As Western University’s first director of knowledge exchange, impact and EDI-D in research, Mariam Hayward views her role as more than just a professional achievement.
“To come from a place where even to this day education for women is so limited, receive the education my parents were pushing for and to now fill a role dedicated to equity, diversity and inclusion is quite meaningful to me,” said Hayward, who immigrated to Canada from Kabul, Afghanistan, as a young child with her parents and brother.
Hayward brings a wealth of experience to the role, as the former knowledge and impact manager for Western Research. A graduate of Western with a bachelor of arts and a master’s of science, she previously spent 10 years at Schulich School of Medicine & Dentistry as research and knowledge translation manager.
In announcing Hayward’s appointment, Lisa Cechetto, executive director for Western Research, recognized Hayward as a “strong advocate for inclusive culture,” adding her extensive experience and collaborative nature will serve her well in her new role.
Now Hayward is eager to help others achieve their full potential by ensuring the proper processes and pathways are accessible to all.
Western News sat down with her to learn more about her mandate and mission.
Western News: What is the primary purpose of your new role?
Mariam Hayward: My role involves four main areas: knowledge exchange, supports around knowledge impact, EDI (equity, diversity and inclusion) and the last ‘D,’ which refers to decolonization, but to me it also refers to the broader Indigenous research landscape at Western.
There are very few positions within Canadian academic institutions that have dedicated goals for EDI-D in research, even knowledge exchange in research. Western is the only academic institution that I’m aware of that has recognized the crucial intersection that knowledge exchange and EDI-D play together. We are recognizing that if we don’t tackle access to research knowledge then we’re not going to advance opportunities in spaces for diverse perspective.
Although the portfolio seems broad, all the areas intersect. There’s no real way to silo them out.
WN: What does an EDI-D approach to research look like when it is done correctly?
Hayward: Ideally, EDI-D in research is a dismantling of systems, spaces and practices to recreate and develop spaces where we can meaningfully embed diverse perspectives. To me, that goes beyond just inviting diverse individuals and it goes beyond just listening to really hearing and integrating those perspectives into the research spaces and into the research that we’re doing. The ideal goal is an active and open partnership which I think we’re starting to see, we’re moving forward.
There’s lots of scholars and lots of research projects that have that partnership with diverse voices. Do we have it across the university within our research ecosystem? We’re not there yet. Now it’s about moving that forward.
WN: Where do you start?
Hayward: We’re committed to providing the specialized supports required to do this work well, so the first step has been hiring the right people to build our team. We now have an EDI-D research officer, and we are hoping to hire an Indigenous research officer within the next year, and we will soon be adding a data analyst. These robust supports provide expertise in these specialized areas and then we will work as a team to synergize.
WN: Positive comments responding to the announcement of your new role recognize and applaud your demonstrated desire to collaborate.
Hayward: I’ve been at Western for over 20 years now. My approach from day one has been to collaborate and co-create as much as possible.
With EDI-D and with knowledge exchange, there are pockets of excellence across Western. I’m excited to work with and continue to grow my relationship with the office of EDI to build bridges and for us to model the way for our scholars.
We will also keep working with the Office of Indigenous Initiatives to enhance our relationships and build more pathways with community members so their voices can inform our research, not just with an individual project, but our overall research structure and the practices we use to ensure we really are taking a decolonized approach.
My messaging has always been that there’s a lot of learning that occurs outside the classroom, and in research spaces. We need to keep that top of mind and not just think of research as the place where knowledge is generated, but where learning and opportunities happen.
WN: How will the work of your team affect students?
Hayward: We need to recognize that research occurs at so many levels. Our mandate is to support our faculty scholars doing research, and to instill the right practices, the right approach and build capacity among our students as well, from the undergraduate to graduate level.
That includes making sure we have equitable approaches that are accessible to diverse students and recognizing there sometimes needs to be unique programs, supports or initiatives for specific groups. We offer the undergraduate student research internship across campus, and we also offer the Head and Heart research fellowship for Indigenous students. It is a unique summer research internship distinguished from the other opportunities by the intergenerational learning and the community aspect that is so core to helping Indigenous students advance.
WN: What do you think your biggest challenge will be?
Hayward: I think the biggest challenge lies in shifting the culture at Western from recognition to action. Now that we’ve accepted that each of these aspects, whether we’re talking about research impact, knowledge exchange or EDI-D, are important and that we have a responsibility to do this, we need to move the conversation beyond talking about why it is important and instead ask how we can shift the culture, language and approach meaningfully.
We need to create those pathways at an institutional level to support all our scholars.
WN: What excites you most about this role?
Hayward: As I interview and have conversations with job candidates, one piece that really strikes me is how our team and my position make visible and model what is possible for other individuals across campus, and particularly, students. I’ve had people come to me to say, ‘I can’t believe you’re in the position you’re in.’
When I reflect, and I tell them a bit about myself as a first-generation student and immigrant to this country, I’ve heard that for others it shows we can break down these walls, and that when we work together, it is possible.
Community and collaboration are so important to me because of that. I grew up really trying to find that because I lacked it. There were unique barriers I had to overcome as a Western student. I had unique barriers starting my employment journey at Western and was constantly trying to find that sense of community and collaboration, while feeling so isolated. You’re trying to find those diverse role models who might understand what you’re feeling, what you’ve gone through and give you hope you can get there.
I’m excited thinking maybe these positions will tend to give other individuals at Western that hope.