Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion: Inclusion into What?

The Challenge for School Leaders Dreaming of a Better World for Our Children

On Friday, I was fortunate enough to attend the inaugural “Black Voices in Coaching” conference. The talks and conversations touched me deeply as we explored themes unique to the perspectives that people of colour bring to the coaching space.

A Pertinent Question

A particular challenge posed by South African coach Tsietsi Telite during a panel discussion stuck with me. Tsietsi asked:

“When we talk about EDI, do we ever question what is meant by Inclusion? Inclusion into what?”

This question struck a chord with all of us. As Black coaches, we navigate white spaces regularly. Many of us support leaders of colour who, despite their senior positions, still feel the suffocating weight of whiteness because the surrounding culture has not changed. They are expected to assimilate and conform to organisational norms that maintain the status quo and prevent individuals from fully showing up as themselves.

The Impact of Whiteness

For people of colour, this is deep soul-wounding, perpetuating and mirroring what our ancestors faced across generations. Organisations professing to be anti-racist and seeking to diversify their workforce must understand that inclusion cannot mean assimilation into the ideological framework and norms of whiteness.

For clarity, whiteness is not about skin colour; it is an ideological framework that perpetuates hierarchical structures of race in our society, maintaining a status quo that privileges those with the most wealth and power.

Manifestations of Whiteness in Schools

In schools, whiteness as an unconscious ideology can look like:

 Curriculum content centred predominantly on Eurocentric perspectives and histories.
 Disciplinary policies that disproportionately affect students of colour.
 Lower expectations for academic achievement from students of colour.
 Lack of representation of teachers and staff of colour in decision-making roles.
 Cultural norms and practices that do not honour or reflect the diverse backgrounds of all students and staff.

The Importance of Bringing Our Whole Selves to Work

I am a fan of the work of the late Black American scholar and activist bell hooks, who said:

“To thrive in an anti-racist organisation, racially minoritised individuals must be able to bring their whole selves to work. This goes beyond mere survival, which often means concealing parts of one’s identity to fit into a predominantly white space.”

This is the lens through which we need to consider ‘Inclusion.’ For this to be so, white school leaders must stand as allies with their Black colleagues and do their own work. Race and the manifestations of racism are not just issues for people of colour. It is crucial to acknowledge that white people have also been impacted. Racism has created a psychological distortion within white folk that, unless addressed, will prevent the existence of truly inclusive cultures in white-dominated spaces. These spaces will always be shaped by the norms of whiteness embedded in the organisation’s systems, policies, and processes.

What Can White School Leaders Do?

If you are a white school leader and you are asking yourself, “What can I do?” here are a few

1. Educate Yourselves and Your Team: Engage in continuous learning about the history and impact of racism and whiteness. Provide training sessions, workshops, and resources that address these issues. Ensure they are not ‘one-off’ and are embedded into your school improvement cycle/plan.

2. Reflect on Policies and Practices: Examine school policies, disciplinary actions, and hiring practices through an anti-racist lens. Make necessary changes to ensure they are equitable and just.

3. Create Safe Spaces: Develop forums where Black colleagues can voice their experiences and suggestions without fear of retribution. Ensure these spaces lead to actionable changes.

4. Diversify Leadership: Strive to have a diverse leadership team that includes voices from various racial and ethnic backgrounds in decision-making processes. Ensure appointments are not tokenistic or individuals are not siloed into roles with little power or influence.

Continuous Commitment

This list is by no means definitive. There must be and there always will be, more work for all of us to do. There can be no falling asleep at the wheel. We are all called to remain awake to the many ways in which racism impacts and shapes our lives. Our collective commitment to remain conscious in the wake of the pressure not to be, will help ensure that our children and young people will see better days.

Upcoming Webinar: Claim Your Agency as an Anti-Racist Educator

Are you a White Senior School Leader Seeking to Claim Your Agency as an Anti-Racist Educator?

On Tuesday 1st October, 4.00 – 5.00 pm, Viv Grant, Director of Integrity Coaching, will host a webinar specifically for Heads who want to lead race work with greater confidence and self-assurance. Viv is passionate about race work in schools, and her PhD research focuses on ways to enable white school leaders to claim their agency as anti-racist educators. Viv will create a safe space for individuals to explore related themes and discuss collaborative opportunities for building on race work that some schools may have already started.

To book your place please register your interest here