Mentee Success Story!

Incredibly proud of my mentee Anthony. When we first started our journey together he told me that he had been written off by his school as not being suited to A-Levels and was told he should pick a manual trade and follow a less academic pathway.  This wasn’t what he wanted, so he rose above, never letting go of his dream to get a degree. He went to college and only a year behind his peers collected enough UCAS points to apply to university.
Today I am so proud that this man, who was blessed with the gift of a different learning style they broadly label ‘dyslexia’, has graduated with a 1st class honours degree in Business Management and HR!
“Take that!” the teachers that called him lazy! “Take that!” the learning support department that told his parents they would only support him if he was statemented and “Take that!” the Careers Advisor who couldn’t see past the end of her own nose! I am so pleased that Anthony had drive, a non waning ambition and strong supportive parents who wouldn’t take this nonsense, who fought for his education and provided him with the tools and encouragement he did not get at school. Anthony was lucky, there are many young men and girls out there who need this kind of support but can’t access it.
I truly believe that I am so lucky too.  I learned such a lot from Anthony and his Mum, he is a role model for me as a professional, she is a role model for me as a mother and as a person and they are the best kind of role models to my children. I will continue to support Anthony in his search for an HR role and I will be re-registering myself as a volunteer mentor for local young people. Today is a great day!  Congratulations Anthony, you more than deserve this accolade!

*If any of my HR contacts are interested in hearing more about this intelligent, talented and driven young man please do get in touch.  Thank you. Natalie 

Super Chickens – A rather different look at long term team development.

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As one of my New year’s resolutions I have decided that I am going to try to walk to work more often.  The 2 mile stroll will give me time to focus, centre and listen to all the podcasts and TED talks that I’ve not had time to listen to.  This week I came across a great talk by Margaret Heffernan about an experiment by William Muir.

Muir, an eminent Biologist conducted an experiment where he created 2 groups of chickens and watched them for 6 generations, monitoring their egg production and interactions.  One group was left to their own devices and the other group was selectively bred for maximum egg production.  At the end of the experiment the ‘control’ group production had increased over time and the ‘selectively’ bred group had only 3 survivors; the missing having been pecked to death by their comrades in the war for supremacy!

Traditionally this has been quoted by business minds as a lesson in the dangers of high achievers and how a team of highly functioning people can be more destructive than constructive.  In my opinion, I see another lesson here also; the group left to their own devices actually increased their own production over time, surpassing the ‘super’ group – maybe the correct support  could have increased production even more.

This brings me back to teamwork in general and how (as I’ve blogged about previously) that diverse teams, whatever that diversity looks/feels/sounds like are the most successful.

So, should we carefully manage talent, treat it as a destructive force, with no longevity and a quick burnout?  No, talent isn’t a cardboard cut-out, 1 size fits all, it doesn’t come with a flashing neon sign (well not always). Talent comes in a variety of forms and strengths – individual, and team talent are vital for success.  Appropriate leadership and support of all talent (whether inherently visible or yet to shine) is the way forward for all organisations.  Come on let’s not forget on our less obvious talent that is keeping us moving whilst the ‘high achievers’ are pecking each other to death.

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Thank you for reading and please do let me know your thoughts. Natalie

Diversity in the Staffroom….

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Diversity is a well discussed issue amongst HR professionals, a hot topic and something we love to shout about when we get it right.  We understand and embrace that that a culturally diverse team is more creative than a homogenous team (Collett 1999)  and we all acknowledge that diversity encompasses not just differences in race and gender but also disability, educational background, sexual orientation and demographics.  I could also go on to discuss diversity relating to values and opportunity.  In short, surely we could conclude that with so many factors ‘diversifying’ us that we are none of us the same?

We are very used to examining the business case for diversity in private and public enterprise but does this differ in education?  The supplier-client relationship still exists, the customers are the children who are in turn the leaders, entrepreneurs and parents of the future. Surely the message we send to the leaders of tomorrow is as important as that which industry sends to the customers of today.  How can we change attitudes if our education system doesn’t lead the way?

Research carried out by MIT suggests that teams operating in a homogenous environment may lead those employees to assume that their surroundings are more predictable and controllable than they really are.  This surely can equate to children’s learning experience where a homogenous environment lulls them into a false sense of security. We want our children to become resilient, problem solving individuals with drive who learn by their successes and failures, rounded individuals that strive to understand the world and their role within it and we want them to start this journey at school.

The STAR experiment in Tennessee found that the achievement of ALL students in a class was raised if the teaching body represented the diversity of the student body, not just the attainment levels of children in the minority groups.  We also understand that acceptance is fostered more easily during childhood and as the global workplace gets progressively closer, thanks to information technology, we need to equip our children accordingly for today as well as tomorrow.

OK so we know that a truly diverse teaching body benefits our children and their learning and also the learning of all staff and leaders alike.  Exposure to a more diverse face of teaching helps challenge preconceptions, promotes empathy and encourages curiosity.  So should we ask; is our teaching body not already a diverse group of individuals?

The diverse nature of the staffroom is usually dependant on the surrounding area and generally reflects the surrounding community, however this is less reflective in the independent sector in the UK, as far as race is concerned anyway.  Of great interest however, is that the diversity of pupils in the independent school classroom is actually increasing!  According to the Independent Schools Council (ISC) 29% of its pupils are from a minority background – far higher than the 14% of BAME (Black and minority ethnic) citizens in British society as a whole.

The range of staffroom diversity in the independent sector is increasing slowly but major disparity can still be seen in senior leadership positions.  School workforce data continues to show an under-representation of women and individuals from black and minority ethnic backgrounds in school leadership positions. The latest available figures show that just 2.4% of head teachers are from black and minority ethnic backgrounds, and only 36% of secondary school heads are currently women.

The government are taking steps in order to address this in the public sector.  Schools are invited to bid for grants of up to £30,000 from the government’s Leadership, Equality and Diversity Fund to support local, school-led initiatives that will help boost the diversity of their senior leadership teams. Anecdotally, however, there are only a handful of black or ethnic minority head teachers in the independent sector.

Could it be also that the nature of an independent school system is a barrier to a diverse teaching body?  Then we must also look to promote the changing face of the independent school and build employer brand to attract a diverse array of talent and to develop and nurture that talent in the longer term.  Schools must design far reaching recruitment campaigns and could look to improve CSR strategies and state-independent collaboration to dissolve stigma and perceived class barriers.

There is a huge responsibility for school teachers and leaders to act as role models to empower all of their pupils to aim high and to challenge themselves, a set of values that the independent sector professes to instil in their pupils.  How better to illustrate this than by showing an increasingly diverse group of children an equally diverse set of leaders to aspire to.

I look forward to hearing any of your thoughts or experiences encouraging diversity.  Thanks. Natalie