Believing in Accessibility for All
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Creating an Inclusive University to Provide Equal Opportunity

The University of Sunderland believe that everybody should be treated equally, and opportunities afforded to all. Through hard work, best practicing and technology they continue their mission to support all.

We recently spoke to Justine Gillespie the Equality, Diversity, and Inclusion Manager at the University of Sunderland to find out what they are doing to create an inclusive University...

Justine Gillespie University of SunderlandPlease introduce yourself and your organisation

My name is Justine Gillespie and I am the Equality, Diversity, and Inclusion Manager at the University of Sunderland. I joined the University in 2013 after over 25 years in retail. As an alumni of the University, I feel very proud to be working at the place that was instrumental in steering my career at the outset. I am passionate about its values especially that of inclusion and its focus on widening participation.

We have 20,000 students at four campuses across Sunderland, London, and Hong Kong. Our key strengths are sciences, education, advanced manufacturing, software, enterprise and innovation, and creative industries. These strengths are reflected in our internationally excellent research, global partnerships, and knowledge transfer partnerships. We recently opened a new School of Medicine, with the first students starting in September 2019.

What is your D&I mission for this year and beyond?

Here at the University of Sunderland, we believe that everybody should be treated equally, and opportunities afforded to all. However, we also recognise that treating everyone equally has shortcomings when the playing field is not level. Where possible we take an approach that everyone should be treated according to their needs.

Our inclusion strategy focuses on ensuring that everyone at the University, regardless of their background, identity or circumstance, feels valued, accepted and support to succeed. Positive change on inclusion can only come about through concerted, meaningful and intentional action.

Can you share some D&I best practice examples?

In 2017, the proportion of professorships held by women in UK Universities was declining, despite huge efforts to improve gender equality, and was sitting at 24%. In their report, Advance HE shows that the decline has stopped, but the percentage of female professors still remains at only 25.5%.

Since 2013, the University has used gender-balanced panels and Equality Impact Assessments at each stage of the professorial appointments process (designed to ensure that the scheme does not discriminate against any disadvantaged people). Promotions workshops for all potential applicants were also organised, led by a panel of current female professors.

As a result, the University can celebrate a different story. In the 2018 Internal Promotions rounds for professors, more than half of applicants and appointments were women. Figures show that 54% of our professors are women, which is more than double the national average and has steadily been growing since 2013.

What are you doing across your digital landscape to be inclusive?

The University takes the view that inclusion for all is about creating an environment and a culture where staff and students feel valued and included. In today’s work and especially so during this pandemic, everything we do is online. Therefore, it is an important aspect of our inclusion strategy to make our webpages as accessible as possible to everyone. Our digital content team was delighted to collaborate with Recite Me, to provide assistive technology to both prospective and current students. Since its launch in June 2020 the Recite Me accessibility toolbar has been used over 47,500 times.

Can you share an example of D&I success at your organisation?

During lockdown, we focused on setting up staff networks that were led by the needs of the staff. There was an overwhelming response to the call out for interested staff to set up these networks and within 6 months have set up 8 fully thriving groups who meet virtually every month. The networks are an incredibly powerful way to engage staff in shaping the culture of the University and whilst we are all working remotely these feel more important than ever before. Our networks are:

• All Identities Included (LGBTQI+)

• Fertility Support

• SOLO (Living along or in isolation)

• BAME Staff and Allies

• CAPS (Parents and Carers)

• Enabled (mind and body) Staff and Allies

• Menopause Support

Concluding message you would like people to take away

We are an international and multicultural community, which values and encourages diversity. Inclusion is what is needed to give diversity real impact and drive towards a University where all students are empowered to thrive. Whilst diversity and inclusion often go hand in hand, inclusion is fundamentally about individual experience and allowing everyone to contribute and feel a part of our community and is a value at the heart of the University strategy.