Outlook on the future of STEM with Napier University

Edinburgh Napier University were one of the sponsors of Equate’s ‘STEM through an intersectional lens’ conference. To mark this, we spoke with Professor Nazira Karodia, Vice Principal Learning & Teaching at Edinburgh Napier, to learn more about their organisational strategy and commitment to Equality, Diversity, and Inclusion.

Can you present Edinburgh Napier University in a few words? What differentiates Napier from other Scottish universities?

Edinburgh Napier University has a vision of building a community where all of our members are empowered to fulfil their potential and find their own unique place in the world. We aim to achieve this by not just accepting difference, but by promoting and celebrating it.

The University was recently voted the Number 1 Modern University in Scotland (Sunday Times/Times Good University Guide 2022) and the Number 1 University in Edinburgh for Overall Student Satisfaction (NSS 2021).

We value our student and staff community and are committed to creating a truly inclusive culture for everyone. We promote equality of opportunity in all that we do and are here to provide education, support, resources, connections, and advice.

Learning at the university is marked by a focus on good teaching, excellent research, and pivotal resources, and is enriched by the diversity of perspectives, cultures and backgrounds brought by all within our global community.

It is also worth mentioning that the University has six staff networks. These networks include the Women’s network, LGBT+ network, BAMEish network, Carer’s network, the Armed Forces network, and the newest addition, an Interfaith network, which was launched in late 2021. The staff networks offer a place of belonging, a voice for staff, and are vital to building inclusion into everyday policies, procedures, and behaviours.

Can you tell us a bit more about the partnership with Equate Scotland and what it means for Edinburgh Napier?

Edinburgh Napier is pleased to host the Equate Scotland office at our Craiglockhart Campus. The high-profile location is a constant reminder to students and staff of the importance of Equality, Diversity, and Inclusion. Our close working relationship benefits our STEM women students who are invited to be part of the wider student network, attending Equate Scotland events and training.

Equate Scotland are the preferred supplier for the delivery of Equality, Diversity and Inclusion training at the University and run a series of high-quality training courses for staff in the university to ensure inclusion remains at the heart of the university’s values. These sessions are run over the course of the year and are always fully subscribed. The team has really got to know the University and its culture, so can deliver an authentic programme of learning which is both engaging and relevant to staff at the University.

Edinburgh Napier University sponsored the annual conference ‘STEM through an intersectional lens” last June. How are you creating a teaching and learning environment that helps all students thrive and enhance diversity & inclusion? 

Inclusion is one of the key themes of our new curriculum development project. We are approaching it by questioning all aspect of our learning and teaching approaches and resources for each of our courses. This includes decolonisation of the curriculum and adherence to principles for universal design for learning. Making our course material more inclusive is key to enhancing our students’ employability skills and sense of belonging as well as promoting a global outlook.

Thinking about your STEM subjects and curriculums, how do you support the attraction and progression of women into STEM? And what role academic institutions can/need to play to reduce the gender imbalance in STEM?

We are working on a number of initiatives to improve the gender balance on our computing and engineering courses. One recent project, Women into Tech, located the barriers to women enjoying a career in the tech sector – for many women such barriers start at school when selecting subjects to study.

Academic institutions have an important role to play, sharing the opportunities offered by studying STEM through outreach work in schools, and then supporting women through their courses and out into employment. We have many women – students and staff – who act as role models, and we are researching how best to challenge any negative stereotypes.

What targets do you have within Napier University to improve gender balance?

Women currently account for 34% of staff at senior manager Grade 8 and above yet make up 56% of all staff. The University has an ambitious target in place which seeks for there to be a 50%F:50%M gender balance in leadership roles (including Heads of roles in schools), by 2024. Activity to achieve this will include reviewing recruitment practices, identifying where there may be barriers to progression and improve flexible working practices.

Academic Promotion data reveals that the number of female applicants for promotion has been consistently lower than the number of male applicants and this trend continued in 2021 with 25 female applicants compared to 31 male applicants. The success rate for female staff was lower than that of male staff in 2021; 40% F compared to 45% M. However, when looked at over the last 3 years, the success rates between men and women are very similar; 42.9% for women and 42% for men. To further support women in academia, a successful workshop for women and their allies was facilitated, with a focus on imposter syndrome, working in predominantly male cultures and how to manage a career whilst juggling caring responsibilities and/or working part-time.

Why is the gender pay gap an important indicator when trying to improve gender equality in the workplace?

The gender pay gap is a key indicator of the inequalities and differences that still exist in the working lives of men and women and is caused by three main factors: occupational segregation, inflexible working practices, and pay discrimination.

Edinburgh Napier has one of the lowest gender pay gaps in Higher Education: our mean gender pay gap is 5.8% compared to the sector average of 18.3% and the median 8.9% compared to the sector average of 16.2%.

How are you supporting women students?

Equate Scotland run a STEM student network across several universities and colleges. Events include network meetings, conferences, and training sessions. Our STEM Student Champions work with Equate Scotland to encourage participation in the network, they also attend our open days, sharing their experiences with new applicants. Student champions have an opportunity to be ambassadors for gender equality in STEM and through Equate’s training and activities gain skills in building partnerships, planning, public speaking, and outreach.

The University’s equality outcomes include a commitment to increase the proportion of female applicants to Computing and Engineering programmes from 10% in 2019/2020 to 25% by 2030.

How do you prepare students for the professional world? How do you give them the tools they need to start their professional career?  

Edinburgh Napier embeds graduate employability in its curriculum. Examples include student placements, short internships, and group projects with live clients. Our Student Futures team is there to support students and graduates with job applications, CVs, and other employability focused activities.

We research student experiences of placement to maximise the opportunities for future graduate job applications, and to share findings with employers who are keen to offer an inclusive workplace.

Anything else you would like to share with Equate community?

At Edinburgh Napier we are motivated to promote and ensure women and other underrepresented groups into STEM careers both on principles of equality and the social and economic urgencies of our society. This becomes a moral responsibility and a response to the demand for trained STEM professionals. The latter is vital for the growth of our society.

The emphasis on ensuring that everybody is given equal opportunities and programmes to support that thrust are threads that run through our teaching, student learning, facilities, student support, staff recruitment and staff promotion.