Put your money where your mouth is

After almost six years as a School Business Professional I finally made it to the National Conference hosted by our professional body – ISBL. I’d always felt it was something I should experience but hadn’t quite gotten around to making arrangements. This year, 2021, not only was it my first experience but I also participated in a panel discussion so had the opportunity to address the entire room of delegates. It was an exciting (if not nerve wracking) experience for me.

I arrived early on Thursday morning, ready to start the two day conference. The welcome session started and I took my seat. As I scanned the room I noticed two other black people in the room. A quick calculation told me that we’d achieved a level of 1.5% of the delegates from a non-white background. I didn’t dwell on that for too long as it didn’t feel that unusual to me. It’s probably about the usual level of diversity that I experience when attending conferences.

The programme of events started and I flicked through the brochure to remind myself what workshops I’d earmarked to attend. As I looked through the list of workshop speakers I was pleased to see they’d managed to get quite a good mix of male and female onboard. However, it was painfully obvious that there was no racial diversity at all. Although a black keynote speaker had been secured, every single workshop speaker was white. To be clear, I was not surprised by this but disappointed. We are in a predominantly white profession, as ISBL’s own research has told us. However, I had hoped that given the conversations of the last 18 months that there would be some evidence of the commitments made to improve diversity.

When I started the Association of BAME Business Leaders in Education in May 2020 one of the aims was to encourage our members to engage with conferences. They are a great form of CPD and wonderful for building networks. It appears ABBLed has not yet found a way to encourage this attendance. As a network we’ve advertised dates where ABBLed will be speaking at various conferences around the country but clearly that’s not enough.

So the question comes to mind – how can we put our money where our mouths are? At ABBLed we certainly need to have a debrief and think about how we can make a contribution to changing things. More engagement of our members to improve attendance is just the starting point.

In a personal capacity I have resolved to lead by example. I can’t bemoan the lack of diversity but not attend conferences myself. I can’t bemoan the invisibility of SBPs from minority ethnic communities but fade into the background myself.

I don’t believe there is a quick fix but consistently tapping away at the issues is having an impact. I have done far more public speaking in the last 18 months than I ever thought I would. It’s not my natural calling but I’m learning to grin and bear it. I’ve involved myself with promoting conferences, participating in podcasts and promoting SBP books. I’ve used the platform created by winning the 2021 TES SBL of the Year award to increase my visibility and talk about the issues important to me.

I am but one person but I continue to lead by example in the hope that others will join alongside me and even more will start to follow behind me. I believe we have a truly great profession and I’m proud to keep promoting it and encouraging people to join it.

If you’d like to support ABBLed please visit our website and read about what we do and levels of membership available at www.abbled.org

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