputation and dealing with critical incidents in the digital age.

Skills building for EDI change agents

• Responding to majority privilege – fragility, ownership and allyship.
• When speaking becomes doing – what makes EDI work effective in creating positive and sustainable culture change?
• Intersectionality in action – reflecting the lived experiences of staff and students facing multiple disadvantage in EDI work.
• The power of storytelling: the personal narrative as a tool for change.

Conference programme

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EDI Conference programme - Day 1 (16 March 2021)

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EDI Conference programme - Day 2 (17 March 2021)

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EDI Conference programme - Day 3 (18 March 2021)


Conference abstracts

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Day 1 abstracts

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Day 2 abstracts

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Day 3 abstracts

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Poster abstracts

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Pre-recorded session abstracts


Why you should be there

Advance HE has acted as a nexus for thought leadership and research into EDI policy and practice in HE and FE. The underpinning evidence base has been built up by and for the sector and is used to inform the work of policymakers and practitioners. With an ever-growing global community of member institutions and a portfolio of thematic communities with global membership, this conference sought to promote the learning between individuals with a passion for transforming EDI activity in the sector to achieve real change.

Through forecasting emerging EDI topics and priorities in the sector, the conference created space for reflection and capacity-building through exploring two sub-themes: ‘courageous conversations’ and ‘adventurous approaches’. It dug deep to explore hidden and emerging EDI issues, and highlight the best examples of creative, courageous interventions that are contributing to change as well as:

  • creating space to engage with previously less-explored, hidden or ‘taboo’ equality issues and examine/encourage promising practice to address them.
  • increasing knowledge and confidence in the college and HE sectors to undertake positive action initiatives to tackle inequality and underrepresentation across student bodies, workforce and governance.
  • improving institutional capacity to make progress on EDI in an increasingly complex environment.
  • engaging with leaders and influencers to foster dialogue on embedding a strategic approach to equality in colleges and higher education institutions.
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Opening speaker

Richard Lochhead

Richard Lochhead MSP was elected to the Scottish Parliament in 1999 and 2003 via the North East regional list. During the second session of Parliament he stood down from his regional seat and was elected as constituency MSP for Moray in the by-election in April 2006. He was the Cabinet Secretary for Rural Affairs, Food and Environment from 2007 to 2016.

Find out more about Richard

Richard Lochhead
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Keynote Speakers

Jackie Galbraith

Keynote speaker: Day 1

Jackie Galbraith joined West Lothian College as principal in 2018 after five years as a vice principal at Ayrshire College. Prior to that, Jackie worked for ten years in government, in the main as an adviser to a succession of Scottish Government Education ministers and two years working for the UK Government’s Secretary of State for Scotland.

Find out more about Jackie

Jackie Galbraith

Professor Pamela Gillies

Keynote speaker: Day 1

Professor Pamela Gillies is the Principal and Vice-Chancellor at Glasgow Caledonian University.

Professor Geoff Thompson MBE FRSA DL

Keynote speaker: Day 2

Geoff has a 35-year track record in the social and human development of young people and communities through sport. He is Founder and Chair of the London based Youth Charter an international Charity and United Nations accredited Non-Governmental Organisation that tackles the societal inequalities in some of the most troubled communities in the world.

Geoff has held a number of public and private sector appointments developing and contributing to equality, diversity and inclusion at all levels of society.

Find out more about Geoff

Professor Geoff Thompson

Professor Nishan Canagarajah

Keynote speaker: Day 3

Nishan was born and educated in Sri Lanka, before moving to the UK. He joined the University of Leicester, as President and Vice-Chancellor, from the University of Bristol.

As University of Bristol lead for equality, diversity and inclusion, Nishan championed a diverse and welcoming University community that reflected his role as one of the Bristol Race Equality Commissioners and position on the Governing Board of the Bristol City Funds.

Find out more about Nishan

Professor Nishan Canagarajah
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Panel speakers

Panel Session: Keeping gender on the agenda

Talat Yaqoob

Talat Yaqoob is an independent researcher and consultant working across equalities issues, intersectional analysis and public policy participation. She has over 12 years of experience in the third sector having led a national women’s organisation tackling occupational segregation and has worked across issues such as mental health stigma, access to education, community organising and violence against women.

Find out more about Talat

Talat Yaqoob

Emma Ritch

Emma Ritch is Executive Director of Engender, which is Scotland’s feminist policy organisation working on women’s social, economic, and political equality in Scotland. Emma leads Engender’s strategic collaboration with colleagues in the women’s, equalities, and human rights sectors, and engagement with Scottish and UK Government, the UN, and the EU through the European Women’s Lobby. 

Find out more about Emma

Emma Ritch

Professor Sarah Cunningham-Burley

Sarah Cunningham-Burley, Professor of Medical and Family Sociology, University of Edinburgh and University-wide lead for Equality, Diversity and Inclusion, an executive level position where she's actively supporting mainstreaming EDI across the university, including in its short and longer term response to the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Find out more about Sarah

Sarah Cunningham-Burley

Dr Caroline Gauchotte-Lindsay

Dr Caroline Gauchotte-Lindsay is a lecturer in Environmental Engineering at the University of Glasgow. Caroline holds Masters degrees in Analytical Chemistry (EPSCI-Paris) and Forensic Science (University of Strathclyde) and a PhD in Environmental Engineering (Queen’s University, Belfast) and works at the boundary between engineering and science to tackle some of the most pressing environmental challenges such as pollution and water scarcity. Caroline is also an active player in issues around diversity and inclusion in STEM, she is co-project director on the VisNET Inclusion Matters project and a member of the TIGERs in STEMM. Caroline joined the committee in 2018.

Find out more about Caroline

Dr Caroline Gauchotte-Lindsay
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Panel session: How do you navigate hierarchies of inequalities in the context of restricted resources and political pressures?

Matt Crilly

Matt Crilly is the President of the NUS Scotland for 2020-2022. Matt’s time in student representation has focused heavily on widening access to education, student poverty and transport. In his previous role as President at the University of Strathclyde Students’ Union, Matt successfully campaigned to abolish the £35 graduation fees students were expected to pay. This sparked an NUS ‘Free to Graduate’ movement which saw student unions across Scotland win free graduations for their students. 

Find out more about Matt

Matt Cilly

Dr Jim McGeorge

As University Secretary and Chief Operating Officer, Jim is responsible for the strategic development and efficient and effective management of the University and the leadership of its Professional Services directorates.  As well as ensuring that the University meets its statutory and regulatory responsibilities, Jim oversees all high level legal and compliance affairs and is responsible for the provision of support and advice to the University Court and Senate, especially in relation to best practice in corporate governance.

Find out more about Jim

Dr Jim McGeorge

Naira Dar

Naira is the Chair of the Scottish Minority Ethnic Women’s Network. She has presented her work at a number of conferences both in the UK and across Europe and was one of the founders of the academic network, The South Asian Social Research Forum which ran for over 10 years.

Find out more about Naira

Naira Dar

Professor Ruth Taylor

Professor Ruth Taylor, Vice-Principal Education at University of Aberdeen and Deputy Chair of QAAS/Advance HE Anti-racist Curriculum Group, will also be joining this panel.

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Panel Session: Harassment, bullying and hate crime

Yasmeen Hussain

Following a 10 year career as an Engineer, Yasmeen began her career in higher education as a lecturer, later progressing into roles supporting education enhancement, driving recruitment, widening access, employability agendas and equality, diversity and inclusion charters.

Yasmeen is an ardent supporter of opportunities being created to foster equality and diversity across the education sector and the progression of underrepresented racial and ethnic groups into employment sectors. 

Find out more about Yasmeen

Yasmeen Hussain

Dr Leah Burch

Dr Leah Burch is a Professional Tutor at Liverpool Hope University, in the School of Social Sciences. Her research interests include disability hate crime, affect theory, and inequality.

Her previous research explored disabled people’s experiences and understandings of hate crime within the context of their everyday lives. This research sought to raise awareness of the strategies of resistance developed by disabled people to manage these experiences, and consider different approaches to engaging public awareness with this topic. 

Find out more about Leah

Dr Leah Burch

Paul Weller

Paul Weller (Cert Ed, MA, MPhil, PhD, DLitt) is part-time Professor, Centre Centre for Trust, Peace and Social Relations, Coventry University, where he is part of the team working on the Office for Students Project: "Tackling Religion-Based Hate Crime on the Multi-Faith Campus", some results of which he will be presenting at the Advance HE Equality, Diversity and Inclusion Conference 2021.

Find out more about Paul

Paul Weller

Maria McLeod

Maria Macleod is a solicitor at JustRight Scotland (JRS), Scotland’s law centre for justice and human rights. She completed her traineeship with JRS, supported by The Legal Education Foundation through the Justice First Fellowship scheme for aspiring social justice lawyers. As part of her Justice First Fellowship, she has been developing a project to improve access to justice for women experiencing gender-based violence in remote and rural communities across Scotland.

Find out more about Maria

Maria Macleod
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Panel Session: Hot topic

Janet Legrand QC (Hon)

Former Senior Partner and Board Chair of global law firm DLA Piper, Janet is the Senior Lay Member of Court at the University of Edinburgh. 

She has significant governance experience in higher education; in particular from her prior roles on the Audit Committee of the University of Cambridge and as Deputy Chair of Council at City, University of London, where she was also a Trustee of the Student’s Union. She is a member of the Advisory Panel of IntoUniversity and was a founding Board member of PRIME, the legal profession’s social mobility alliance. 

Find out more about Janet


Janet Legrand QC (Hon)

Katherine Trebeck

Katherine is co-founder and Strategic Advocacy Advisor, Wellbeing Economy Alliance and co-founder of WEAll Scotland. She held various roles with Oxfam GB and instigated the Wellbeing Economy Governments partnership. Katherine sits on several advisory groups, including the Centre for Understanding Sustainable Prosperity. 

Find out more about Katherine


Katherine Trebeck

Alastair Pringle

Alastair has over 30 years’ experience of working across the public sector. This includes leadership roles in the NHS in Scotland and the Scottish Government, where he led on national programmes of work on patient information, patient experience and patient’s rights.

After joining the EHRC in 2007, Alastair took over the Legal, Enforcement and Compliance functions as well as maintaining responsibility for our operations in Scotland in 2019.

Find out more about Alastair


Alastair Pringle

Sharan Virdee

Equality and Diversity Partner, Herriot Watt University. Sharan Virdee has been working in and around the equality field for most of her working life, which is for about 20 years. She is an Edinburgh University graduate and has worked in local government before coming to the higher education sector in 2006. She is keen on true partnership approaches and building successful and outcome-focused joint work. She believes this is the only way to achieve tangible change.

Sharan Virdee picture frame
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Statement of Respect and Wellbeing

EDI Conference 2021

Statement of Respect and Wellbeing