Imperial will develop a comprehensive action plan to address sexism and advance gender equality, Professor James Stirling announced this week.
It comes as Imperial publishes the findings of an independent research project into the College’s institutional culture and how it impacts on gender equality.
The project, commissioned in summer 2015, is the first of its kind in the UK higher education sector. It was prompted by concerns about sexism in sport following the College’s 2015 Varsity rugby tournament. However, its scope became much broader, as the College decided to take the opportunity to get a full and honest account of the College’s culture.
We strongly believe that Imperial is only a world-class institution because of our talented, diverse community
– Professor James Stirling
The project was led by independent researchers from the Centre for Gender Studies at the University of Sussex, Dr Alison Phipps and Dr Liz McDonnell, and assisted by Dr Jess Taylor, an independent consultant
The first phase of the qualitative research involved documentary analysis as well as collecting data from staff and students through interviews, focus groups, an open-text survey, and participant and non-participant observation. The second phase of the research used an Action Inquiry process, working with groups of staff and students, to explore key themes in more detail.
Imperial’s Provost, Professor James Stirling, said: “We are very grateful to Dr Alison Phipps and her colleagues for their insightful report.
“We strongly believe that Imperial is only a world-class institution because of our talented, diverse community. We want everyone at the College to feel supported, respected, and able to excel. That is why we are committed to ensuring gender equality and eradicating sexist behaviour wherever we can, at all levels.”
The report details some of the positive aspects of Imperial’s culture, acknowledging the policies, initiatives and support the College has in place and the benefits that they bring. The College is perceived as a place where staff can excel - supporting talent and achievement as well as enabling flexible working. The report also notes that many staff and students consider Imperial to be a friendly, open, and supportive place to work.
These findings remind us that we cannot stand still. We must do better.
– Professor James Stirling
However, the report highlights some important areas where the College is currently falling short. The researchers heard examples of staff and students feeling silenced, undermined, and afraid to come forward to report discrimination and bullying. Participants also reported a lack of community spirit and an impersonal culture.
Professor Stirling, said: “If only a single person within our community experiences harassment, or is unable to access the support they need – that is one person too many. These findings remind us that we cannot stand still. We must do better.
I know that some of this may not be easy, but I am confident that by working together we can create as supportive and inclusive an environment as we can, since that is what all our staff and students deserve.”
We feel confident that positive changes will take place because of our study.
– Dr Alison Phipps
The report makes a number of recommendations while recognising that cultural change is a complex process that takes time to evolve. Building on the report, Imperial will be developing a comprehensive action plan to address these issues, with the input of the whole College community.
The College will be engaging with staff and students over the coming months to hear how the report resonates with their own experiences and get their thoughts on what the College can do to improve.
Dr Phipps said: “There is a lot of talk at the moment about having the ‘right’ policies in place to deal with inequality and discrimination in HE. Imperial College has shown tremendous courage in not just ticking the boxes, but appointing a feminist team to do in-depth research on its institutional culture. Our work at Imperial has been challenging but incredibly constructive, and we are very grateful to the staff and students who have participated with us. We also feel confident that positive changes will take place because of our study.”
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