Role model

Labour wants to make public bodies more representative, and Eileen Kaner is an ideal ambassador for the push

December 17, 2009

As a working mother, a researcher in public health and a government adviser, Eileen Kaner proves that the boards of public bodies are no longer the preserve of grey-suited men. Fittingly, the Government has appointed the chair of public health research at Newcastle University as an ambassador for diversity in public appointments.

"The Government has taken a look at the make-up of its public bodies and come to the view that it isn't particularly representative of the population," Professor Kaner said. "Women, people with disabilities and those from different ethnic groups are not represented as you might expect.

"One of the ways it wants to change this is to look at people on public bodies who might be able to act as role models to encourage other people to come forward."

Professor Kaner's research focuses on the health risks posed by alcohol consumption, particularly for pregnant women and young people. She has led national government reviews on liver disease and the impact of alcohol on children and adolescents.

"I'm part of a wave of academics that tends to feel it should be out of the university as much as in it, that tries to engage the public and politicians in debates about the field," she explained. "It's not enough to be sitting there thinking about it."

Professor Kaner is also a member of the boards of the Alcohol Education and Research Council and the European Alcohol and Health Forum.

"I'm a woman professor and I've got four children. If anybody takes a look at me, I probably don't look like a traditional academic," she said.

"In hearing me speak about the fact that I don't feel massively brainy and I've got a home life as well as an academic role, someone may think: 'If she can be appointed to these bodies, then maybe I'll put myself forward and have a go as well.'?"

After reading zoology at the University of St Andrews, Professor Kaner studied for a PhD in ethology at Pembroke College, Cambridge. She worked as a lecturer for the universities of Sunderland and Newcastle and The Open University, before accepting the post of research officer at Northumberland District Health Authority in 1993.

In 1995, she returned to the academy as a research associate at Newcastle. She became senior lecturer in public health in 2005, and took up the chair in 2007.

In her ambassadorial role, Professor Kaner will appear as a public figurehead for board membership as well as mentoring new board members. She said her aim was to "demystify" the process.

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