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Increasing FE governor diversity through advertising

18 September 2021


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One thing that colleges do well traditionally is engage with the local community. Many have their roots firmly planted and that can be a source of great influence for a college. However, it can be a small pool, especially in more rural communities. If college boards are to put more of an onus on diversity, then perhaps it is time to widen the pool by thinking outside the box in terms of its advertising.

An Ofsted Governance paper on strengths and weaknesses has previously said that good practice when recruiting governors should see governors “reflect the diversity of the college well and work closely with senior leaders”. In order to reflect the diversity of the community they serve, flexibility should be key. Colleges should take advantage of every channel available to them, in particular the ones most frequently used by younger people.

Flexibility can help increase the diversity of college boards of governors

This flexibility when placed in the context of advertising could be used to reverse a common assumption that precludes some members of society from feeling they can play a part in the governance of a college. Advertising in the same broad sheet newspaper can create a self-fulfilling prophecy, that the same old faces tend to get the college governor roles. Advertising outside of their usual areas of focus can help attract talent with a wider range of backgrounds that better reflect their locale.

Advertisements in the local press, community group newssheets, targeted mail-shots and website advertising to specific sectors are all valuable in and of themselves. However, alongside this, using a wider range of mediums, such as Instagram, Twitter and Facebook, will broaden the talent pool, most pertinently decreasing the age demographic of the target audience. In addition, colleges should seek to engage with local stakeholders such as community organisations who serve underrepresented groups.

Virtual meetings could expand a college’s reach

Challenging the assumption that many people have that they are locked out of entering the world of college governance is very important. It would be beneficial for colleges to create their governance recruitment strategy bearing in mind the real-life challenges that people tend to have; working the role around jobs, social lives, young children and disabilities, for example.

If the pandemic taught us anything, it was that businesses can run smoothly with a workforce doing their jobs remotely. This could be a game changer for colleges as meetings could take place over Zoom or Teams, which many people became ofay with during lockdown. The problem of time constraints could be overcome by hosting meetings remotely, thus increasing diversity. An advertising strategy would need to promote this.

A capable and confident governing board should be well-placed to make video conferencing a viable option when looking to increase the diversity of a college board of governors. College’s always have to strike a tricky balance between supporting staff’s work-life balance and being more flexible with the timings of meetings could be a practical long-term aim.

Getting local businesses on board

Non-traditional advertising could also include reaching out to local businesses and have them do the legwork in recruiting potential college governors. It may sound obvious but no-one understands the needs of local business like local businesses. Be they small, medium or large, the benefits to them of having an employee who doubles as a governor, sitting on the board of a multi-million pound business are observable.

As for the college, they will hopefully begin to see the make-up of their board reflect their catchment or sector specialisms that are as diverse as the community they serve. Their targeting of local businesses could be based on those they already have connections with or would be interested in working with to expand student opportunities. The relationship between college and business should be mutually beneficial if it is working well.

Reach out to local influencers

Colleges could pursue an influencer outreach strategy. They could identify influential individuals in their audience, including parents and authority figures at the college, and then network with them to get their message across. It may well be that individuals who represent some of the neglected areas of society, be it race, sex or disability, are targeted to spread the word of the benefits of becoming a college governor.

“Many colleges already have deep roots in their communities so for them it will be more about encouraging the leaders they engage with to think about board opportunities, while for others, it will be striking up those relationships and nurturing them,” Kurt Hall, AoC’s Governance Manager said. “Not all these relationships bear fruit immediately, but over time the more aware the active community members are about the college and the more engaged they feel with it, the less distant being a board member may seem.”

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