International Women’s Day 2023: Embracing Equity

#EmbracingEquity #IWD2023

One cold morning at the end of February in the privacy, warmth and safety of the Brigstow office I disclosed a poor wardrobe mishap that had given me a bumpy start to the day, and for my colleagues it opened up past recollections of sexist behaviours and attitudes to women, both humorous stories they had heard and experienced and but also sad ones and bewildering anecdotes of comedians past that served to reinforce and proliferate attitudes towards women. Stories that would never be considered appropriate today. As we settled down into our regular team meeting, we reflected on how far our society had come in terms of female equality. Ironically, and unbeknownst to the team, this was the week I had put International Women’s Day 2023 on the agenda.

The entirety of the four individuals who make up the Brigstow Institute core team identify as female. Two of the Brigstow team are in leadership positions (with our director holding other independent leadership positions across the university). Together we work to guide a community of 357 academic researchers and 353 community partners across Bristol, the UK and beyond in co-produced research projects. This situation would have been rare only 30 years ago. At Brigstow we are privileged to work with so many wonderful women, with sharp minds, creative thinking, skilled hands and compassionate hearts. We witness them tackling research projects with intelligence, wit, and care, working creatively and passionately to help alleviate issues of social justice and tackle some of the big questions of what it means to be human in the 21st century. These women are artists, directors of NGO’s, hold positions in the council, are mothers, carers and community researchers, academics, entrepreneurs, anthropologists, robotics engineers, clinicians and education professionals, to name but a few. All these diverse women are striving to positively impact their communities. We, at Brigstow, would like to take the time to celebrate these women, their courage, dedication and tenacity. And alongside them, we would like to thank and celebrate male colleagues who listen to them, learn from them, respect and value them, striving to collaborate equitably.

Embracing equity is at the heart of coproduction

At Brigstow our core work centres around co-produced research. And when talking about co-production, it is not possible to ignore discussion about equity as the two go hand in hand.

Equity in co-produced research is about acknowledging and valuing all the different skills and expertise that different team members bring that may not be considered ‘equal’, but together their diverse contributions are critical to the relevance and success of the project. Here lies the magic and serendipity. For example, an artist on a project might bring one provocation which enables the whole team to think differently, or an academic who brings a novel question that enables that team to structure the activity differently. Our vision is that all contributions are equally valued.

Valuing and embracing equity in our processes.

“Embracing Equity” is something we strive for and encourage in everything that we do at Brigstow. As an Institute we value that knowledge lies everywhere, and we work hard to listen and respond to our community in order to help break down any barriers that might prevent an individual or organisation from taking part in research. Equity is at the heart of all our conversations – we  consider equity of access, and equity of knowledge production, and this all influences our policies and practices in everything we do as an Institute.

Our coordinator, Julia has spent many hours coaching and guiding researchers through financial research management systems so that they leave Brigstow not just having carried out creative and meaningful research, but for new budget holders to progress from their project feeling empowered with new skills and confidence to continue in their career managing larger research budgets on their own. We support community partners to have access to the university resources, we ensure everyone is paid fairly for their collaboration on time. Artists are often used to their time not being costed into bids and so offer their time unpaid. Often this is because of the lack of resources but early on we made a commitment to value everyone’s time and so we always expect artists to be costed in at a fair rate and will ensure this continues to happen. We allow the costs of childcare around our projects and events to allow mothers to participate in research and our events or workshops. We seek to hold events and workshops only in places which are easily accessible to all. Sometimes the rigid legal and ethical processes involved in working with a university can feel like barriers to participation, so we have taken the time to make these processes more accessible and understandable, for instance in the creation of plain language research contracts. We value the passion, knowledge and expertise of all those who would like to take part in research and strive to make that process more equitable for all.

Are you looking to embrace equity in your collaboration?

Many of us are striving towards equity, and embracing it, but at the same time it can be difficult to know how to go about instigating it, and how to open up a conversation to discuss equitable working. It is something Brigstow spend a lot of time in conversation about. As a result of our learnings, both as a team and as a producer of 208 collaborative research projects, we have developed a set of toolkits that we hope might enable collaborative research teams to open up conversations about difficult subjects, to develop an understanding of each other’s individual needs and barriers and to have conversations that can pave the way to deeper understanding and more equitable partnerships.

Our latest toolkit “Cube of Contexts” (working title!) gives you the opportunity to share the context that you work in, and to listen to others. These conversations might help you to dispel assumptions and to find a shared understanding of the dynamics your partners work within, and to build together the foundation of an equitable partnership.