Diversity in Governance: how can we ensure that we represent the communities we serve well

by Julia Skinner and Lizana Oberholzer @TheHeadsOffice @LO_EduforAll

During a recent presentation for WomenEd’s Global Unconference, we discussed the challenges and key considerations that governing bodies and trustee boards need to make when they consider new members. Diverse Governance, and the importance of diversity of teams, skills, backgrounds, ethnicity, race, religion and gender is highlighted in Section 4 of the latest Governance Handbook (DfE, 2020).

Members of the board need to have the necessary ‘skills required’. Key considerations to be made when appointing governors are that the governing body or board, needs to ensure that it is, ‘acquiring the skills, experience and diversity the board needs to be effective’ (DfE,2020). For the purpose of this blog, and during the presentation, we felt that it is important that diversity is clearly defined.

As outlined by the DfE’s Governance Handbook (2020) it outlines that considerations regarding diversity are complex and a range of aspects need to be considered. The recent murder of George Floyd in America has seen the emergence of the Black Lives Matter movement which has seen race at the top of the agenda. For those working in governance, it is important to go beyond headlines and consider the reasons for having a diverse board. It is important that diversity does not become a tokenistic approach to appointments. It is important to ensure that the appointments reflect the community of the school, its needs and that the members of the governing body or board, hold the values of the organisation. The appointments therefore need to be underpinned by the values of the organisation, to ensure that it is representative, inclusive, and strategic to support learners well in line with the Equalities Act (2010).

According to QCC (2020) when defining diversity, it means so much more than just acknowledging difference. As outlined by Maslow’s four stages of competencies (1943, as cited in Cameron and Green, 2015) , governing bodies need to first become aware of the lack of diversity on their teams, they need to be consciously incompetent, and move towards conscious competence. The more diversity issues are discussed, the more conscious we become about the changes we need to drive within our teams, with the aim to become consciously competent and refined at ensuring that we have all the skills and voices embedded in our teams to be the best we can be for the learners and communities we serve as governors. QCC (2020) states that when we consider diversity we need to

‘appreciate the interdependence of humanity, cultures and the natural environment. We need to practice mutual respect, and we need to be clear that diversity encapsulates ‘ways of being’ and ‘ways of knowing’.

They argue that we need to recognise the impact institutional discrimination can have and how it can create privilege and disadvantage, and as governors we need to guard against these practices. Furthermore, they argue that diversity is about ‘building alliances’ to ensure that all voices are heard, and that we do what is right by everyone. According to the National Governance Association’s (NGA) survey (2020) it highlights that diversity in governing bodies still needs to be addressed on all levels and particularly when looking at race, ethnicity, gender and disability. The data provided in this survey highlight that it is imperative that governing bodies and boards take a closer look at their current practices regarding appointments and how it can reflect more diverse teams. Francke (2019) outlines the importance of diverse teams, and how it can have a significant impact on the positive outcomes for organisations. It is therefore important to address the need of more diverse governing bodies and trustee boards too.

According to Golding (2020) from DisabilityEd UK, access and reasonable adjustments need to be a regular conversation at board meetings. Rabiger (2020) from BAMEed, points out that boards need to have an in depth understanding of how learners and staff from BAME backgrounds engage with schools to be fully equipped to make informed strategic decisions. Knight (2020) from the NGA outlines that there needs to be a culture of inclusive practices to consider the appointments of board members carefully with all the above mentioned characteristics in mind. It is clear from the NGA data and the views shared with thought leaders supporting diversity, that current boards are not diverse, and often don’t represent the communities they serve in full.

So, how can the imbalance be addressed?

By supporting with applications, CVs, mentoring and shadowing opportunities, more diverse governors can be nurtured into the role to develop their understanding of how they can positively impact too.

Greater efforts need to be made to reach out to future governors to develop their skills and understanding of how they are able to contribute and make a different on a strategic level. It is all of our responsibilities to support others to develop into these important roles to help schools and education contexts to thrive.


BAMEed (2010) https://www.bameednetwork.com/ (Accessed: 01.10.2020)

Cameron, E and Green, M. (2015), Making Sense of Change Management, London: Kogan Page DfE (2020)

Governance handbook Academy trusts and maintained schools, UK: DfE: file:///C:/Users/jjand/Desktop/Governance_Handbook_OCTOBER%202020%20(1).pdf (Accessed: 11.10.2020)

Equalities Act (2010), https://www.gov.uk/definition-of-disability-under-equality-act-2010 (Accessed: 01.10.2020)

Francke, A. (2019) Gender Balance, UK: Penguin NGA (2020), https://www.nga.org.uk/Home.aspx (Accessed: 01.10.2020) QCC (2020), https://www.qcc.cuny.edu/diversity/definition.html (Accessed: 01.10.2020)


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