Assimilation is nae gauge o' belongin'

This blog is part of the ETF inclusive leadership programme. This programme is delivered by Association of Colleges, commissioned by the Education and Training Foundation on behalf of the Department for Education. Find out more here.

Ah've studied pairt time alangside fu' time work for nine o' the last ten years. Ah've read keenly (an' sometimes a bittie mair reluctan'ly) for a decade, an' never been hauden sae completely as Ah was when Ah stummelt across the theory o' cognitive justice. The theory was put forth by Professor Shiv Visvanathan; a scholart challengin' the hegemonic enforcemen' o' Wastern knowledge upon traditional Indian knowledge systems. Visvanathan still argues agains' the sneaky undercuurent o' colonialism by ca'in' for the recognition o' a pluraleece o' knowledges, or a "democratisation o' knowledge systems." The theory has strick a chord wi' scholarts o'er mony fields o' study an' has already been brocht intae educational research by Professor Catherine Odora Hoppers.

The notions an' the ideal that they suggestit stickit wi' me for weeks. They wid sit in the edge o' ma attention for days, driftin' intae view but never intae focus, till wee moments o' disconnect atween colleagues an' learners gradualled drew the pixels thegither. Visvanathan telt us that knowledge systems dinna exist as abstracts o' folk's identities. Knowledge systems inform lives, life goals, livelihood, lifestyle, an' life chances. Ah had stertit tae recognize that these were often no in alignment atween teachers an' students, an', mair importantly, there was an unspoken assumption o' a "correct" knowledge system. The unspoken then is that ony alternative is "incorrect."

It's impossible for the diversity o' oor society tae bide in these culturally constrained spaces, yet a' too often we seek tae measure belongingness by assimilation. By daein' sae, we pit the responsibility on marginalised fowk tae conform tae unspoken expectations an' negate oor responsibility tae value equally the contributions thair ain knowledge systems can bring. No only dae we inhibit the ability o' fowk tae contribute, we miss valuable opportunities for learnin' an' connection. When oor energy is consumed by maskin' oor behaviors, adaptin' oor accents, or restructurin' oor experiences, we're stifled an' drained.

There are important conversations that maun be had aboot the ideal citizen that we seek tae construct through the expectations an' aspirations that we impose onto ithers. Oor social mobility agenda celebrates the spread o' fowk "upwards." The term places the responsibility on the economically underserved tae mobilize thairsels tae something mair "socially" desirable. It conjures images o' a hierarchy o' social value, ignores systemic barriers, an' pays little heed tae the implications for "mobile" fowk arrivin' in unwelcomin' spaces. It also fails tae address economic equity. The class pay gap reportedly currently sits at 13 per cent, an' while this is no a protected characteristic that organizations are legally obligated tae measure or publish, the gap widens when combined wi' ither economic disadvantages like gender an' race. Research also tells us that fowk fae economically underserved backgrounds tak 25 per cent langer tae progress in thair career than thair mair affluent colleagues. As the cost-o-livin' crisis eats intae fowk's finances, Ah implore leaders tae set aff a much-needed watershed moment for positive change.

Maybe, as a startin' point, the next time ye conduct interviews, ye could share the questions wi' candidates in advance. Better yet, reflect on ony unconscious expectations ye've built upon bias an' assumed knowledge. If ye will make unspoken judgments on how they're dressed, please communicate yer dress code clearly, an' justify its need. If the questions or expected dialogue will contain industry or organisation-specific terminology, provide definitions o' these. Applicants may no hae been immersed in the same language an' attire that yer experiences hae defined as professional. Jargon an' dress codes are no a measure o' ability, but they can be a barrier tae access.

Before the interviews are even scheduled, please recognize the impact fixed term opportunities will hae on yer recruitment pool. A leap o' faith fae permanent employment intae a temporary promoted post is a terrifyin' prospect for those wi' financial commitments but nae financial reserves. If ye canna provide permanent positions, ensure the safety o' secondments tae empower fowk wi' progressionary choice.

Tae cultivate cultural equity in the workplace, strive for reflexivity in yer professional practice. Consider yer leadership positionality, an' how yer personal an' professional knowledge systems are crafted. Explore the values that ye hae co-constructed wi' yer experiences, an' delve deeply into how ye live these, or dinna. Ask if ye hae subconsciously designed an imagined ideal for yer staff body. Query how prescriptive ye hae been in policing the ways fowk are able tae enrich yer workplace. Critique how the dynamics o' leadership enforce yer ain knowledge systems as dominant. Create spaces for ithers tae challenge this dominance wi' courtesy an' curiosity. Recognize the value o' systems o' knowledge constructed by lived experiences that differ fae yer ain, an' work actively tae create spaces that welcome an' celebrate these.

If ye're unsure whaur tae start, Ah must stress emphatically the importance o' consultation wi' lived experience. Poverty, class, an' culture are experienced uniquely, an' generalisations aboot these are a' too often constructed through the lens o' the middle-class.

There is much work tae be done tae cultivate safe spaces o' cognitive justice across the class spectrum. There is a systemic shift needed fae dominance tae democratisation o' knowledges. This blog post is no intended as a beratement o' yer leadership. Ah wish only tae plead for the sma'est action o' allyship. Maybe a seed o' an idea has been planted an' ye'll nurture that in sma' moments that follow. Maybe ye're already fueled by the fire tae act. If that is the case, (an' how wonderful if sae), ca' for the exposure o' yer organization's class pay gap, an' begin.

The views expressed in Think Further publications do not necessarily reflect those of AoC or NCFE.