|Robin Gorna is Vice Chair of the Technical Review Panel (TRP) for the Global Fund to fight AIDS, TB and Malaria (Global Fund) and sits on the UK NHS Long COVID Taskforce, and its Research and Information & Education sub-groups. Robin read Theology at St John’s College Oxford and went on to found and Chair the St John’s Women’s Network, bringing together students, alumnae, fellows and non-academic staff. From 2020 she was the first Head of Diversity and Inclusion at Brighton College – a role that she stepped away from when elected as Vice-Chair of the Global Fund TRP.|
Her work on AIDS, human rights and gender equality began when she was a student and she became involved in early responses to AIDS as a volunteer at the Terrence Higgins Trust at the height of the epidemic in 1986. She published Vamps, Virgins and Victims: How can women fight AIDS? – one of the first books to describe the impact of AIDS on women. She continues to publish: see www.robingorna.com.
We asked her to talk about her experience of inclusion and diversity, and how we might begin to think about a response.
Q: On the topic of inclusion and diversity, in your opinion, what is the most helpful thing to say to the schools that we engage with?
A: I’d say one of the top concerns for schools is the gender diversity debate – not just how to treat students in a classroom setting, but how and when to talk to parents, how to build a resilient, inclusive and diverse community and where to draw boundaries: when does a child’s questioning of their gender become ‘official’, and how best to deal with what might be a transient exploration. I would say the most helpful thing is to listen to the students. This is particularly interesting in relation to uniforms and the dislocation these can create. For schools, there are all sorts of reasons that uniforms are necessary and good. For students, uniforms can highlight ‘binary-ness’ and involve concerns about body image and body revelation. Teenage students have a much more creative and exploratory approach to ‘gender’. It is worth thinking about how schools can allow for that flexibility. In terms of boundaries, we need to tread lightly around normal experimental behaviours which do not involve permanent or illegal activity.
Q: What do you think the corporations that we work most closely with would want to hear on the topic?
A: Primarily that having a business culture of inclusivity and diversity is not just the right thing to do, but the smart thing to do. True diversity around the table makes for better decision-making in business terms – and ultimately that means more profits. The variety of perspectives available means that all bases are covered early on, and fewer misjudgements are made further down the line. It also mitigates for intellectual curiosity, rather than against it, the end result being an enrichment of society.
Q: For the individual’s psychological wellbeing, for those who fear they do not know the right things to say, how could we minimise their anxiety?
A: We should not underestimate the fear of individuals experiencing gender issues. Their level of questioning is not trivial and cannot be diminished. Encouraging people to open up, to see new ways of being, is the first step. Just being there, listening to them, is key.
Q: What would you say to anyone struggling in the conversations about inclusion and diversity?
A: I would say that, rather than feeling challenged by issues of inclusion and diversity, we should look around the edges for a way in to find its value. Listening in an open way can enrich all of us. In gender terms, the narrative is not necessarily linear or about “forever changes”, and it is certainly not everything that matters to an individual, even though it can be a massive lightning rod. The person underneath is still the same. Conversations need to take place in a non-commital space, where there is space for rowbacks or manoeuvering as thinking shifts and realigns.