Skip to main content

Why inclusive leadership is critical in the FE sector - Jeff Greenidge

13th April 2023

This blog is part of the ETF inclusive leadership programme. This programme is delivered by Association of Colleges, commissioned by the Education and Training Foundation on behalf of the Department for Education. Find out more here.

Given the economic and societal backdrop FE finds itself in in 2023, the continual problem is convincing leaders and managers to think beyond the next three months' concerns. There are many current issues, from curriculum reform to staff recruitment and constant financial problems. In such a complicated and dynamic environment, employees must be inventive, high-performing, and collaborative. Organisations are beginning to realise that developing inclusive leadership skills is not pleasant but an essential business requirement. Why is that so? The significance of diversity, equity, belonging and inclusion has never been more striking.

To support the further education sector, the Association of Colleges designed and delivered the Inclusive Leadership programme, commissioned by the Education and Training Foundation on behalf of the Department for Education. The programme recognised that inclusive leadership would be a unique and critical capability to support further education to adapt, survive and prosper in such volatile and ambiguous times. It focussed on humanistic leadership and psychological well-being to ensure these aspiring leaders can take positive action, develop inclusive workplace cultures and facilitate change within their organisations.

Because education is a social and ethical profession, we might have been tempted to assume that "that is just how we do things in FE ". The reality is that the way the leader speaks and "walks the talk" will define the organisation's culture - and not all of our organisations are as inclusive as we would like to think.

So it was enlightening to watch this programme unfold as it challenged those hard-wired traits we all have and provided individuals with opportunities for insight into their inner enablers that make inclusive leadership possible:

That ability to authentically establish trust in the face of opposing beliefs, values, or perspectives and to have the confidence to be comfortable in some uncomfortable conversations around differences. And indeed, I did see some tough conversations at one or two of the sessions.

It was a pleasure also to see participants recognise that ambiguity is not a problem, but an opportunity to adapt and innovate by leveraging differences. Curiosity is not just something for children, but a key leadership trait that ensures we are open to differences and learn from diversity.

I have realised in these sessions that leadership must have a purpose. Purposeful, inclusive leadership is essential in the choices and decisions leaders make for their organisations; for if people trust you and know that you have a personal commitment, they will go above and beyond, and you will get that much more from them. Your organisation will be seen as a good place in which to work. And once you know your goal or purpose as a leader, you'll be able to transition from being a manager who is only concerned with getting results to an inspirational leader who can inspire your team and the larger organisation.

Allied to purpose, what also emerged was positivity. This positivity is not "fluffy". It is a habit that must be practised daily. It requires effort and perseverance to see solutions as a leader when you have the same concerns and challenges as others.

If you are not actively developing inclusive leaders, you are a significant part of the problem. Our colleges are diverse, and that is simply a fact of life – diverse in age, gender, ethnicity, sexuality, neurodiversity, ability etc. and without inclusive leadership, retaining and making the most of a diverse workforce is a non-starter.

Everyone needs to feel included and feel treated fairly, respectfully, valued, and belong. Diversity without inclusion will not improve the lived experience of staff or help the organisation make the most of the diversity to find those innovative solutions that bring growth and sustainability.

All in all, I got a real buzz from attending these programmes and seeing aspiring leaders who are purposeful, inclusive, and positive articulating their authentic commitment to diversity. At the AoC, we will continue to work with our partners to challenge the status quo, hold our sector leaders accountable, and make diversity and inclusion a personal priority for every leader.

The views expressed in Think Further publications do not necessarily reflect those of AoC or NCFE.