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5 questions with Johannes Boltze – very highly commended

November 2021.


We spoke to Excellence in Gener Equality Award runner up Johannes.


Tell us what your role is within the School of Life Sciences (SLS)?

I am a full professor of neuroscience with a double education background being trained as a physician and neurobiologist. My primary research interests are cerebrovascular disorders such as stroke and vascular dementia. I have been recently appointed as course director for our Biomedical Science degree. As the chair of the SLS Equality, Diversity, and Inclusion Committee (EDIC) I have the privilege to collaborate with many dedicated colleagues who all work extremely hard to make SLS a place where we all want to work, learn, and teach.


Tell us a little more about the SLS ED&I Committee?

While our main remit is to promote Athena Swan principles and to support women and members of underrepresented groups, we have extended our scope to all areas of activity at SLS including teaching and learning. This results in significantly increased workload but guarantees best opportunities to make sure that Athena Swan principles are recognised in all aspects of the School’s organisation and governance, and to serve our community in the best possible way.

We have formed task forces to distribute the workload equally and to make sure that work continues even if individual members of our group can transiently commit less due to other obligations. Task forces organise their own meetings and work on the assigned tasks assigned to them, reporting progress during our monthly EDIC meetings. EDIC members usually assign themselves to one to three task forces. Our task forces are:

  • Equality, diversity, and inclusion (‘core AS business’).
  • Human Resources and career opportunities.
  • Continuous professional development and student affairs.
  • Outreach and representation.
  • Community feedback and working environment.
  • Data collection and analysis.

We have also installed a feedback mechanism during which suggestions for improvements or any matter of concern can be forwarded to the EDIC (anonymous if they wish) by anyone at any time. These will be picked up, assigned to a responsible task force, and then worked upon. Recently, we have initiated a collaboration with our colleagues from Warwick Medical School as we share the same campus and have highly comparable communities. We strive to work together closely, using resources together for maximum efficacy and impact rather than working in parallel.


What impact has the Committee had?

We hope that we have helped to improve SLS in our working place in regard to a number of aspects. Here are two examples:

  • We were recently able to achieve a change in the policy that all members in promotion or recruitment panels should at least be of the same rank as the candidate being considered. This resulted in an extreme workload for female senior academics who, unfortunately, are fewer in numbers than male senior persons. The solution will not only result in a reduction of the workload but also gives the opportunity to give junior colleagues invaluable panel experience.
  • Another initiative is the attainment gap analysis conducted by Prof. Philip Young (who was also commended for his work). Phil uses advanced statistical testing models to assess attainment gaps in student cohorts over the years and to derive tailored measures of support for those student subgroups driving the gap. This is ongoing work, but already has been recognised by many other institutions and societies.

We feel that our work is valued by our community as we have seen a steep increase in EDIC membership over the last 2 years.

Beyond that, we also helped colleagues from the Department of Physiology and Medical Physics at the Royal College of Surgeons Ireland in Dublin to receive their Bronze status. We are also engaged in a newly formed EDI group of supporting the journals of the American Heart Association (AHA). This group will start its work in January 2022 to make sure that women, early career researchers and colleagues from minority groups are equally represented in staff running AHA journals.


How did you first get involved in the Committee?

The position became vacant after Prof. Gary Bending, the former SAT chair and mastermind behind the successful AS silver application had to step down from this function due to continuously increasing obligations. I happily agreed to take over the role from him in November 2019.


Do you have any plans or further ideas for the future?

Yes, we have many ideas and plans for the future!

We are currently working on a number of initiatives. Our overall aims with these for the future are:

  • To work together with others (such as our WMS colleagues) for maximum impact.
  • To learn from leading initiatives elsewhere.
  • To share our knowledge and successes with others for sustained, sector-wide impact.

We are also planning to recruit further EDIC members, in particular targeting colleagues from underrepresented groups, diverse ethnic backgrounds, and non-academic professional roles for an even more balanced representation.