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How flexibility can increase the diversity of college board of governors

24 September 2021

How Flexibility Can Blog

There has been valid criticism from some quarters that the make-up of college boards does not reflect their catchment or sector specialisms and are not as diverse as the communities they serve.

Research undertaken by the AoC found that college boards are overwhelmingly male (67%), overwhelmingly white (88%) and overwhelmingly from an older population (82%).

A diverse governing body brings a range of perspectives to the table and is also less likely to fall foul of ‘group think’. The AoC notes that “If we seek to have college boards that reflect the makeup of the local population, we might expect that college governing bodies have about equal numbers of men and women and profiles of black and minority ethnic groups, people with disabilities and ages that reflect the local population”.

Flexibility is key when changing the complexion of a college’s board of governors

The contributions of a diverse board of governors within a framework of inclusivity and collaboration can exponentially improve outcomes for colleges and college students. But how can a college be more flexible when pursuing diversity? Kurt Hall, governance advisor at the AoC, explains: “There are many ways to increase diversity and a number of factors specific to the college will all play a role (e.g. standing in the community, location, student composition, staff composition). The best way is to have strategic intent and to carefully work out how diversity and inclusion will be central to the college’s objectives.”

Having diversity and inclusion at the very heart of a college’s ethos is, therefore, very important. A college must be flexible when trying to achieve this goal. Kurt goes on to describe the immediate steps that a further education institution can take: “There are a number of colleges (such as Leeds City College and Kirklees College, both in Yorkshire) doing great work – many are in conversation with the AoC – colleges can come to us; they can speak to other colleges to find out what they are doing; they can make connections with local organisations.” Flexibility, in this case, would mean not being too proud nor too introspective to learn from best practice in the sector.

Overcoming obstacles to achieving a diverse board of governors

There are barriers that exist when some colleges attempt to recruit governors to ensure a diverse board with the necessary mix of skills and experience. Although a logical starting point for colleges to search for new governors may be by using contacts that have been made within the local community “this approach should not be the only strategy used by a Corporation to seek new members, as it could lead to a perception in the wider community that the only way to become a governor of the organisation is to ‘know the right people’”, the AoC declares.

Considering the opening paragraph, that most college boards are made up of older people, the change in working practices necessitated by the pandemic may have put into sharp focus a solution to the barriers in the way of working people — flexible working practices. Such practices would encourage more working people, younger people, parents to get involved in college governance by making it easier for people to attend meetings and/or using Zoom or Teams for video calls.

This flexibility may offer up easier opportunities for women who wish to become governors but who might be working mothers. In addition, virtual meetings may be beneficial for some individuals living with a disability, who may be find virtual meetings more accessible because of their disability. These would be further examples of encouraging diversity in college governance.

A win-win situation

Should colleges strategically cultivate an inclusive and diverse environment, Kurt says that, among other things, they may include:

  • selecting governors from the widest possible pool and thereby improving chances of finding and developing great leaders
  • more representative of the communities they serve
  • making decisions in a more inclusive way
  • potentially developing curriculum and programmes which students can identify with (which may improve engagement and in turn, outcomes)
  • investing in the community and developing leaders in underrepresented groups.

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