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Bradford ‘walks the walk’ when it comes to EDI, says top HR expert


Merel Olgers and Prof Sankar Sivarajah

As someone who is tasked with getting the best out of 10,000 employees at one of the world’s biggest music companies, you might say Merel Olgers knows a thing or two about people and culture.

The University of Bradford graduate - she successfully completed her Master’s in 2010 before embarking on a career in what is traditionally called human resources (HR) - recently returned to deliver a lecture as part of the School of Management’s 60th anniversary year celebrations.

Merel (pictured below with Professor Sankar Sivarajah) who is Director of People and Culture at Universal Music Group, said what marked her alma mater out was its progressive stance on equality, diversity and inclusion (EDI).

Merel Olgers and Prof Sankar Sivarajah

“The University of Bradford’s view on EDI has always been progressive. Even when I was here in 2009 and 2010, they were running seminars for overseas students on how to deal with various aspects of our culture - they had a keen awareness that people coming here from other countries might feel very out of place. I think that kind of mindfulness and understanding is what differentiates Bradford from other universities. They are walking the walk, not talking the talk.”

School of Management 60th

Merel, who spent seven years working for Médecins Sans Frontières (Doctors Without Borders), returned to the university to help mark the School of Management’s 60th anniversary by relaunching their inaugural annual management lecture series. Her lecture discussed ‘People as the Core of Responsible Management’ and aimed to provide insight into the cultural shift in responsible business management.

She said: “Much of my work is about responsible management. When people used to talk about business, it was mainly focused on things like the bottom line and making efficiencies. Now the focus on responsible decision making and impact on the world. This is what matters to people.

“The University of Bradford has these themes at the core of its teaching. Human resources, or what I prefer to call People and Culture, is about delivering the best possible outcomes using responsible decision making.”

The University of Bradford’s view on EDI has always been progressive... They are walking the walk, not talking the talk.

Merel holds a degree in human resources from Utrecht University, in the Netherlands, and a Master’s in Human Resource Management from the University of Bradford. During her time with Médecins Sans Frontières, she was responsible for HR across 26 mission countries and the HQ in the Netherlands. In this role she led multiple teams of HR professionals working in some of the most deprived and war-torn countries around the world. Her early career included working for Philips International, Albert Heijn (the largest supermarket chain in the Netherlands), and CSM Ingredients UK.

The School of Management is one of the oldest business schools in the UK and one of only a handful in the world to hold triple accreditation (EQUIS, AMBA and AACSB).

School of Management 60th

Professor Sankar Sivarajah, Dean of the School of Management, said: “Merel has extensive experience of working with some of the biggest and best-known companies in the world. Her key drivers are connecting people and inspiring organisations through responsible decision making and meaningful organisational change, both of which form a core part of our teaching provision here at Bradford.

“As a graduate, we could not be more proud that she is helping transform the modern workplace by reflecting back some of the values we hold dear - this is why she was the perfect choice to relaunch our inaugural lecture series. She is an inspiring role model and a living example of a responsible business leader and a socially responsible citizen that our current and future students can aspire to be.”


Merel continued the conversation with the University of Bradford’s Professor David Spicer last week with a focus on the impact of people and the importance of HR being prioritised. You can listen to this now as a part of the KTN Podcast series here.

Professor Sivarajah recently gave his thoughts on the School of Management in this blog.