Pride Month: Q&A with Dr Chris Wells-Holland
Dr Chris Wells-Holland, our Organisational Development Officer, shares his experiences as an LGBT+ community member at the School of Engineering.
Chris is also our Athena Swan Organisational Officer, and a member of our Diversity and Inclusion and Staff Development committees.
What is your background?
I achieved my university education in later life as a mature student from a non-traditional background, having come from a lower socioeconomic setting as an estranged student – that is, without the support of a family network.
My undergraduate degree was in applied chemistry and biosciences and then I completed a PhD in metabolic engineering. I have recently changed my career direction from a researcher in drug discovery working on HIV and cancer treatments for over the past 35 years between industry and academia. My key areas of expertise are in data collection, analysis, data reproducibility and interpretation.
I am now an Organisational Development Officer based in the School of Engineering. I undertake qualitative and quantitative studies in the areas of equality, diversity and inclusion and career development. From this research, I project manage staff and student improvement initiatives.
I still undertake personal scientific research and recently had a publication accepted to Nature Reviews Molecular Cell Biology titled ‘Transfection reflections: Fit-for-purpose delivery of nucleic acids’.
When did you join the School?
I joined in January 2019 as a postdoctoral scientific researcher. I changed role in 2021 to adopt two boys with my husband who are five and six years old. They have been with us for a year.
Adoption has shown me and my family that we still have a long way to go as a society to alleviate the effects of a forced heteronormative society by the majority on the minority. People also tend to forget the LGBT+ community have only been allowed to adopt from 2009.
What is your involvement with the LGBT+ community?
I participate in staff networks such as the Edinburgh Race Equality Network and the Staff Pride Network. These have helped me socially connect and I have learned lots to help me with my new position.
I also use my research background for charity work at LGBT Health and Wellbeing: Age Action Group. The group is Edinburgh-based and addresses inequalities in housing and social care for older LGBT+ people. We were spurred on by a conversation with a civil servant, who – despite themselves being a clear ally of the LGBT+ community – thought that there was no tangible need for specialised housing or care services for older LGBT+ people.
They innocently and in good faith asked us, what was the evidence for this? Shouldn’t we all be able to go to the same services because discriminations is a thing of the past and we have equality laws now? That discussion prompted us to carry out a piece of research.
We conducted a literature review and surveyed LGBT+ people from across Scotland about their housing and social care needs as they age. We are now promoting the results of that research –
a report showcasing our unequivocal findings that older LGBT+ people have difficulty securing affordable and safe housing.
The report, which is titled ‘Fit for Purpose: Inclusive Housing and Social Care for Older LGBT+ People’ will be presented to the Scottish government with recommendations to deliver improvements.
What is the School of Engineering doing to ensure we are inclusive?
Overall, estimates suggest that LGBT+ people are roughly 20% less represented in STEM fields than expected. Also, it has been shown that LGBT+ people who are part of the STEM workforce reported more negative workplace experiences than their non-LGBT+ counterparts. Although I have seen an improvement in the field; I can attest we still have a long journey ahead.
Currently the School is preparing for a Staff Workplace Cultures survey to identify new initiatives to help minority groups, including those in LGBT+ groups. The School has done extensive work in the area of gender disparity through initiatives like the recently created Elizabeth Georgeson Fellowships – named after Scotland’s first female engineering graduate – to encourage talented postdoctoral researchers from underrepresented groups to pursue careers in engineering academia. The School is now looking to extend this work out to other protected characteristics.
How will you celebrate Pride?
We will celebrate Edinburgh Pride on Saturday 24 June as a family day with our children, seeing a Pride march for the first time with other rainbow families.
We think it is important our children meet other LGBT+ parents, and share experiences with other LGBT+ parents and their children. It has been shown that children with LGBT+ parents can face discrimination when growing up due to their parents, and this contact is important for children to learn they are not alone and build their identity as they grow.