UCL Faculty of Life Sciences


Embedding a successful EDI culture – in eight steps

Embedding a successful EDI culture takes time. But with the right process in place, it becomes much easier to achieve and maintain. We have used the following eight-step process to develop a strong EDI culture across UCL’s Faculty of Life Sciences.

Step 1: Establishing a sense of urgency 

The starting point for developing a strong EDI culture is to convince people of the need for change – and not just changing it at any time, but to change now. The linking of research funding to the Athena SWAN Silver Award (2011) in the UK has been instrumental in creating the urgency to promote equality and diversity in academic STEM.  


Step 2: Forming a powerful guiding coalition

To create lasting change, the majority of people involved need to be convinced of the need for it. Some will always be against it, so there’s little point spending time convincing them. But others will be willing to commit time and energy to drive the necessary changes. Those are the people we need to get board – and in our case, these are the individuals that now sit on our Equality Diversity and Inclusion Committee (EDIC).  


Step 3: Creating a vision 

Next comes clarity of vision. A clearly articulated message is essential for spelling out the need for change and the benefits underpinning it. After adopting Athena SWAN’s vision to Promote Women's Careers in Science, we found we were having to explain that our EDI work wasn’t about pushing for positive discrimination. Changing our vision to Simply Good Practice was instrumental in us getting lots more people on board. 


Step 4: Communicating the vision 

With a clear vision in place, it was then time to formulate our EDI comms strategy. This stage was all about making sure that EDI became visible to everyone – not just on the content on our website and at our annual EDIC seminar, but in all aspects of our decision-making. To achieve this, we introduced EDI updates as a standard item on every committee agenda – and starting using the tweet #simplygoodpractice to communicate our vision beyond UCL. 


Step 5: Empowering others to act on the vision 

With our EDI Committee in place, their first job was to identify any issues of inequality across UCL Life Sciences. So we looked at data on our staff at all levels, but also in our committees, seminar series, students, recruitment, and fellowship and funding applications. A survey can be a good way to add to this, and monitor the impact of any actions. This data then formed the basis of our EDI action plan. We’ve introduced a range of EDI initiatives as part of this process, as well as tools and resources to share our EDI work with others.  


Step 6: Planning for and creating short-term wins 

Once you’ve started this process, it’s vital to keep the momentum going – so that people involved in EDI can see their actions have had an impact. Setting annual goals can help. We’ve set up an annual EDIC Prize to highlight people’s efforts, as well as annual promotions and fellowship successes celebrations, Nominating for UCL awards and Applying for AS awards. We also use our feedback survey results to highlight improvements and flag areas we need to keep working on. Showing people that their concerns are being addressed is essential for keeping survey participation high. 


Step 7: Consolidating improvements and producing still more change 

Surveys and other data helps us assess the impact of our EDI actions, so we can see what’s worked, what needs more time or what requires a different approach. If an action has had an impact, we embed it into our practices. If it hasn’t had any impact, we go back to step 5 and repeat the process until we identify an action that does. This isn’t a quick fix. But sticking with it for 5-10 years will result in a series of actions that bring about the necessary change in culture. 


Step 8: Institutionalising new approaches 

The final step is to embed EDI practices so that they become ‘the normal way of doing things around here’ – while also sharing our EDI practices with others. Our EDI representatives are regularly involved in Beacon activities at a university, national or global level, including speaking and consultations. We’ve also made our EDI resources available to anyone wishing to use them, with the aim of sharing good practice across the university and beyond it.

A model for change 

Inequality is systemic in society and, although every organisation has its own issues to address, we believe a cultural shift needs to sit at the heart of this change. We’ve found this model to be a highly effective way, within UCL Life Sciences, of making that change happen. 

This process was originally developed by John P. Kofte as a way to keep businesses competitive and profitable, but it can be used by any organisation for any purpose. 

See: Leading Change - Why Transformation efforts fail: Leaders who successfully transform do eight things right (and do them in the right order)