London Met speaks to Lady Phyll ahead of the CEI Annual Lecture

Inclusive Communities Manager Mia Nembhard sat down with Phyll Opoku-Gyimah, this year's Centre for Equity and Inclusion Annual Lecture guest speaker, to discuss current EDI challenges.

Date: 14 February 2024

Mia Nembhard: Welcome Phyll! It’s good to get some time with you before the annual lecture. We're familiar with different terms in this line of work: EDI, Equity, Social justice work, but for many organisations it’s relatively new to have teams of people focussing on this.  

At the same time, when I look on LinkedIn it seems like everyone is doing D&I! Which you’d think is a good thing. For many, EDI work can’t be neatly separated from your personal practice – what you believe in reflects the intention of your work. But there are incidences of organisations funding this work to be performative. 

Is this something you’ve noticed and how do you navigate the working world of EDI, especially with a background in community organising? 

Lady Phyll: Organisations don’t exist in isolation, they exist in a world which is beautifully diverse. Therefore, to exist, EDI needs to be at the heart of organisations. There are occasions where EDI work is done as a tick box exercise and something businesses think they must be seen to do. When the intention is not to better the business, and the experience of those working within it, it’s clearly inauthentic and ultimately harms the organisation. 

I navigate that by reminding businesses and leaders that EDI is not a function or one team, it is the makeup of a company. People are not robots, and every employee is an individual; so EDI is about every single individual and ensuring they are seen and heard. 

MN: Your contributions to ‘community’ are seen as exemplary and there is a real range of work you do (more on that at the event), but I wondered how you approach developing your own standards for what you do and how you do it? 

LP: It’s all about getting better and better. Each event, each achievement, each moment is a chance to help, platform and celebrate communities, and I’m driven to keep pushing until every underrepresented community steps into their power. It is not easy and comes with great personal sacrifice, but the end goal is in sight and very much worth it. 

MN: Within the Centre we have a range of programmes that range from cultural competency (Tik-Tok style consent training) to disrupting traditional methods of knowledge production through our student partnership schemes, with the aim of responding to the needs of the University community and providing opportunities for all to succeed.  

The work takes time to build with the right care and consideration, it needs to speak to people through mediums they engage with. On the other hand, the nature of EDI work is that standards change (and quickly) so there is a need to be quite reactive. 

How do you remain up to date with best practice? And what are the enduring principles that in your opinion will forever characterise meaningful versions of your work aren’t outdated? 

LP: You’re right that the standards change quickly, however I would say that there are core principles that do not change, and it’s all around valuing the voice of the individual. I stay up to date by surrounding myself with those individuals, hearing what their challenges are and giving them space to tell others about their learned experiences. 

Lady Phyll

The Centre for Equity and Inclusion Annual Lecture 2024 (Inspire): In Conversation with Lady Phyll takes place on Wednesday 7 March 2024, 6-8pm. Book tickets via Eventbrite. We welcome staff, students and members of the public to this event.