Diversity In The Workplace
Our Director Jenn Lewis recently attended an event hosted by one of our funders, the Esmee Fairbairn Foundation and whilst listening to the speakers responding to a question about how to make the workplace more diverse, she did a very quick mental calculation, the conclusion of which showed that CEN's own workforce appeared to buck the trend of white, male domination that exists in the corporate world and even in community-based charities. CEN is headed by a black female Director; 80% of our staff from the BAME community, 70% female, 10% LGBTQ and 80% over 50 and almost all would probably describe themselves as having come from a working-class background - including Jenn herself - which was one of the first questions that delegates at this session were asked. Jenn then went on to apply a similar calculation to the Trustees and realised that this group is 40% female and 60% from BAME communities.
Speaking after the Q&A session, Jenn mused that she hadn't given much thought to the recruitment process that she had presided over since arriving at CEN in 2017, but felt that diversity begets diversity. ‘I don't think my appointment as Director was because I'm a woman, nor because of my being black, as throughout my life neither of those have ever given me an advantage in the business world. The fact is that our workforce is pretty much representative of our clientele which is largely drawn from the BAME community and that in itself is mainly due to the disproportionality in targeting and racial profiling that continues in our schools. I'm sure that for those parents and young people, being represented by an Advocate who comes from a similar background to themselves allows some shorthand when having to explain the experiences that some have had at the hands of school authorities to people who already have some understanding of what that might feel like.’
In other words, much can be assumed in terms of prior knowledge and experience and therefore nothing is lost in translation.
‘Similarly, schools often do not understand and therefore do not take into account the diversity in relation to language, culture, heritage, backgrounds and traditions that there is among their learners, particularly those from BAME communities and as such easily assume negative intentions behind certain behaviours. But when they hear the concept of such from advocates who hail from the same or similar backgrounds, and who are able to articulate and reframe those experiences on behalf of the child and parents, it provides a broader context which allows the school to better understand actions and behaviours from the child’s and family’s perspective. This mediation function as carried out by CEN’s Advocates also applies to reframing the situation from the school's perspective to parents who, given the heat of the situation, sometimes may misunderstand the school's actions'.
Later, Jenn was approached by other attendees at the event which was held at Esmee Fairbairn’s offices in Kings Cross, who wanted to know how they could increase the diversity in their own workforce. 'I was a bit surprised but then having a London-centric perspective, it’s easy to suppose that diversity is a given. However, it doesn't take long to realise that, although a workplace may appear diverse, my previous experiences including my background in education tell me that this is often an illusion and one that shrouds many inequities in school, Senior Leadership teams, (SLT), are still overwhelmingly white and male whereas the faces of the (much lower paid) Janitorial staff team are often darker and this of course does not only apply to education.'
Jenn went on to challenge her fellow attendees to 'start with your own friendship group - how diverse are your parties and barbecues etc? It doesn't make you racist if your friends look like you - like attracts like - but who we are like shouldn’t only be a reflection of skin tone or ability but more about reflecting who we are as people. It's good to get out of our comfort zones and interact with those who don't look like, think like or share the same world view as us, because that's how we learn and grow and is key to understanding the world around us, and I think that this encourages mutual respect and social cohesion. Workplaces should be no different.'