Small Steps to a Big Impact on Diversity, Inclusion and Equality in the Awarding Sector.

Candace Miller is the Managing Director of SFJ Awards, Executive Director of the Workforce Development Trust, as well as Board Member and Lead Member for the Professional Development and Equalities Working Group of the Federation of Awarding Bodies (FAB). She joins Kristina Preston to equality, diversity and inclusion (EDI) in the awarding sector.

Why are you personally so passionate about EDI and how can the awarding sector do more in this area?

Firstly, I want to turn the question around and ask, “why isn’t everybody passionate and concerned about equality, diversion, and inclusion?”

Everyone is diverse. Not just in terms of the protected characteristics, but also in terms of our backgrounds, upbringing, abilities, socioeconomic standing, stages we’re at in our lives, and so on.

All of us want to be treated equally, we all want to feel like we belong, we all want to feel respected and included at work and in our family, social and community lives. I’m confident that none of us would want to be discriminated against based on any personal characteristics, so why should we accept it happening to anyone else?

Multiple members of my family, including myself, have Asperger’s and each of us have seen the impact of positive attitudes around EDI not being entrenched.

Specifically, in the awarding sector, awarding and assessment organisations really do have a significant impact on education and training provision.

As FAB Co-Chair Kirstie Donnelly touched on at our conference last year: the principles of fairness and equality are built into our DNA. We take that very seriously, as do the regulators. It’s imperative that assessment and accreditation materials are inclusive so that all learners are equally able to demonstrate the knowledge, skills and behaviours they’ve developed through various pathways of learning.

What are the most important things awarding organisations need to be thinking about when it comes to EDI?

Awarding bodies tend to have a small workforce and are highly specialised, so it’s important to attract talent from across the entire population pool and that awarding bodies are seen as a place where everyone belongs and is supported to succeed.

Generally, the pathway into awarding bodies comes about serendipitously. For instance, I hold a degree in zoology and my first job was as an Educational Officer at a zoo. I quite liked the education side of things, so my next job was basically administration within an awarding organisation. And the rest, as they say, is history.

From there I moved from job to job, changed from awarding body to awarding body and have always had a wonderful career – I still am having a wonderful career!

It comes down to being able to recruit the talent that we need and demonstrating the diversity of activities that they can undertake as part of a career in awarding bodies. I have experienced so much as part of my career in assessment and education – from standing at the top of a turbine house looking down at a power station and going out on trawlers in the North Sea to assess how well workplace evidence could be reliably captured.

People are often unaware of how diverse and rewarding a career in the sector can be, so it’s vitally important that awarding bodies shout a bit louder about what they can offer. By doing so we will help to facilitate diversity in our workforce and ultimately drive EDI in the sectors that we support.

A key part of this is ensuring that we can support our members in their own EDI journey. Many people who work for an awarding body tend to stay in the sector. Ensuring that this culture of inclusiveness is built into the very foundation of the organisation means that we aren’t overlooking groups in society that really offer something to the sector.

So, recruitment is one aspect of improving equality and diversity, how does inclusion factor in? How should inclusion be defined, and what can organisations do to foster a more inclusive environment?

One of the very best descriptions I’ve heard put forward is by diversity and inclusion expert Verna Myers:

“Diversity is being invited to a party; inclusion is being asked to dance.”

I think being inclusive is a choice; it’s about taking active steps to ensure that everyone isn’t just invited but supported too.

While leaders and managers have a big role to play within their own organisation, this must be championed by other staff members as well. If you’re the host of a party and you notice someone standing on the wall not getting involved, you introduce them to someone else. You don’t wait for them to pluck up the courage. Similarly, if you’re at that party and the host is refilling drinks in another room, you can be the one to approach the person standing back.

If somebody has made it through the process of recruitment and selection, they’ve already proven they have what it takes. Now it’s up to you and your teams to help them really feel part of things.

Sometimes the way that we present ourselves can inadvertently create barriers. Think about the language and imagery that you use externally. Think about the internal social environment of the organisation. It is so easy to inadvertently exclude people through what we say and do, but often difficult to identify when we have done that.

Be active and aware of people who look like they are joining in but aren’t necessarily being actively included. Diversity and equality should be facts. You should be able to point at your data and say ‘here are the numbers’. But inclusion must be an active and ongoing behaviour that doesn’t benefit from a ‘one size fits all’ approach.

What are some small steps that have a big impact on an organisation’s inclusivity strategy?

There are four main steps organisations can take to create a welcoming and inclusive culture.

Firstly, think about the language and imagery you use in your recruitment drive.

There are some terms that can inadvertently put people off from applying for a role. Words like ‘active’ or energetic’ might hint that you are looking for younger applicants. Studies have shown that words such as ‘competitive’, ‘leader’ and ‘confident’ can be more appealing to males, while ‘responsible’, ‘dependable’ and ‘committed’ can appeal more towards women.

There is evidence to suggest gendered use of language is a root cause of the gender pay gap, as we see more male bias in leadership and senior positions, while female-coding is focused more on advertising for support roles.

Neutral language expands the talent pool you appeal to and show that you are open to people bringing their whole selves to work. There are online language checkers that you can use to make this easy and quick.

Why would you inadvertently block these people from coming forward when they may be the very individuals that your organisation will benefit from?

Second, be authentic.

Many organisations make public statements about inclusivity, but you must be able to show how you act on it as well. If you look like you’re jumping on the bandwagon without taking real action, it will have the opposite effect to what you are trying to achieve.

Listen to your staff and stakeholders and develop a vision of how you want your organisation to be perceived then build a roadmap of where you want to go.

So, you have listened to the stakeholders of your organisation and have lots of great ideas about how you can be more inclusive – the next stage is building a roadmap that outlines how you will get there.

Set goals and deadlines and continuously collect data as you go. Be realistic with your timelines and have a clear picture of how reaching smaller milestones will get you closer to your overarching goals.

Use your own skills, do what you do elsewhere in the business.

Finally, recognise and celebrate the various festivals and holidays that your workforce and customers recognise

Do you have a staff newsletter or some sort of regular communication that can include the different celebrations that your staff enjoy?

That doesn’t only help your existing staff to feel like they belong, but it might also help you to attract new staff who can see that you support a culture that recognises a genuinely wide range of interests and experiences.

What words of warning or caution do you have for organisations?

Don’t make assumptions. Look for evidence and use it to make informed decisions.

Don’t assume that everything is okay because nobody has complained – ask, find out – what would make things even better?

Listen to share, listen to learn and understand that none of us knows everything. It’s through communication that we get to a better understanding, engagement and awareness of all the different strengths that come through from having a much more diverse and inclusive workforce.

Foster an environment where people can have safe conversations and where they can talk openly.

Don’t fall into the trap of thinking that including someone or something automatically means you’re excluding someone or something else. Inclusion is additive – it’s building on, it’s adding to things.

For instance, the question often comes up around Christmas time about whether we should be saying something like ‘have a lovely festive season’ rather than ‘Merry Christmas’ in the name of inclusivity? Not necessarily. It’s about including other holidays, not excluding Christmas! Get used to wishing people a Happy Diwali, a Happy Hannukah or Eid Mubarak when these celebrations roll around. Get in the mindset of adding joy, not taking it away.

Consider what matters to you, your staff and to the people that you support through the qualifications that you offer. Be open to the conversations that celebrate the real benefits that diversity can bring.

A very big thank you to Candace Miller for sharing her insights about EDI in the awarding sector. We are very excited about the work that FAB is doing in this area and can’t wait to see these impacts and changes continue to improve the awarding bodies sector.  You can watch the full video here: