Principal Thoughts: why are we still not diverse in education and industry in 2017?

Posted on: 21 August, 2017

Widening participation needs to be driven from the top down as well as the bottom up.

Welcome to the latest edition of Ashley Wheaton’s ‘Principal Thoughts’. This month, Ashley looks at the future of diversity in higher education, industry and the Built Environment – and discusses how it needs to happen at all levels to solve the skills gap.

In light of last week’s A-level results, attentions are naturally turning towards our higher education system. While there are more places than usual this year, there are still warnings of a lack of diversity in UK universities.

A Diverse Places of Learning study reports that ethnic minority students are not spread evenly within the higher education system and are more likely to be concentrated in new universities in large, multicultural cities. For example, almost two-thirds of students from UK Bangladeshi families go to a relatively small number of “super-diverse” London universities; while there are some institutions where 95 per cent of the UK students are white.

The lead author of the study, Dr Sol Gamsu, told the BBC that, “…universities which are more ethnically diverse tended to be less wealthy universities which provide higher education for large numbers of first-generation university students…” and that “…resources were more likely to be focused on institutions dominated by the white middle class.

This segregation and under-representation is also reflected within UK industry, the majority of the country’s biggest companies still have no strong ethnic minority and gender presence. Despite government recommendations that no FTSE 100 board should be exclusively white by 2020, a recent report found that almost 58 per cent have no ethnic minority main board presence – and there remains no female ethnic minority CEO or CFO.

A diverse workforce not only fosters inclusion, respect, and openness – it also increases the ability to find the right solutions for projects, by utilising a variety of working styles, personalities and approaches. And so, increasing numbers of industries are now focusing on widening participation. UK businesses have recognised the importance of supporting all potential employees in educational and business development – and are offering initiatives such as apprenticeships in order to engage new and diverse talent.

For instance, the Built Environment sector has been trying to widen participation for a few years now – in gender, age, ethnicity and more. And with a severe skills shortage this is more essential than ever but, unfortunately, the sector still has large issues with diversity.

While the industry may appear more diverse – there are particularly more women, different ethnicities, various sexual orientations and people with disabilities within the new wave of apprentices – most of these people are just at the start of their careers. The challenge is that it will take a very long time for this younger generation of professionals to flow up into management and more senior roles, assuming even, that they remain in the industry for that long. And if the Built Environment simply waits for the lower end to move up and start having an influence – they’ll be waiting 20 years or more for this to have the full impact, which isn’t anywhere near quick enough.

What also needs to happen is for the sector to be educating and recruiting a diverse range of qualified people at all levels, from top to bottom; there are plenty of mature students with experience and senior level skills who could make a difference in the Built Environment. It’s our responsibility to make our sector an attractive place to be a part of and ensure everyone who wants to be part of it feels they can be.

At UCEM, our learning model is specifically aimed at catering for all locations, backgrounds and needs. It’s low-cost, and study can be done flexibly around work – benefiting those on lower incomes and supporting those with children and other responsibilities; the programmes can be completed from the comfort and security of your own home, potentially helping those with disabilities. There are also reasonable entry credentials, and levels of final award, which can aid those without previous access to higher education.

Make sure you’re following us on Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn, and stay tuned for the next edition of Principal Thoughts.