Most people who work in further education would like to think of themselves, and the institutions they work in, as open, tolerant and inclusive.
This is crucial, considering the role they play in the lives of their students – with college the first place where many young people get to “be themselves”. In particular, this applies for many students in the LGBT community.
And, of course, there will be members of the LGBT community among the college staff, too. Colleges have to work hard to make sure that both students and staff feel welcome, respected and accepted in the FE community. And there are countless examples of institutions making a real and concerted effort.
That is not to say that there are no issues, however – FE is, in many ways, a mirror of society, and deeply entrenched prejudices and assumptions will inevitably find their way into institutions. But colleges do their best to foster an inclusive environment.
So it was, to be honest, a surprise to me to see that only one FE college made the top 100 in Stonewall’s Workplace Equality Index – the charity’s list of those organisations that have done especially well promoting LGBT inclusion in the workplace.
This could, of course, partly be because FE colleges simply choose not to engage with the Stonewall index, which means they cannot make the list. But frankly – why aren’t they? This isn’t about some sort of token effort. It isn’t about yet another little plaque near the front entrance, heightening an institution’s worthiness score for everyone to see. It is about giving priority to something that affects thousands in the sector, and should matter to all of us.
We have all had that moment, stepping through the door on the first day in a new job. Would it really make no difference to your level of nerves and apprehension if you knew that the institution cared about you and your inclusion – and had gone through the effort of proving that at a national level?