From time to time I invite colleagues to write a guest blog. One of London Higher’s current interns, Neha, has written this excellent piece giving her view about diversity. A topic that is, or should be, a priority for organisations whatever their size… Thank you Neha!
Before I begin, on what I hope helps to illicit frank conversations about diversity in our institutions and organisations, I should probably start by evidencing why I am up to the task of talking about diversity. I am your average – an above-average sense of humour I must admit – state school educated, university graduate, Kenyan-Indian immigrant and I’m a woman too. The reason for me outlining this is often the discourse regarding diversity happens within very white-male-driven boardrooms and I’m not sure that’s a factor any of us can deny. I am also not an expert (yet!) on Higher Education, in fact when I first joined London Higher in April of last year I had a glossary in the back of my notebook littered with abbreviations that I had never heard of. Many of these are simple, no-brainers to many of you I’m sure but I remember my first day and scribbling HEFCE, OFFA and TEF on some paper to look up later. I come from the world of film, where phrases like ‘mise-en-scene’ are the norm. Thankfully, I’m a pretty fast learner, and while I still have a lot to learn, I’m doing well.
I am a big advocate for diversity and diversifying organisations, the reasons for which I’m obviously personally invested in. I’m very excited to see these conversations becoming a staple in organisations and Higher Education institutions, but as ever we have some ways to go.
So, let’s talk.
As a person of colour, the very last thing I would want to hear is that I was hired in an effort to purely diversify without any reference to actually being hired for my capabilities. I understand this may sound a little confusing, and it definitely requires some nuance – but to make it a little clearer – I view myself as a competent, hard-working and creative individual who just happens to be an Indian woman. I definitely think background and different life experiences bring incredible value to organisations however, as people outside of your usual-hire-box will bring new innovative ideas, viewpoints and help you grow as an organisation in ways that you may not have considered. To quote one of my favourite director’s Ryan Coogler ‘The best advantage is we have a different perspective on all the things we had before’ and granted he was talking about the unnecessary but completely fantastic Rocky spin-off sequel Creed, I agree that different people will only bring invaluable perspectives and organisational shifts that won’t only help better institutions, but society on a wider scale as we move towards fairer and equal representation.
We as a sector must realise that hiring and working with people from ethnic minorities or an individual who has disabilities, for instance, (as ‘diversity’ encompasses many people) should very much become the norm. Looking at different avenues to recruit for instance, which is how I got this role at London Higher, should become commonplace.
Another point that I think is important to make, is that if conversations about diversity, be it ethnicity, gender, disability, those with mental health difficulties (you can read a great post by London Higher’s CEO on the latter topic here and another on diversity here) are not making you feel a little uncomfortable then you may not be having them enough. As widely said and acknowledged change comes from a place of discomfort but equally from a place where it is wanted.
Working in Higher Education and being lucky enough to interact with Vice-Chancellors, CEOs and people of real influence has thus far been an opportunity that I am very grateful for. I’ve learnt that educators are (and as my high school history department’s pet this doesn’t surprise me at all) motivated entirely by a great, noble need to shape the future of forthcoming generations. It is with this very mind frame that I write a post to offer my take on how this can only be enhanced. In fact you’ll find, sometimes it is simply a case of revaluating the rhetoric used when on the path of diversification that needs a little shift.
Of course as with any discourse, you may entirely disagree, but I hope this piece has given you a fraction of an insight into what diversity could bring to your organisation.