Working towards a better future through Black History Month

October 29, 2019
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I’m delighted to see that a selection of films made by students from Milton Keynes College which form the centrepiece of a website celebrating this year’s Black History Month (1st – 31st October) have been featured on the website of The Voice, the magazine which describes itself as “committed to celebrating black excellence.” The students have produced some fabulous interviews with some of the first people of black heritage to come to our city, all of whom have made outstanding contributions to who and what we are today. The website is designed to be a resource for local schools and the power of local role models cannot be under-estimated in inspiring the next generation of active citizens.

Milton Keynes is throwing itself into the commemoration with gusto and there are a number of really interesting and entertaining looking events coming up from plays and lectures to reggae concerts and a fashion show.

Black History Month has been officially celebrated for the past thirty-two years in Britain. Alongside celebrating successes and achievements of the past it is timely to reflect on the present. I believe there is one area in particular where those of us who are employers still need to make a real difference.

It is sadly no surprise when looking around most boardrooms and senior management teams to still see a preponderance of white male faces looking back at you. At the College, with a workforce that is 70% female we are making good progress in addressing gender equality but in respect of BAME, the diversity of our staff population does not come close to the rich diversity of our student population. And that has to change.

It’s not that we haven’t recognised this and haven’t been trying. Like many businesses we have analysed staff recruitment and selection, we look at the statistics. We tackle the obvious thing – job advertisements can be made more overtly inviting to applications from a broader range of candidates. For example, equal opportunities information should portray an active desire to recruit more widely. More, “We really want to hear from you” and less, “You could apply if you really want.” We look at attrition through each stage of selection, we look at staff retention, promotion but we haven’t made the step change I am ambitious for. We also consult experts in their field. Last week we were supported by Diverse Matters to implement a website improvement plan, helping to ensure that we work towards best practice in the sector.

I was in a meeting last week with the Chief Executive of Microsoft UK, Cindy Rose, and I was very struck by something she said. “You really have to be putting a diversity and inclusion lens on every decision you make – every hiring decision, every promotion decision – even at Microsoft we put a DNI lens around decisions around developing new products…It really takes every micro-behaviour and every micro-decision to make progress in this space.”

This is the attitude we need to have if we are to achieve genuine equality in employment. A diverse, engaged and empowered workforce is not about having a slick recruitment and selection process. We need to understand how every detail of the way our business operates impacts on what it feels like to be a member of staff, from the design of our buildings to the images we use on our website and in social media, to our language but most of all as Cindy Rose says, to the sense of priority we give to equality. We’re trying to improve communications with minority communities in the city so that a broader range of people realise we are actively looking to be diverse. We are seeking help and advice from those who have been successful in creating values-led diverse and inclusive workplaces.

Our students inspire me daily. Their work on the Black History Month video project is just one example of how they instinctively know how to make a difference and how to create an inclusive culture. If the College isn’t an attractive workplace to any sector of society, we are limiting our choice of working alongside the best colleagues. Who knows how many inspirational teachers or fabulous managers there may be out there who we’re missing out on because it would never occur to them to want to work here?

So my message to anyone who is an employer is a simple one. Make Black History Month relevant to your company. Let the need for diversity and inclusion genuinely inform your decisions rather than being the lens you apply after the fact. And wherever you live and work, if you are thinking about a career change, consider your local FE college. Help us become the kind of workplaces where everyone’s talent and expertise can flourish.

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