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Ethnic diversity in FE leadership: What gets measured gets managed, what gets managed gets done

Ann Francke, Chief Executive, Chartered Management Institute (CMI)
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The past year has been a turbulent one. We’ve seen the tragic killing of George Flloyd which has been the catalyst for a global outpouring of anger and grief towards racism and discrimination in society, adding huge momentum to the Black Lives Matter movement. Whilst the pandemic has highlighted some stark inequalities in British society.

It is clear much more progress needs to be made, but one positive that has arisen from this is how these events have accelerated and added a renewed impetus to the Diversity and Inclusion (D&I) agenda.

In the further education (FE) sector, the Black FE Leadership Group has written an open letter to the Government demanding urgent action to address systemic racism in colleges.

Reports have shown the scale of the challenge, with a clear under-representation of leaders from diverse ethnic backgrounds in FE leadership positions.

Whilst the proportion of Black, Asian and diverse ethnic students in FE has grown to around 30%, of the 239 FE colleges in England, it is estimated that fewer than 15 are currently led by principals from diverse ethnic backgrounds – this is around 6%.

Recently, I spoke at the Black FE Leadership Group’s inaugural conference to highlight the benefits of having a more ethnically diverse leadership and workforce and outlined what we can learn from the progress on gender diversity.

The business benefits

Promoting truly diverse and inclusive organisations is of course the right thing to do, but there are five key business benefits to improving ethnic diversity which will boost the performance of organisations in the FE sector.

  1. It boosts financial performance. Research from McKinsey has shown that the most diverse companies are more likely to outperform less diverse peers on profitability. Companies in the top-quartile for ethnic and cultural diversity outperformed those in the fourth quartile by 36 percent in profitability.
  2. It increases your ability to attract and retain talent. Staff who can look up to role models and see people who look like themselves as leaders will be motivated to join and progress within your organisation. This gives you access to a wider pool of talent.
  3. It can improve your workplace culture. A diverse workforce boosts the authenticity of your organisation as you become more representative of society. In turn, this can boost employee trust and engagement.
  4. Boost brand. Ultimately, students are customers but there is a massive gap in representation between students and FE leaders from diverse ethnic backgrounds. Closing this gap will boost the brand of your organisation and FE sector more widely.
  5. Diverse teams make better decisions. Diverse teams are more likely to go through a more rigorous decision making process than homogenous teams and reduce the risk of group think.

What can we learn from gender?

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There are lessons that we can learn from the progress made on gender diversity about how we can approach increasing ethnic diversity.

A key enabler of progress is data and evidence. We have to get better at collecting data on ethnicity which is absolutely vital. It is through gathering, analysing and reporting on gender pay gaps that we have got a fuller picture of the representation of women at different levels in organisations. Progress has been evident by the fact that the gender pay gap has been decreasing amongst full-time employees. What gets measured gets managed, what gets managed gets done.

This is why CMI supports the introduction of mandatory ethnicity pay gap reporting. We would also like to see gender and ethnicity pay gap reporting become a mandatory requirement for any organisation that is in receipt of any Government aid related to ‘build back better’.

But organisations should not wait for legislation. Where possible, they should be taking the lead by voluntarily collecting and reporting this data to aid transparency.

CMI Race has also published a range of practical guidance for managers and leaders on workplace inclusion.

Our latest guide, Moving the Dial on Race, provides six steps:

  1. Support people who face racism. Schedule a conversation with colleagues who face racism to better understand their experiences.
  2. Learn how to talk about race. Commit time each week to learn more about anti-racism.
  3. End microaggressions at work. Train your team to understand microaggressions.
  4. Build support. Create or join a network.
  5. Raise awareness. Re-examine recruitment and promotion processes.
  6. Raise skills. Ask about training for you and your team.

We must use the recovery as an opportunity to build back better and create truly diverse and inclusive organisations. Doing so will deliver a more productive and globally competitive UK.

Ann Francke, Chief Executive, Chartered Management Institute (CMI)

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