Creating a more supportive and inclusive university culture

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We live and breathe organisational culture every day, but paradoxically it is hard to describe until somebody challenges or reveals it through research. With support from the Vice-Chancellor’s Diversity Fund and the University’s Equality and Diversity Unit, we – a group of researchers and practitioners under the leadership of Dean of Medicine and Head of Division, Professor Alastair Buchan and Associate Head of Division (Development, Impact and Equality) Professor Dame Kay Davies – set out to explore the culture of the Medical Sciences Division, the largest of the four divisions of the University. Our particular aim was to understand how to create a more supportive and inclusive culture for all staff in the Division, including academic, research, administrative, professional, and other support staff.

In order to capture how staff in the Medical Sciences Division experience its culture, we established a collaboration with Dr Linda Pololi, Director of the United States’ National Initiative on Gender, Culture and Leadership in Medicine (C-Change) at Brandeis University ( and adapted their survey instrument to the UK context. The survey asked about career advancement and leadership aspirations, engagement and vitality, values and practices, ethics and morale, relationships, diversity, work-life integration, and institutional change efforts. We administered the survey in Trinity 2014, and received 2,407 responses — a 63% response rate.

In Michaelmas 2014, Dr Pololi presented the results of the survey and provided a comparison with the results previously obtained from a nationally representative sample of US medical schools to over 200 staff in three sessions held at the John Radcliffe, Old Road, and South Parks Road Campuses. The presentations generated good discussions and highlighted several key areas of achievement and concern in a comparative perspective. One of the most striking differences between Oxford and the US was in the perceptions of institutional change efforts for staff support and diversity.

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