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Blog post Part of series: Education, #BlackLivesMatter and racial justice in the UK and beyond

Can employers and schools harness employer engagement to improve diversity and inclusion?

Alice Amegah, University of Cambridge

The call for diversity and inclusion has intensified in light of recent events of police racism in the United States, the death of George Floyd being the catalyst. Beyond the rhetoric of Black Lives Matter, the Black community and advocates of equality are calling for conscious actions to improve equality. Concerning measures for change through diversity and inclusion, I draw on the notion of employer engagement in education (henceforth EE) as a diversity and inclusion intervention in education to promote equality. I suggest that, apart from the human capital, social capital, cultural capital and economic benefits of EE, schools and employers can harness EE to challenge stereotypes and encourage children and young people to value diversity and inclusion.

Employer engagement in education is critical to career guidance and raising aspirations of students (Mann & Virk, 2014). International evidence suggests that EE significantly impacts attitudes, social mobility, social capital, cultural capital, career and economic outcomes (Mann, Rehill, & Kashefpakdel,  2018). Further, employers benefit from the competencies and skills young people develop through EE (Lee, Abdulghaniand, & Hope, 2019). One defining characteristic of EE is that volunteers from the world of work engage with children and young people in school and industry through activities including career events, work-based learning and funding. Stanley and Mann (2014, p. 38) refer to EE as a ‘distinctive intervention which is a complex ongoing social process’ where the economic community contributes to the educational experiences of learners.

How then can EE challenge stereotypes and encourage the value of diversity and inclusion? Marian Wright Edelman, founder and CEO of Child Defense, has said, ‘You can’t be what you can’t see’. Indeed, children and young people cannot be what they cannot see, yet through EE, children and young people can experience the opposite of Marian Wright Edelman’s statement, in other words ‘You can be what you can see’. I suggest that, through EE, children and young people can see and engage with diverse volunteers; a process that can challenge existing gender, ethnicity, social class and disability stereotypes. Also, EE can challenge mindsets and inspire young people, particularly those from disadvantaged backgrounds. In challenging these mindsets and stereotypes, EE becomes a source of inspiration for young people to believe they can achieve the heights of volunteers and more. Equally, EE can provide the opportunity for children and young people from majority backgrounds to change the negative narratives, perceptions and preconceptions about minority groups. For instance, EE activities that intentionally foster the participation of members of minority groups can help young people from the ethnic majority and privileged backgrounds to realise that members of minority and marginalised groups are capable of succeeding in diverse careers. Consequently, this could increase the respect for the values and cultures of people from minority groups.

‘Employer engagement activities that intentionally foster the participation of members of minority groups can help young people from the ethnic majority and privileged backgrounds to realise that members of minority and marginalised groups are capable of succeeding in diverse careers.’

In as much as EE can be a valuable diversity and inclusive intervention, schools need to be deliberate and conscientious about its use. That is, if schools are not deliberate and conscientious, EE can instead engrain stereotypes. For instance, if schools do not deliberately identify, encourage and invite diverse volunteers, from diverse careers and diverse positions, then such EE intervention may not achieve diversity and inclusion. Additionally, employers have the responsibility to be deliberate about their engagements with schools. For instance, employers can actively encourage and motivate ethnic minority employees to sign up as volunteers on EE diversity and inclusion activities. Deliberate and conscientious efforts from schools and employers can help harness EE as an intervention to challenge stereotypes and encourage children and young people to value and tolerate diversity and inclusion as a process for equality. I can recommend the Education and Employers charity as a leading EE in education organisation from my experience as a volunteer.


References

Lee, K., Abdulghaniand, F., & Hope, J. (2019). Investigating how benefits of an industry-school partnership vary between industry sectors. In A. Mann, P. Huddleston, & E. Kashefpakdel (Eds.), Essays on employer engagement in education. Abingdon: Routledge.

Mann, A., Rehill, J., & Kashefpakdel, E. T. (2018). Employer engagement in education: Insights from international evidence for effective practice and future research. Education and Employers. Retrieved from https://www.educationandemployers.org/research/employerengagementineducation/

Mann, A., & Virk, B. (2014). Profound employer engagement in education: What it is and options for scaling it up. Education and Employers. Retrieved from https://www.educationandemployers.org/wp-content/uploads/2014/06/profound_employer_engagement_published_version.pdf

Stanley, J., & Mann, A. (2014). A theoretical framework for employer engagement. In A. Mann, J. Stanley, & L. Archer (Eds.), Understanding employer engagement in education: Theories and research (p. 36), Abingdon: Routledge.