When I read Edurio’s Equality, Diversity and Inclusion Among School Staff report, the results of this extensive survey did not come as a surprise. I have been living at the intersection of gender, sexual orientation and ethnicity my whole life, and I have grown used to an environment where I look around and cannot see another person like me.
I’m a deputy headteacher in an independent school in Oxfordshire, and talking to peers in other schools, their experience mirrors mine. Schools are not yet places where everyone feels they are treated equally and where we can see the diversity of our children, and of our country, reflected in our school staff.
The report found that less than half (43%) of staff feel their workplace is diverse, and this drops to a quarter (28%) when asked about their leadership. I have already mentioned that it’s rare I see someone else who looks like me, but diversity is not just about what people look like. There are many factors that make up who I am.
For one, I am a married woman and am often asked, “How is your husband getting on in the RAF?” and I have to politely correct their mistake. My wife is in the RAF, I do not have a husband. People mean no malice; in fact, they’re generally taking a polite interest in my life. However, they have made an assumption about me and the burden is then on me to correct them and reassure them that it’s fine they got it wrong, that they haven’t caused me any offense and so on.
The report also found that certain groups are less confident that all staff are treated equally. Minority Ethnic women scored lower than Minority Ethnic men, who scored lower than White women, who scored lower than White men. I am a Minority Ethnic woman and can recall a number of times where I have felt less confident that all staff were treated equally in my career.
As well, disabled staff were less likely to feel valued, and less likely to feel comfortable asking for additional support in their role, which was both unsurprising and disheartening. The school I teach at focuses on pupils with social, emotional, psychological or behavioural difficulties, and I spend my days surrounded by these great kids who, in the right environment, are able to thrive.
The thought that one of them might join the teaching profession in the future and have a more negative experience than their non-disabled colleagues makes me want to march even harder towards creating an equal, diverse and inclusive place within schools.
Making schools more inclusive
So, what advice do I have on how we can get there? My central theme is that we need to ensure people are involved in the journey, rather than having an initiative thrust upon them. In my experience involvement generates commitment. Here are some things to consider.
- Involve the people who directly experience prejudice – I think it’s really important that the people who are living this day-to-day are invited to be part of the discussion when planning how to move forward. The Edurio report highlighted that leadership teams are less diverse, so it’s important involvement stretches beyond the senior team. To be successful we need a diversity of ideas, insights and experiences.
- Create a benchmark from which to move forward – Collecting data on EDI is essential – this can be through a range of means – but an anonymous staff survey is a very useful tool. People have to feel comfortable sharing their experiences without concern that they might be identified. In smaller schools this needs some careful consideration.
- Develop deep understanding – Getting deep into the understanding of different people through focused conversations or working parties, means we can better understand the provisions needed to help them feel comfortable and able to be their best selves.
- Encourage those that don’t volunteer their views – In any staff group, there’ll likely be some people who are very forthcoming with their ideas on what could be better, and some who will have amazing suggestions but don’t share them unless asked to do so. Make sure you’re listening to a range of voices when building your understanding of your staff’s experiences.
We need to ensure people are involved in the journey, rather than having an initiative thrust upon them
Outside of the school itself there’s a whole host of groups and charities founded with the purpose of helping to build a more equal, diverse and inclusive workplace. These include: Diverse Ed, LGBT Ed, Women Ed, Disability Ed and BAME Ed, but there are many more.
They have a wealth of materials providing tips and best practices to help school leaders get started on, or progress along, this journey. We don’t have to start this all from scratch.
Finally, accept that you’re going to get some things wrong. You will ask someone about their husband when they actually have a wife, you will refer to someone by the wrong pronouns, you’ll use an old turn of phrase that has roots in something you never knew about. This is an opportunity to learn, not an opportunity for blame or defensiveness.
When someone corrects something you have said, thank them for educating you and remember it going forward. When someone says something that they didn’t know caused you discomfort, explain with compassion what it was and how to approach things next time.
By making it safe to challenge, and be challenged, we’ll grow much faster than if everyone walks on eggshells or lets things slide when something happens that makes them feel uncomfortable.
One thing that is clear to me at this stage in my career is that everyone is coming into this at a different point on the track. Some people are way past the start line before we even say go, and some are a long way back. It’s really important that we remember this in our interactions with others – are we assuming something about them that’s not accurate, or that might lead to us giving one person an advantage over another without realising it?
Going forward, I’d love to see everyone reflecting a bit more on these things and helping each other through these awkward moments with kindness as we all try to get better.
To download the full research report, visit https://home.edurio.com/edi-report