Driving diversity during Lockdown. My first fortnight with FLEXIS

FLEXIS Administrative Officer, Wiktoria Tunska

For those who have always worked in an office, switching to a remote way of working may have been a big change and an unexpected experience. Starting a new job during the coronavirus outbreak, is an even more peculiar experience. This is what happened to me. In March, I switched from office-based to remote working and not long after that, I started my new role as FLEXIS’ Project’s Administrative Officer. All from the comfort of my own home.

So far, my experience working at Cardiff University has been completely digital. Starting with the Zoom interview, which went well, but definitely not as smoothly as expected (blessed technology!). Apart from minor technical issues, a virtual interview was an interesting experience. Being at home made the whole experience a lot less stressful for me but, on the other hand, communicating through Zoom (or any other digital platform) makes it almost impossible to get to know your interlocutors and understand their emotions, mood and a general atmosphere. I’ve been part of the FLEXIS team for just over two weeks now and it’s weird to think that I’ve still not met my teammates in person. Talking through technology does remove an element of emotional connection and inclusion that comes with face to face communication but with every video call meeting, I get to know everyone in the team a little more and I’ve felt really welcome.

FLEXIS Team Call

I feel very lucky that I joined such a supportive team as it made the transition experience much easier for me. Before I joined FLEXIS, I was made aware of the cross-cutting themes, which play a significant role in this WEFO funded project. They are:

  1. Sustainable Development
  2. Tackling Poverty and Social Exclusion
  3. Equal Opportunities and Gender Mainstreaming

The work the project does to support and promote these topics was something that definitely got my attention. Not only, had I an opportunity to become a part of the big green energy focused project but also to champion equality and diversity. It has always been important for me because of the personal reasons to act as an advocate for equal opportunities and in the light of the recent events – Black Lives Matter movement, fights for the equal rights of LGBTQ+ community both in America and in my home country (Poland) – advocating for equal opportunities seemed to become more important than ever before. Hence, I decided to dive straight in and after a discussion with Jamie Lewis who is the Monitoring, Evaluation and Cross Cutting Themes Coordinator for FLEXIS, I started working on the Equality Opportunities and Gender Mainstreaming theme. However, because of the coronavirus pandemic and an imposed lockdown, championing diversity became a more challenging task. In the time of restricted mobility and human interactions, the main focus naturally moved from a direct promotion of equal opportunities and gender mainstreaming onto tackling the current situation with coronavirus. And that was something that I wanted to take a look into.

I started by using my own experience. I asked myself: ‘What are the biggest challenges of starting a new job remotely? What are the challenges of (presumably) working from home for the time being?’ These questions directed my thinking on inclusion, so then I could move to the bigger question: ‘How to champion equality in the coronavirus lockdown?’ Personally, I enjoy working from home and believe it has a lot of perks. However, this working mode also has disadvantages, for example, the increased feeling of isolation. As I mentioned previously, my team made me feel really welcome, included and supported every step of the way but I still recognize that working from home may be a difficult experience for some.  For me, the change in job but not having an opportunity to physically experience being in a new workplace and meeting new people was a new experience. I’m a recent Cardiff University graduate so I had a fair general knowledge of the University, its culture and values. Nevertheless, student experience quite naturally differs from the experience of the employee.

Wiktoria working from home

In order to help myself feel more included in the broader life of the organisation, I decided to take part in the training sessions and courses available online. The first step was to search through the Intranet as well as join relevant Yammer groups. This way I came across a very useful webinar on ‘Mental Health and Support for the LGBTIQ+ Community’ organised by Care First and Cardiff University. The webinar focused on the ways to improve the wellbeing of the members of the LGBTQ+ community in a coronavirus lockdown. During the webinar, I learnt about ways to tackle issues such as a feeling of isolation or anxiety. Care First presented useful resources (including the contacts to Mind, Care First, and Samaritans) and tips on how to help anyone who struggles in the current situation. This experience not only made me feel a part of the Cardiff University community but also naturally became a guide for how I can carry on with my mission to champion equal opportunities and gender mainstreaming at FLEXIS during lockdown.

I believe that educating yourself is the basic step that needs to be taken in order to champion diversity. I’m therefore using my time in lockdown to increase my knowledge of inclusion culture and develop some new skills. Working from home proved to be a great opportunity to complete online training and watch useful webinars. I found a lot of free resources on equality issues that can be accessed online, including LGBT Wellbeing Hub, Future Learn course on ‘Understanding Diversity and Inclusion’, Stonewall Home Learning Packs, or Ian Dodd’s articles on the inclusive culture in the organization. Social media, which for me, is probably the most effective communication tool in the current circumstances, proves to be a great platform to promote equality, diversity and gender mainstreaming. In FLEXIS, we utilise our social media presence to promote our work on cross-cutting themes. Earlier this month, I helped in preparing a promotion of our work for International Women in Engineering Day…

International Women in Engineering Day 2020 – Twitter Post

For this occasion, we posted a series of interviews and blogs with some of the inspiring engineered focused females at FLEXIS; driving focus on the gender equality issue as well as supporting female participation in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM).

Even though my adventure with FLEXIS has just begun, I feel very positive about the team and very strong about the values that the project promotes. Commencing employment in the lockdown had its perks as it gave me time to focus on self-development and self-learning. I will continue to join more online conversations and take part in webinars to increase engagement and tackle feelings of isolation. In my work, I plan on actively promoting equality and diversity as I believe that it is important especially now – in the time of the crisis.

If you have any ideas that have worked well for you and your team, please just let me know