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Associate Head of Department for People and Culture Professor Catherine Harmer on how the department has been building a positive working environment.

Professor Catherine Harmer

As the end of the year approaches, it seems timely to reflect on progress we have made in our focus on people and positive culture in the department.  It also marks an almost complete year in my role as associate head of department in this area. I have been awed by the energy, enthusiasm and hard work of so many people in the department, striving to make our workplace equitable, inclusive and a place where people enjoy coming to work and are encouraged and empowered to do their best.

During the last year, we have restructured our people and culture work, forming an oversight committee including senior management and chairs of key working groups, which meets once a month.  Our working groups focus on race equality, mental wellbeing in the workplace, family friendly and part-time working and career development for academics and professional and support staff. We also have representation for LGBQT+, students, disability, Athena SWAN leadership and the department’s welfare officers.

To highlight and consolidate our work across people and culture we have introduced themed months in the department.  October focused on bullying and harassment including hosting confidential focus groups open to all members of the department to identify challenging situations in the workplace and start to identify potential solutions.  November was ‘find your path’ month, organized by the career development working groups.  During this month we had the opportunity to read biographies about career paths including our own Moira Westwood and Pamela Reid as well as individuals who have left the department but forged exciting careers in different areas ranging from medical communication to statistical analysis. 

To celebrate World Mental Health day in October the mental wellbeing group organised a friendship table in the common room to facilitate conversations between people who might not have had the opportunity to meet. This was well received and an initiative we would like to do again during the next year – as one member of the department wrote:

‘Thank you for putting this initiative in place today. I think it’s a lovely idea... and worth considering making the friendship bench/table a more regular event to engender new interactions across the department’

This working group also asked members of the department to suggest small things we can do to improve our mental health – with some fantastic ideas ranging from hot yoga to eating cake (top tip no. 2 – not at the same time).  Read more on the top tips in this blog by Sorcha Hamilton (internal only). 

Looking forward, December is positive workplace culture month and next year we are will include months for menopause awareness, LGBT+ history month, anti-racism, and disability pride amongst others. If you have an idea for a themed month I would love to hear from you – we want the ideas we are working on to be meaningful to members in the department. Next year we will also report back from our facilitated focus groups on challenging situations and race equality and form plans, together with you, for the ways in which we can develop, address inequalities and flourish going forward.

I would like to say a huge thank you to all the members of the people and culture committee and the working groups. I have seen an outpouring of appreciation and thanks for our wonderful department, while working on a range of initiatives, events and new structures which can help us continue to improve and drive change where it is needed in our own department, the university as a whole and beyond.

If you have any suggestions, comments or would like to join any of the working groups please email me at




Please follow the link below to read the news on the NIHR BRC website.