When I began my role as diversity and inclusion officer at London South East Colleges in 2021, my motivation was to support people and ensure that everyone, regardless of their background, race, sexual orientation and other aspects of identity felt accepted and had access to the same opportunities.
My own university experience had opened my mind to diversity. This was where I felt supported to come out as a lesbian and began to recognise the many different experiences that people around me were living.
A truly diverse college brings huge value to people within in and outside it – and my focus was, and remains, on celebrating these differences.
But how to approach this EDI challenge and ensure that everything you do has genuine impact on people’s lives, as opposed to simply meeting targets on paper?
My first priority was to spread awareness among students and staff by introducing a full programme of events and campaigns – but crucially, making it clear that these were not one-off activities.
One of the biggest challenges I faced was people not understanding how seriously I was taking my role. This was simply not about meeting binary objectives such as ‘run two events per term’ (for example); it was about ensuring that every activity was having a direct, positive impact on students, staff and the college as a whole.
For example, to support our calendar of events, we have developed glossaries of various terms to support staff and students with their knowledge and understanding. This has been well received and reinforces our message about the importance of embedding EDI, not just ‘doing’ it.
This is also the case with our 10-year grants programme, which offers staff and students the opportunity to run EDI-focused projects themselves. Committing to positive action over a decade again reflects the authenticity of our organisation’s EDI strategy, which is vital if we are to get genuine buy-in from our community. The value of this initiative was rewarded with a WorldSkills EDI heroes award earlier this year.
With my previous role focusing on LBGT (as the first LGBT officer to be appointed at a Premier League football club), my role at LSEC has been far broader. Recognising just how many different groups are affected by EDI is really important, from race and religion right through to neurodiversity and other forms of disability.
To reflect this, we have recruited EDI champions, representing the many minority groups at our college. These champions offer support to others as well as being a voice for those people who may not be confident enough to come forward with issues, concerns or ideas. This again is key to helping us achieve what we do, ensuring everyone can be heard and giving them confidence that we will act on this feedback.
Giving staff and students safe spaces in which to be themselves, as well as providing training and raising awareness is helping us to meet our robust EDI targets and become a far more diverse organisation.
This has included taking positive action within our recruitment strategy to make sure that our staff profile is in line with the demographics of the local community. We also focus on equal opportunities for people wanting to progress within the organisation.
For any other EDI officers who may be starting out on a similar journey, my advice would be to focus on the positive differences you are making and every small win. Don’t be put off by people who don’t realise just how important the role is to you and to the college as a whole.
Also, connecting with external organisations such as Stonewell and Investors in Ethnicity is really valuable. Many offer accreditations provide national targets to work towards and enable you to benchmark your own college’s progress much more effectively.
In addition, we have adopted the Black FE Leadership Group’s 10-point plan into our EDI strategy, which underpins many of our activities, from growing and diversifying our talent pipeline to developing and promoting our staff.
FE is a fantastically diverse sector and such diversity must be celebrated. I am proud to be working in a role that encourages this and would urge all FE staff to support their EDI teams in achieving this ambition.