For far too long, a ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach has been applied to equality, diversity and inclusion (EDI) in the education and employment sectors. If the education and employment sector is serious about recruiting the best and most diverse staff, then it must start with an understanding of how they can reach and connect with different communities in an authentic way. Forget using the same method to connect with everyone.
The education sector must also understand the sheer number of barriers that marginalised groups face. These include access to finance and the digital divide, which has only been intensified since the coronavirus pandemic and cost of living crisis.
The use of digital technology has increasingly become a part of day-to-day life, but a huge part of society is being excluded. The less money someone has, the more likely it is that this affects their ability to access technology, such as a mobile phone or a laptop.
Having basic digital skills is said to result in a 3–10% increase in earnings and greater chances of finding employment, so the education sector must consider where they can find great talent offline.
Educational institutions have historically contributed to the barriers that have resulted in less representation and diversity and is still the case today. I have had many conversations with people from diverse communities who live on the doorstep of educational institutions that they feel are closed to them.
To recruit the best and most diverse staff in education, there needs to be an understanding of what resonates with diverse communities. We must all understand the barriers (and the intersections of these barriers such as challenges faced within their own communities) and how these can be overcome.
Setting percentage KPIs that relate to diverse representation is not sufficient and gives the impression that the work is simply a box-ticking exercise, rather than a means of bringing about meaningful change. Through this approach, we can ensure that they are embedded fully into the DNA of businesses and the education sector.
Setting percentage KPIs that relate to diverse representation is not sufficient and gives the impression that the work is simply a box-ticking exercise
There also needs to be greater financial investment. Following the murder of George Floyd and the rise of the Black Lives Matter movement, there was a great deal of talk from businesses and sectors about how more needs to be done, especially from a financial perspective. If we are to achieve true parity, we need to ensure that the financial foundations are put in place and maintained so that diverse communities can access the opportunities that exist in business and education.
EDI is so important and is much more than a strategy. It is a human right. Regardless of who we are, every single human being deserves to live with dignity and part of that is being accepted as who we are into whichever spaces we wish to occupy.
While it is great that the conversations around EDI are being had, we all have a responsibility to ensure that EDI is a thread that runs through the very DNA of society. It’s not a black square, a quota or percentage, or a tactical exercise in making our organisations and sectors look inclusive. It’s something that we are all entitled to and should expect as a bare minimum.
Senior leadership teams must lead by example, demonstrating real EDI through action.
Give others a seat at the table and open doors that are still closed to many. Ensure that everyone in your organisation is treated equally and fairly and create a culture where everyone feels included and seen.
Be an ally and bold in your allyship – use your position and your voice to champion those who are still not able to fully champion themselves. Call out injustice wherever you see it. Engage in what the late Congressman and Civil Rights activist John Lewis called ‘good trouble’ – if you see something that is not right, not fair, you have a moral obligation to do something about it.
The world is changing but we still have a long way to go. Be the change that you talk about and wish to see in the world.
Lisa Maynard-Atem is marketing and inclusion director at training provider Acacia Training
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