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Equity exchange: why we need to support our EDI champions

I recently shared examples of diversity and inclusion (EDI) practices taking place across the country, and the real progress that is being made by individuals, leaders, and organisations.

However, the phone calls and emails I’ve received in the last few months have made me reflect on the challenges that changemakers face. It’s clear that advocating for change in a resistant environment takes an emotional toll and can lead to fatigue and feelings of burnout.

Diversity and inclusion changemaking can present several psychological challenges, and it is time for a long-overdue talk about the complex balancing act between a professional role and personal identities and beliefs.

Some individuals grapple with imposter syndrome, feeling their strengths are not enough or that vulnerabilities will overshadow their contributions. Balancing these aspects can also evoke feelings of pressure, stress, or the need to constantly prove oneself. Moreover, navigating biases or conflicting perspectives within diverse groups can impact team dynamics, requiring a delicate balance of leveraging strengths while respecting vulnerabilities to foster an inclusive environment.

We know that by addressing systemic issues and advocating for fairness in policies, practices and social attitudes, an equity-led approach contributes significantly to building a more inclusive society where everyone has equal opportunities and is treated with dignity and respect. However, encountering slow progress or facing setbacks can lead to frustration and a sense of helplessness for our changemakers.

We've also seen many examples of approaches in colleges that foster an environment where diversity is celebrated, and everyone feels valued and included regardless of background. That is the aspiration for change makers, and we would like to provide a space for colleagues to also share good practise that they have been developing. It is therefore incumbent on us as a sector organisation to encourage self-care and to promote practices that prioritise mental and emotional wellbeing to prevent burnout.

To support these changemakers, we need to offer resources like mental health support, training, mentorship, and networking opportunities to alleviate the burden and provide a support network.

This is why, at the Association of Colleges, we are launching the Equity Exchange, a network for those leading on EDI work in their colleges.

There will be regional meetings happening every six weeks, and we will work with and build on the work of practitioners to provide that safe space for challenging conversations. The sessions will be hosted by National EDI consultant Ellisha Soanes, and the first one will be for EDI leads across the East of England on 11 January.

The network will be a place where we can acknowledge efforts and recognise their work and dedication as well as a superb resource from which we can share the outcomes of regional practice on curriculum, workforce, or cultural development. Attendees will also get an chance to play a role in EDI excellence conferences.

It is our hope that by sharing the activities of our changemakers we will continue to advocate for inclusive environments where diversity champions feel supported, valued, and heard.

Jeff Greenidge is the Director for Diversity and Governance

If you would like to register for the East of England event, please contact Ellisha on Ellisha@aspireblacksuffolk.org.uk