Equality, Diversity and Inclusion (EDI)

Athena SWAN Bronze Award

Advancing Equality and Diversity in the School of Geography, Earth and Environmental Sciences

Over the past years, we have developed our Equality, Diversity and Inclusion (EDI) agenda and we are committed to solidly embedding this throughout all levels and activities. It is also embedded in the senior management of the School, supported by the College of Life and Environmental Sciences EDI Committee.

In 2019, the School successfully achieved an Athena Swan Bronze Award. This demonstrates the School's self-assessment of barriers to women’s representation and career progression and all staff's work-life balance, in addition to a workable action plan for change.

In addition to focusing on gender, we are working to recognise multiple and intersecting axes of diversity, and the impact and contribution these differences have on the life and work of both students and staff. Therefore the work of the committee is focused on making the School of Geography, Earth and Environmental Science an inclusive place, where everyone feels that they belong..

We also recognise that – within our School, within the Higher Education sector, and within society generally – the scope of the challenges we face is still large, and pressing. There exist many barriers to the participation of different groups at University – whether as students or staff. Moreover, there remain disparities in the grades awarded to different groups, in rates of progression to more senior staff positions, and in the ways in which the knowledge, beliefs, skills and cultures of different groups are or are not reflected in what we research and teach. In short, there is still much to do, but we recognise this and are committed to making a difference in our School, our disciplines and beyond.

These pages provide an introduction to our approach, our achievements and work to date, our planned actions, events, the members of our EDI committee, and relevant policies.


Our Approach

One of GEES’ guiding values is that our School is not only diverse but inclusive and equitable. The School must be a vibrant, safe, welcoming place to work and study and our culture must reflect this. Equality, Diversity and Inclusivity are not simply a ‘policy’ or the work of a committee: we hold they are central to and must be woven through everything that we do. EDI – in what we do, what we say, how we conduct ourselves, our research and our teaching – is everyone’s responsibility, and everyone has a role to play. The EDI committee aims to provide an open forum where staff and students from across the School can discuss strategies and actions that can support our values. But we are working hard to ensure that everyone – staff and students – has the resources, the knowledge, the skills and the confidence to play their part.

Critically, whilst we have made important strides in embedding EDI in the School’s work, we know that there is much more to do – both when it comes to addressing the under-representation of particular groups amongst students and staff, and when it comes to their experiences, their achievements and their progression before, during and after their time in the School. We already know that there are ongoing challenges in Higher Education relating (for instance) to the gender pay gap and the proportion of women staff women in senior roles; that there is an ‘awarding gap’ for students from some minority ethnic groups in the UK compared with white students; that Geography and the Earth Sciences are thoroughly infused with and were complicit in forms of exploration and colonialism that led to violence and injustice whose effects continue today (in for instance white privilege and racism); and that some staff and students identifying as LGBTQ+ are silenced or marginalised. Whilst we must remind ourselves of these challenges, we must also focus on strategies and actions to address these challenges.

You can read more about our actions, achievements, and recent work below ("Our actions, achievements and links to our work"). However, a key way in which we have been driving forward our EDI values in the School, and making them visible to our whole community, is through embedding  EDI centrally within all aspects of the School’s work, strategically, at all levels. For instance:

  • the School’s EDI Lead sits on the Heads Advisory Group and School Executive Committee (the Heads Advisory Group in particular offers a forum for responding quickly to issues raised by students and staff in a responsive way, at the highest level within the School, to ensure appropriate actions are taken);
  • we have made a focus on EDI actions a central element of recent whole-School Away Days, with key senior staff such as Research Theme Leads and Heads of Education, Research and Admissions taking responsibility for taking forward actions with their groups/committees; Committee Heads also sit on the EDI committee and all School Committees are assessed for balanced representation;
  • we ensure that the EDI committee is not only a forum for discussing policies but actions – there is a regular slot for all committee members to bring suggestions/problems, and we have developed interim ‘action plans’ that extend beyond and complement (for instance) our commitments with Athena Swan or Race Equality Charter action plans and are actionable locally, within the School;
  • we have appointed a Wellbeing Lead and Access and Participation Lead, recognising the need both to highlight the central significance of these issues, and to develop School-level actions that link to but extend beyond ‘EDI’ as narrowly understood;
  • we have been developing mechanisms for students and staff to communicate and collaborate around EDI issues – from student-staff forums, to the representation of students on the School EDI committee, to collaborative research and events;
  • EDI training is mandatory for all staff and we are introducing a programme of compulsory EDI training for all students, to augment what already exists in our tutorial programmes;
  • EDI is embedded centrally within key decision-making processes (such as staff recruitment and promotions panels);
  • We regularly monitor all EDI data via the University’s data system, Tableau – and, critically, bring issues or challenges to relevant committees, not only the EDI committee
  • we have policies and procedures in place to ensure that caring and other responsibilities, including parental leave, are embedded in our work and that staff are supported before, during and after any leave;
  • we have established a number of temporary working groups to bring together key staff (and where relevant students) to address issues that cut across several of the School’s programmes and committees – such as ensuring that our fieldwork is as accessible and inclusive for all students and staff as possible.

Our actions, achievements and links to our work

This section provides a flavour of the kinds of concrete actions and work that students and staff in the School have been doing around EDI. Although we recognise that there is much more to do (see "Planned actions" below), we would like to highlight that our activities are both inward-facing (about what happens in the School itself) and outward-facing – working with professional, statutory and regulatory bodies (e.g. the Geological Society of London, the Royal Geographical Society and the Institution of Environmental Sciences) and funding bodies to engage in research, discussions and actions locally, nationally and internationally. The School hosts some leading scholars working on different aspects of EDI – from inclusive fieldwork, to race and decolonisation, to disability.

  • EDI is embedded in the early stages of Year 1 undergraduate students’ learning – from Welcome Week to dedicated EDI tutorials where students discuss issues of gender and ethnicity.
  • We have included EDI considerations in staff recruitment processes – for instance by asking candidates about how they could contribute to the School’s EDI work during interviews. All job adverts contain an Equal Opportunities statement.
  • EDI is a core element of the induction process for all new staff, and where possible the EDI lead meets with new staff during their induction.
  • We have introduced an anonymous form where staff can post suggestions about issues we could address or actions we might take around EDI – one of several ways in which all staff can communicate with the EDI committee and the School’s senior leadership team.
  • We have worked with the Royal Geographical Society (with IBG) in developing a number of publications, a scoping exercise, a national programme of work/advocacy, and installations around EDI, and particularly around race and geography;
  • We hold regular training and workshop events to discuss different aspects of EDI and the GEES disciplines, often involving external as well as internal attendees
  • The Earth Sciences Research Theme holds a biweekly ‘Geoequalities’ reading/discussion group for undergraduates, postgraduates, and staff
  • There is a regular feature on EDI in the School’s weekly Bulletin, sent to all students and staff.
  • All School seminars take place within core business hours
  • Students and staff collaborated to develop peer-led research around ethnicity and degree awarding gaps in the GEES disciplines
  • Aspects of EDI (including age, gender, ethnicity, and various forms of intersectionality) figure prominently within many of our modules, as do efforts to decolonise our curricula.
  • We have been interviewed in the NY Times about efforts to decolonize palaeontology. https://www.nytimes.com/2021/03/22/science/dinosaurs-fossils-colonialism.html
  • We have published guides on making GEES fieldwork more accessible and inclusive: https://eartharxiv.org/repository/view/2299/ , and on mental health and fieldwork: https://blog.geolsoc.org.uk/2020/05/19/mental-health-and-fieldwork/
  • We have produced guidance around toilet stops and inclusive fieldwork. This primer, which was made available to all UK geoscience departments as well as professional bodies, is intended to educate staff and students about toilet stops and menstruation in the field. It also contains a set of recommendations for field work and field trips. https://doi.org/10.31219/osf.io/gnhj2 .  
  • We have published work identifying barriers to fieldwork in undergraduate geoscience degrees and set out recommendations to overcome these. https://doi.org/10.1038/s43017-020-0022-5 .
  • We have carried out research into the underrepresentation of students from ethnic minority backgrounds in the Geosciences, identifying factors involved in racial inequity in the geosciences and proposing a range of actions that should be taken to make GEES subjects more inclusive. https://doi.org/10.1038/s41561-021-00737-w .
  • We have highlighted the ‘straightwashing’ of ecological legacies and advocated for their personal lives to be included in discussions of their work. https://doi.org/10.1038/s41559-019-1025-9
  • We have worked with UK-wide funding councils to highlight barriers to accessing postgraduate research funding for people from minoritized groups, and helped to develop actions that have been adopted by the NERC Doctoral Training Centre at the University of Birmingham as well as more broadly across the UK: https://centa.ac.uk/centa-studentship-information/ . We will reflect on and develop wider good practices in student and staff recruitment based on these actions.
  • We have co-produced a key report about supervising Black geography PhD students. The report provides an important series of insights into the experiences of Black PhD students as well as a series of key recommendations, which apply to both individual supervisors/supervisory teams and institutions more broadly: https://raceingeography.org/2021/09/22/report-supervising-black-geography-phd-researchers-in-the-uk/

Planned actions

Whilst we have made significant progress, there is still much more work to do. We have therefore been developing a series of priority actions that we are currently working on and will continue to work on over the next couple of years.

  • We will continue to focus on decolonising our curricula – building on expertise within and beyond the School, on the University’s Higher Education Futures Institute (HEFi) Inclusive Educator tool (https://www.birmingham.ac.uk/university/hefi/staff-development/new-website-pages/the-inclusive-educator.aspx ). Our efforts to do so will be led by our School Education Committee and Programme Leads, with clear resources provided about starting points (e.g. around reading lists).
  • We will widely publicise resources and support for anti-racist learning, teaching and research in GEES disciplines and strongly encourage all students and staff engage with these.
  • We will produce School-wide guidance for more inclusive labwork.
  • We will implement the findings of our fieldwork working group, to ensure that our fieldtrips are even more inclusive and accessible to all students and staff. This will include developing virtual fieldwork to facilitate participation and develop inclusive practice.
  • We will explore ways to further diversify our invited speakers and visitors, drawing on internal and external funding to do so where appropriate.
  • We will continue to work with a number of professional, regulatory and statutory bodies to find ways to further diversify our student and staff bodies, including through our active participation within these networks.
  • We will continue to listen to the diverse issues and suggestions put forward by our students – looking at all aspects of a student’s journey, including the years before they come to University, experiences at University (including student societies and social life), and their lives after graduation.
  • We will continue to develop inclusive processes (including shortlisting criteria) for recruitment of PhD students and staff, building on the work done through the NERC CENTA PhD consortium in recent years.
  • We will ensure that interview panels are more diverse (for instance, inviting post-doctoral fellows to sit on panels, as appropriate, which will also ensure we can make more of their subject-specific expertise).
  • We will continue to develop and improve support for students with ‘Reasonable Adjustment Plans’ (RAPs) (for instance to support students with mental health issues or disabilities).
  • We will work to ensure that students and staff who are the first in their family to study and/or work at University feel supported, empowered and can succeed.


GEES School Seminar Series: 12th May 2021, 1pm
Diversity Crises in the GEES Disciplines: statistics, personal experiences of students, and next steps
Sam Giles, Sarah Greene, Shivani Singh, Jessica Pykett, Peter Kraftl

This seminar will examine the longstanding and persistent diversity crisis in GEES subjects, through ongoing research by GEES staff and students. It will highlight how certain groups - including people from minority ethnic communities, women and/or those experiencing socio-economic disadvantage - continue to be under-represented amongst students and staff. The seminar will focus on several research projects that have involved collaborative research with students and other stakeholders to uncover the experiences of under-represented groups and that aimed to provide concrete, actionable recommendations for change. The first project tabulated and contextualized student ethnicity data for Geology and allied subjects (Physical Geography and Environmental Science) in the UK. The second project was a piece of peer-led research, undertaken with GEES students, which was designed to examine the experiences of minority ethnic undergraduate and postgraduate students. The third is a just-launched UK-wide student survey about perceptions of Geology. Overall, these pieces of work provide a number of suggested next steps for institutions and individuals to break down barriers and tackle the diversity crisis.

Members of the GEES EDI Committee

Relevant policies

As part of a wider network of E&D initiatives across campus, our school implements the following university-wide policies: