From education to employment

Celebrating Diversity for South Asian Heritage Month 2023

Portrait picture of Wasim Feroze, Leeds College of Building Governor and EDI champion.

This week marks the start of South Asian Heritage Month, which aims to amplify and celebrate British South Asian heritage and history through education, arts, culture, and commemoration.

The theme for this year’s celebration is ‘Stories to Tell’ – recognising that each story makes us unique, connecting us in profound ways. 

Here in Leeds, one of our key strengths is the rich diversity of our communities, all contributing to what makes our city a great place to live, work, and visit. But, while there is much to celebrate, we also know there is more to do.

Together, we must ensure that Leeds’ institutions and organisations represent our communities and that the places in which we work and learn are truly inclusive.  

Building a diverse construction industry

As a Governor at Leeds of College of Building, I am proud of our firm commitment to Equality, Diversity, and Inclusion (EDI). This is central to the College’s mission and values.

When I joined the governing body over a year ago, it was great to hear about the work already underway to create an inclusive environment for the hundreds of dedicated staff and more than five thousand students and apprentices the College welcomes every year.

Led by Nikki Davis, the first female CEO and Principal in our institution’s long history, Leeds College of Building aims to go further and deeper in delivering EDI objectives. However, we know we have more to achieve in this area to fulfil our EDI action plan, especially in the construction industry context.

Globally, by far the largest demographic in the sectors workforce remains white males. Ethnically diverse employees make up approximately 6 per cent of the UK construction workforce, 6 per cent are employees with disabilities with only 15 per cent of women represented in the industry. We must ensure that the workforce is representative of our communities, positively influencing sector-wide decision-making.

Leading by example in Further Education

Some of our achievements to date around EDI include developing new partnerships and nurturing successful existing relationships with local schools and academies.

This vital work has enabled us to formalise our school offer further, create more engagement opportunities for future students, and promote our commitment to equity, social justice, and belonging.

Members of our community have confronted the challenges surrounding progressive masculinity and misogyny and educated students to be positive members of society.

We have improved our employer partnership representation across many aspects of college life, enriching opportunities and tackling common EDI challenges together. We also closely align priorities and processes with colleagues from the local authority in a bid to reduce NEET (Not in Education, Employment, or Training) students in the city.

It is refreshing to be part of an organisation that does not shy away from the uncomfortable conversations we sometimes need to have to overcome the challenges we face in the construction sector. This includes tackling recruitment and diversity in the industry workforce.

Driving positive change through inclusion

At Leeds College of Building, we are determined to be part of the solution, driving positive changes that the industry needs by working closely with our partners.

These conversations mean challenging those in Further Education, developing creative solutions, and widening opportunities. We hope in doing so, these interactions will strengthen inclusion and encourage greater diversity in our workforce and student population.

Part of my role as a governor is to provide strategic support and question decisions. This helps to ensure Leeds College of Building is delivering on its wider objectives, as embedded in our Strategic Plan.

If we genuinely invest in EDI priorities, I believe we will deliver this plan and help contribute towards a much-needed cultural shift in the sector. Every colleague and student should be able to be their whole self in the workplace or classroom.

The transformative impact of EDI

I am passionate about equality, diversity and inclusion due to my own personal experience. The organisation I work for has played a key role in helping me accept my identity as a British Asian gay man.

Not feeling able to celebrate each part of my unique identity is where this journey started for me. I spent years concealing a crucial part of my identity from the people I love, pretending to be someone I was not because I was scared of the reaction I might get.

Accepting my identity was incredibly tough, as was the possibility of disappointing those who matter most to me. However, through this struggle, I found a place where I could speak openly about who I am and share how I was feeling. This place was my work.

My workplace is where I am not judged or treated differently by colleagues, friends and allies.  The welcoming experience I had completely transformed my life. For the first time, there was a place where I could just be me.

Telling a new story in Leeds

Today, I am proud of who I am because of the colleagues who continue to support me. That is why EDI matters.  It not only has the ability to deliver transformative organisational impact, it can make a massive difference to the lives of individual people too. 

Our College’s equality and inclusion strategy won’t stop at the end of this awareness campaign month. Continuing to learn to do better – to be better – we are committed to seeing through our ambitious EDI vision.

However, we can’t do this alone. It will require the tremendous collective effort of colleagues, students, and partners across the city and beyond to truly see cultural shifts in the construction sector. If we work together, we can deliver and realise the positive changes we all want to see.

Leeds College of Building has many stories yet to tell as it starts the beginning of a new EDI journey. Let’s celebrate the incredible achievements and learn about our diverse South Asian communities in Leeds and beyond and use this for positive change.

By Wasim Feroze, Leeds College of Building Governor

Wasim is employed by Leeds City Council as Strategy Partnership Development Manager (Health Partnerships), supporting the city’s ambition to tackle health inequalities. As well as serving as a governor at Leeds College of Building, Wasim is a member of the regional Race Equality Network and has previously led a local authority Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic Staff Network.

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