Pirandeep Dhillon, who became a governor at the College of Haringey, Enfield and North East London in March, thinks colleges need to be more imaginative with how they promote board vacancies with black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) communities
Despite not being a focus for the previous coalition or current government, it seems diversity (or the lack of) is back on the FE agenda.
Colleges have long been ahead of their peers in the universities and schools sector in terms of the number of BAME principals compared with heads and vice-chancellors.
Attention has now turned to the issue of governance within colleges and the fact that the majority of governing bodies are still pre-dominantly white British.
In 2015, and given the progress that has been made in attempting to bridge the gap between ethnicity and gender, these figures still make for uncomfortable reading.
As a young, Asian female governor I am very much in the minority.
I became a governor primarily because I wanted to make a difference to the young people in Haringey, Enfield and North East London who attend college, and hopefully bring a different perspective to ensure the college is doing its best by students, their parents and the community.
Given the number of BAME students in colleges, it is imperative that their governors, senior management and teachers reflect this make up.
Young people need role models and peers that look like them, be it ethnicity, gender or indeed age.
As with gender equality, ageism and LGBT rights, the issue of racial equality is a constantly evolving process.
As a governor I am in a position to draw on my own experiences both from a cultural and professional perspective and am encouraged to express my opinion and be challenging where necessary.
”We need to be bolder, more ambitious and outward facing to create the change that is needed. This lack of diversity has rightly been identified as an area of priority for colleges”
These characteristics require determination and resilience — having sustained dialogue with peers and support once becoming a governor is just as important as recruiting them in the first place.
Otherwise in a somewhat unfamiliar and what can be an intimidating environment, new governors may feel a sense of discomfort and choose not to carry on.
We must ensure that this focus on representation does not become a tick box exercise or tokenism.
One of the key issues, however, is promoting the opportunities available.
I was in the privileged position of having access to knowing how to apply to become a governor because of my contacts and networks.
Greater steps should be taken to explain, promote and support BAME communities and encourage them to become governors.
Many BAME communities have strong social and cultural links within their own locality.
This experience and knowledge would help colleges in their mission considerably.
It’s about removing the perceived sense of superiority and hierarchy and letting people know that anyone can get involved.
One of the key reasons that senior BAME representation is often weak in the public and private sector and a whole host of other industries is because of access to networks and knowing how or who can put you in touch with the right people.
This is exacerbated by a lack of awareness of the role of colleges. We need to be bolder, more ambitious and outward facing to create the change that is needed.
This lack of diversity has rightly been identified as an area of priority for colleges.
Doing so will create inclusive and more productive working environments that rightly reflect the demographic make-up of the students colleges serve.
There will never be a point in time where we can say everything has been achieved. We still have a long way to go to get close.
The focus on governors is a welcome one, but we must go further and ensure senior leadership teams and principals in colleges across the country are also representative.
Many of my friends are governors of schools, both primary and secondary.
Indeed for many aspiring and ambitious young people it is a rite of passage to have on your CV.
It is the sector’s job to recruit bright young people from a range of backgrounds to the FE sector too. We just need to do a better job of selling it.