Cardiff University : Enfys Network
Karen Cooke is the Chair of the LGBT+ staff network at Cardiff University, Enfys (Rainbow in Welsh). As the highest placing University in the 2015 Stonewall Workplace Equality Index, No24, we find out more about their awesome work.
When was the network group founded and what was the catalyst for launching the network?
Enfys was launched in November 2006 and followed the early commitment in 2005 of Cardiff University joining the Stonewall Diversity Champions scheme. We featured in a very tongue in cheek article in the Times Higher Education who labelled us as Wales’ number one pink university! Staff saw this commitment by the University as a huge positive (in contrast to the Times Higher!) and believed that creating a staff network was the sensible next step.
You have a unique name for the network. What does this mean?
Enfys is Welsh for rainbow and was chosen by the members of our network when we first launched. A sense of identity is crucial, not only does it help with bringing people together under a shared cause but it really helps with promotion and branding across the institution. You never stop promoting the network as your staff group always changes.
Photo : Showing their support of Stonewall’s ‘No Bystanders’ campaign. Karen is pictured second to left.
Who can become a member of the network and how do staff and students become aware that you exist?
We define our network as LGBT+ for staff and postgraduate students at Cardiff University. The ‘+’ is to represent the fact that LGBT isn’t representative of all sexual orientations or gender identities and we aim to be as inclusive as possible. We include our postgraduate students as sometimes their experience is often different to the undergraduate community and they find it easier to relate to staff issues. We’ve also had members from other Higher Education Institutions be part of what we do, especially if there isn’t anything to support them in their own University. We promote ourselves at University induction, we have a dedicated space on the University website, we have posters around campus, we maintain an active social media presence via Facebook and Twitter and we attend events such as Pride Cymru for prospective staff and students to see what we do.
How do you communicate with your members?
We have a confidential mailing list for members of our network and communicate a lot of information via this channel. As I mentioned above we also use social media in a very proactive way and we also regularly feature in news articles that are communicated internally around the University. We take every opportunity to get our message out there.
“In my experience, being part of the conversation is much better than shouting from outside.”
What types of events and other engagement initiatives do you host and arrange for your members and beyond?
We base our events around significant dates in the LGBT calendar for example National Coming Out Day, Bivisibility Day, Transgender Day of Remembrance and of course LGBT History Month. This year for LGBT History Month we hosted stalls at different places across campus, ran coffee break sessions for people to come and find out more about us, ran some Trans Awareness sessions and hosted a showing of the film Pride. As we are a city based University we also believe in showing the local community how LGBT+ supportive Cardiff is so we raise the rainbow flag over the Main University building for the whole month and we also turned our Main University building red for the evening of World Aids Day in December.
Do you have the support of leaders within the University and do they get involved?
Our senior team are absolutely excellent. We launched our straight ally scheme two years ago which we call ‘Friend of Enfys’ and our Vice Chancellor was the first member to join. He has his Friend of Enfys sign on his door so every visitor that comes to see him sees his commitment straight away. Other members of our University Executive Board have spoken at events we have held and also at national and international events such as our Deputy Vice Chancellor opening the Iris Prize Festival and our VC being a keynote speaker at the Stonewall Cymru Workplace Conference. In fact at that conference the VC said ‘how important leadership is in ensuring that LGBT+ members of staff and students feel supported and that their voices are heard. Universities need to give a lead on inclusivity, diversity and equality.’
Photo : Smiling with Pride at a network group event.
Congratulations on being featured in the 2015 Stonewall Workplace Equality Index. Why do you take part and is it important to you to be placed in the Top100?
The Stonewall Workplace Equality Index is a useful benchmark to test and stretch any organisation. I also think that you can apply the theory behind it to any diversity indicator. The important aspect of taking part for me is that we give a strong, clear indication of how much this work matters to us as an organisation and the message that we give to prospective staff and students as well as our current students and members of staff. If you come to work or study at Cardiff University this is the culture you can expect. We also take part in the Stonewall Gay by Degree index for the same reason, it sharpens and improves what we do. The badge is great but it’s the work that we do that really matters.
Does the network have a role to play in your submission of the annual submission document?
Absolutely, we complete the submission document alongside colleagues in our Equality and Diversity team and we’ve extended this to meetings throughout the year to ensure we stay on target with the objectives in our action plan. We use the action plan across the year to influence our engagement and activities.
“I think the biggest challenge for any network is building your profile and striking the right balance between challenging the organisation to do better as well as recognising where people are trying really hard to do the right thing.”
Does the network collaborate with other networks or community groups?
We collaborate internally and externally. We work with other staff networks at Cardiff University, as Chair I meet with the other staff network chairs formally once every 6-8 weeks. We also work with staff networks from other organisations such as the National Assembly and the Welsh Government organising socials and information events.
What about working with and supporting LGBT charities and beyond. Is this something you get involved with?
We work a lot with Stonewall Cymru but we are always keen to build relationships with other groups and sectors. We’ve been building a relationship recently with Race Equality First who also do work on LGBT issues and we’ve been supporting the LGBT work that some of our local housing authorities have been getting involved with. On a larger University scale we have sponsored the Iris Prize Film Festival for the past two years and particularly in 2014 we were the sponsor for the Youth Jury Prize which I believe is a hugely positive mention to send, not just locally but internationally.
Do you think having a visible network is positive for attracting students and staff to your university?
I think the best way for me to answer this is from messages I’ve been sent from our network and our Friends of Enfys network. One colleague emailed to say after working in another organisation that was to say the least not very enlightened how fantastic it was to come and work somewhere where so much was being done to offer support. One of our Friend of Enfys colleagues emailed to say that the work the network does on LGBT+ issues is one of the reasons they are most proud to work for Cardiff University. We know students look at a huge range of factors to decide on their University place so making sure we do everything we can to support our student LGBT+ network is one of our absolute priorities. It just makes good business sense no matter how you look at it.
Photo : The Pride flag proudly flying over the University building for LGBT History Month.
How is the network coordinated?
The network is co-ordinated by a Chair, Vice Chair and then a range of staff who have different roles such as Lesbian Officer, International Officer, Bi Officer etc. We try really hard to get a good gender balance and regularly look to increase the people we have who get involved, new ideas and suggestions are always welcome. As Chair of the staff network I also sit on the University Equality and Diversity committee so we have a direct line in to strategic decisions around equality.
What would you say is your biggest challenge as a network?
I think the biggest challenge for any network is building your profile and striking the right balance between challenging the organisation to do better as well as recognising where people are trying really hard to do the right thing. In my experience, being part of the conversation is much better than shouting from outside. As Chair I constantly raise the profile of the network wherever I am. I drop it into most conversations, it’s on my email signature and I’ll go and talk to anyone about the benefits of getting involved. Also setting up the Friend of Enfys scheme has been an incredibly positive and beneficial initiative and we have a whole committed group of people who promote our message for us, which in many ways is as powerful as it gets.
From a general point of view there is always more to do so there are times when finding the time is a challenge alongside the day job but I’m given great flexibility and the organisation sees how it benefits from the time I spend on the work I do for Enfys.
“We try really hard to get a good gender balance and regularly look to increase the people we have who get involved, new ideas and suggestions are always welcome.”
What do you have planned for the rest of 2015?
We are looking to launch two guides this year, our improved Line Manager guide, focussed on supporting colleagues who may have questions about LGBT+ issues and how best to support members of staff and our International Guide which has been written to support staff and students who may be taking placements overseas and what they need to consider from an LGBT+ perspective.
We are also hoping to increase our work on Trans issues as we know that’s an area we haven’t done enough work on and also encouraging colleagues to take a fresh look at University policies and see if they are still fit for purpose. Alongside that we will be continuing to work with other LGBT networks outside the University to allow colleagues to network across South Wales. We are always open to suggestions!