Hannah Wilson portrait

Written by Hannah Wilson

Founder of Diverse Educators

In the wake of George Floyd’s murder last summer many people from my network started disclosing that they were feeling compromised – they had been approached to lead DEI in their context, but they knew it was because of their lived experience ie they identify as belonging to one of protected characteristic groups. 

Each person shared how they felt the burden of responsibility but also that they were acutely aware of the visibility and the vulnerability of this position. Moreover, most of them had been asked to take on this role for free (ie for love and for passion). They were not being offered additional time, additional training nor additional money.

We created a DM group that soon filled up on Twitter so we created a 2nd one – nearly 100 people who are leaning into leading DEI work in their schools, colleges and trusts. It is notable that the vast majority of these individuals were assigned female at birth and identify as being women. Many have an intersectional identity and are women of colour, women of faith, women who are LGBTIA+ and women who are parents/ carers. An important factor to consider as we bang our drum about asking people to do this work (ie burden and additional load) for free.

In response, Angie Browne and I developed the DEI Leaders Programme to support each individual on their journey to combat the fear, to address the isolation and to create a safe space to explore the vulnerability of this important work. We have both led this work on our own career journeys and navigated the systemic, structural and societal barriers that come with the territory. We have stories to share and war wounds to lick, but we can also share how we shaped our strategies and illustrate the impact we had and the legacy we created.

In addition to the programme, through the #DiverseEd network I created a space each half-term for DEI leaders who are not formally working with us through the programme to come together informally to form a DEI Leaders Network as an opportunity to connect, to collaborate, to peer support and to share the learning. We are also planning an annual DEI Leaders conference to share best practice and deepen knowledge and understanding in June.

I have also begun to collate a recruitment pack of DEI leaders job descriptions, person specifications and adverts so that each individual can negotiate the framing of their role in their school/ trust. The title of the role is up for debate and varies from setting to setting. I share in my training sessions that a trend I have observed in my cross-sector LinkedIn network is that in corporate settings mande D&I/ EDI leads are now being called Head of Belonging. I love this reframe and personally think that the education sector should adopt it too.  

It has been heartening to see a flurry of tweets in the last few months of people from our network and from our programme being formally appointed and properly remunerated for this role in our schools. Congratulations to those who have successfully been appointed and those who have negotiated a defined role. This is still the minority but there is a glimmer of hope that organisations are recognising the need for a defined role and remit for whoever is leading DEI.

Our provocation to the school system:

Would we ask a SENCO or a DSL to strategically lead their whole school responsibility without framing their role, giving them additional time, adequately resourcing their area (budget for books/ training) and elevating their sphere of influence to at the very least associate senior leadership?

For all of the schools leaning into DEI work we encourage you to review your infrastructure. The DSL and SENCO do not carry the burden of all of the safeguarding and all of the SEN work on their shoulders – they have a team of people they can distribute the load across, but moreover the collective responsibility of the whole staff team is expected. We believe that DEI needs to be framed in the same way.

We would not ask an adult who had been vulnerable to lead safeguarding based on their lived experience nor an adult with an additional need to lead SENCO without the framing, the training, the support and the accountability around them, once they had been identified as the most appropriate person to lead this work and fulfil the responsibilities of the role. So we should not be approaching the staff of colour, the staff who are LGBTQIA+ to do this work, simply because of their identity, and moreover we should not be asking them to do it without a formal process to identify they are the person who is best-positioned to lead this work, and thereby appointing them, announcing them and  appropriately remunerating them.

The role of the DEI Leader in our schools is an important one as it embodies our commitment to this work, it elevates the status of the strategy, it creates visibility in the school of diverse role models, it amplifies the voices of diverse stakeholder groups and it centres belonging in the culture, the curriculum, the policies and the practices throughout the school. 

So we need to be very careful that through our DEI strategies we are intentionally dismantling barriers instead of further perpetuating the glass ceilings, the concrete ceilings, the glass cliffs and the pay gaps that already exist in the school system. Formally appointing and remunerating the people leading this work is a great place to start as our schools continue on their journeys to unlearn and relearn why and how representation matters.

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