Some conversations are difficult and uncomfortable to have. And yet it is conversation and the questions we ask of ourselves and others that help us to make good decisions and improve the way we govern.
There is universal agreement that a board’s membership should reflect the communities it serves, but proactive conversations about achieving a more diverse and inclusive board don’t happen often enough. Perhaps they are perceived as being abstract, lacking an obvious solution or the constant challenge of recruiting and retaining volunteers in the first place makes them unrealistic.
I can see why discussing board diversity is put into the ‘too difficult’ box, but not how this can be reconciled with the commitment to ensuring that equality, diversity and inclusion runs through our schools and trusts. We have a duty to promote governorship, especially to members of our communities who are most under-represented on boards. So, we need to find a way to ingrain diversity and participation conversations within our routines and self-evaluation so that we can make the most of them.
Following the publication of our state of the nation report last year on increasing participation in school and trust governance, we have been working on a practical resource to help boards meet this challenge. The result is a diversity indicators form that can be adapted and used to gather data and have meaningful conversations about:
- targeted recruitment to address gaps in experience and diversity
- developing and adapting board practices to ensure full participation
- prioritising training and awareness-raising in identified areas
- addressing potential ‘blind spots’ through seeking wider advice and perspectives on current and upcoming opportunities, challenges and risks
The indicators of board diversity that feature within the form are drawn from the official census form and were built upon with the input of focus groups. They therefore include established indicators such as age, ethnicity, disability and religion, but also wider indicators of life experience and experience of the schools system, which are likely to shape an individual’s perspective and contribution to governance. However, we are not advocating a standard approach, which lacks contextual understanding; the form is easily adaptable to fit the specific circumstances of the school or trust.
The form is also designed for governors and trustees to complete on a confidential basis, lending itself to a high level evaluation by the chair, executive leader and or governance professional as appropriate. This should provide a basis for highlighting issues, putting forward solutions and engaging stakeholders. We have produced a short guide to help navigate the process stage by stage.
Above all, the form should enable a serious conversation that generates action to create change and make a difference. We hope you find it useful and welcome your feedback.