Inclusion, Staffroom - Opinion

Is equality and diversity still the elephant in the room?

19 Sep 2022, 18:00

From data policies to wellbeing, don’t let the enthusiasm for diversity die, writes Haroon Bashir

After the murder of George Floyd on 25 May 2020, many colleges made a commitment to positive changes about race.

But over two years later, does that commitment hold or has the concept of equality and diversity (E&D) become the proverbial elephant in the room?

The death of Chris Kaba at the hands of the Met police reinforces that we can’t afford the latter.

So whether you’re refining or renewing your commitment, so here are five ideas to ensure E&D is impactful in your setting.

1. Be brave

First, changing an organisation’s culture is difficult and E&D leads will face resistance from individuals who may be afraid of change, or worse, apathetic.

But if we continue doing what we have always done, then how can we hope to promote E&D?

We need to be brave, to have honest conversations, to raise awareness and challenge existing practices.

Through professional development sessions, we can effectively address this with all staff. And our aim must be to increase their confidence for discussing uncomfortable topics and seeing things through a different lens.

It may cause discomfort at times – but this is also a sign of development.

2. Invest

Promoting E&D is crucial to the success of any organisation. It should therefore have a designated person who can lead, advise, challenge and question existing practices.

For profound change to be made, the designated person will need sufficient time to undertake the role; E&D is important and should not be an ‘add-on’ to existing roles.

3. Consider wellbeing

Leading E&D can sometimes be very challenging, especially if the designated person is dealing with issues they have experienced themselves. This can be mentally taxing, so it is essential to consider what support is available to maintain the E&D lead’s wellbeing.

In this role, I have benefited a great deal from developing a network of people who I trust – people who have been there to support me during difficult times.

If we make mistakes, we must learn from them and continue to ask those questions which haven’t been asked before. It’s about making progress and addressing that elephant in the room.

4. Policies

Only seven per cent of principals in FE nationwide are from a BAME background. This is a sobering statistic.

Greater diversity and representation in governance and senior leadership is crucial to promoting E&D as this will give the organisation a variety of experiences and perspectives that will mirror their student profile.

Crucially, senior leaders and governors must make a firm commitment to E&D. One of the best ways to demonstrate this is in the college’s strategic aims. This will ensure that E&D is embedded in all policy decisions, becoming part of the new culture of the college.

Ask yourself: What does your E&D policy look like? Is it personal to your organisation or generic? What E&D data is collected to inform this policy and your decisions? Who has access to it and, more importantly, what actions result from it?

All colleges have data about students who have left, been excluded or have failed their course. But is this analysed through the lens of equality? And what action is taken to reduce those numbers? Data will help you identify a starting point and therefore allow you to measure the impact of your policy.

5. Don’t pass the buck

E&D cannot be one person’s responsibility. All too often, we waive our own responsibility by passing it onto designated people. But E&D is everyone’s responsibility and needs to be shared from the top of the organisation right through to the learner.

This means training everyone in E&D so they have the confidence to identify and challenge unfair ideas or practices. Again, CPD sessions are an excellent way to address this with all staff, and this development should filter into tutorial sessions for learners too.

We can’t change the world, and we won’t have all the answers. Equality and diversity are bigger than one college, but with these ideas in mind we can make effective change in our communities – and that’s a start worth making.

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