This was a blog I wrote for Ambition School Leadership’s diversity series, the original can be found here:
Using Your Privilege for Good
As educators, our core purpose is to provide the skills and knowledge that lead to the best possible life opportunities for all the pupils we teach. This is certainly mine.
We endeavour to treat all of our pupils equally through the moral lens of people entrusted with their care. Is this enough? Should equity be our ultimate aim?
To successfully achieve the above, it is only right to explore the oppression and privileges that our society may subject them to.
1. Become aware of your biases and privileges
It is vital we remove our biases. This is difficult, but it is important to remember that everyone has biases and it is only a problem if we do not address and work to mitigate them.
Here it’s useful to ‘check yourself’, by that I mean, recognise that you have these biases and then crucially check these are not influencing your decisions and actions. Remember it is only actions that are deemed to be discriminatory. I constantly do this in all my interactions with both pupils and colleagues.
When recruiting if I hear myself thinking ‘Will they fit into the team?’ I stop and return to ‘Do their skills and qualities make them suitable and the best candidate for the job?’
There are various unconscious bias training courses on the market. However, there is also literature on the success of this training, as its impact is only usually seen in people who were already aware and open to it. That being said, I’d advocate that making people aware should be the first stage.
In the same vein, we need to become aware of our privilege. All our default settings (including my own) favour one set of attributes over others. One set of people over another. Let me reiterate these are not just your default settings, but societies’ default settings.
Being native English-speaking, able, cis, and male (etc.) affords me certain privileges, however being working class person of colour (a member of global majority) comes with its own oppression. Privilege and oppression intersect to describe the experience of individuals; hence the phrase intersectionality.
Health warning: It is very easy to get tied up in a game of top trumps here. This hierarchy is not only pointless but divisive, all oppression is intersectional but so is privilege. It is your duty to use it to support those without it.
2. Use our own privilege to support those without
Why should we use our privilege? Because it’s vital for our organisation’s efficiency and profitability, retention, recruitment and, most of all because it’s the right thing to do.
The recent McKinsey report found that having gender and racial diversity on executive teams to be consistently positively correlated with higher profitability.
I’d infer that all diversity improves productivity as it makes people feel at ease, working in an inclusive environment where they and their views will be treated more equitably.
Back to education, a report by the Runnymede trust, commissioned by the NUT (2017), found 60% of black and ethnic minority (BME) teachers were thinking of leaving the teaching profession because of the difficulties they faced and many cited progression and being overlooked as a factor.
Within our profession, women are vastly over-represented until you reach senior leadership positions. BAME/GM leaders make up around 8% of the workforce yet less than 3% of headteachers.
In today’s climate, with the recruitment and retention of staff on the priority for most organisations, leaders should take note as I firmly believe that talent is being lost.
If you’re reading this and nodding your head, organisations like BAMEed, WomenEd, DisabilityEd and more recently LGBTed have all endeavoured to offer support to diverse leaders to break those glass ceilings.
These organisations are all-inclusive, regardless of gender, race or sexuality. Being privileged doesn’t exclude you from supporting, I’d go further and actually say if you’re a man it’s even more important that you support the aims of WomenEd and gender equity as we have the power to make systematic change.
How can you make change? Go along to the events find out how you can incorporate these into your own organisations. Offer to support with the numerous events and the voluntary coaching that is offered.
Simple recruitment practices such as removal of names (race and gender), titles (gender), university (class), etc. before shortlisting or including an external party into the recruitment process, are simple ways to ensure a fairer recruitment process.
“Diversity improves productivity as it makes people feel at ease, working in an inclusive environment where they and their views will be treated more equitably”
3. Use the above to help prepare your pupils for society
There are issues within the content of a pupil’s experience at school. As curricula within our school system are predominantly white, male, hetero, cis centric this serves to propagate the very same default settings.
This leads to many of our pupils feeling inferior, as the images of success don’t look like them. This dangerously fosters a sense of entitlement and supremacy in those who fit society’s mould.
I firmly advocate the use of examples of success, in today’s society, which reflects the diversity of the classroom you teach in and the global cities we live in. Ultimately, we are preparing young people for global citizenship.
Here are a few examples; acknowledging that modern mathematics is based on a system devised in the Indian subcontinent, that Satyendra Nath Bose is the namesake of the boson particle, the sexuality of various figures including Malcolm X, Alexander the Great, Leonardo Da Vinci and the disability of great figures like Franklin D Roosevelt, Frida Kahlo and Florence Nightingale.
This inclusion of the more diverse examples is not to the detriment of the curriculum or even in terms of time. It serves to add to the experience of our pupils. Bansi Kara puts it far more eloquently in her piece for Schools Week.
‘What if this debate is not about what you take away from a curriculum, but what you add? I used examples from literature. If textual complexity and length of time in publication is a marker of a canonical work, then why not study the memoir of Sake Dean Mahomet? In all readability measures, he is far more intellectually and, perhaps culturally, challenging than Dickens.
I challenged the idea that students are asking for the removal of white knowledge by referencing ways in which we can make space in the current curriculum: using the etymology of the word “moor” to expand Othello’s racial profile and intellectual history; informing students of the advanced nature of African astronomy by explaining the contribution of the Dogon people of Mali to the discovery of Sirius A and B, well before the invention of a telescope; linking the concepts of nature as a reflection of God and child mysticism to its potential origins in the Vedas and Upanishads of Hindu scripture.’