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Diversity. Who cares?

Our guest blog this month is from Kate O'Brien from the Outward Bound Trust.

Kate studied Outdoor Education before working at a number of centres and programmes within the UK and abroad. More recently she completed a Masters in Applied Positive Psychology and is passionate about enhancing practice by implementing learning from this widely researched area. Kate's current role is working with The Outward Bound Trust to explore workforce diversity.

We’re a pretty inclusive bunch, right? Many of us likely work with participants from a spectrum of backgrounds, religions, abilities, genders, interests, skin colours etc. Such is the diversity of British society in 2018. What is less likely is that we work alongside such a broad spectrum of people within our staff teams. As outdoor educators, broadly speaking, we are a more homogenous group.

No doubt we all have a strong belief in the power of the outdoors to educate, transform, develop, inspire… and often we talk about potential. Helping others to realise potential. Reaching our own potential. Considering our organisational potential. Understanding difference and how we humans respond to difference may be one important factor in reaching our individual and collective potential.

At The Outward Bound Trust we have decided to think more deeply about the make up of our instructional staff team in relation to the participants we work with, in order to increase the impact of the work we do. We have begun by doing some research, internally, within the outdoor sector and externally.

Outdoor Sector Demographics

You can find out more about this here...

What we have found is that a lot of people care! Diversity, Equality and Inclusion are high on society’s agenda across the worlds of business, education, within the charities sector and everywhere in between. We are late to the party, but this means we have a whole lot to learn from those who have already embarked on this journey. People care for a whole host of reasons, beyond a more equal society simply being the right direction to aim for.

Research from the field of education is showing the positive impact of role models within the teaching workforce. In one study, having just one teacher of the same race during school years, increased student’s aspirations and reduced dropout rates. The power of seeing someone “like me” in a teaching or leadership position is not to be underestimated.

Also, you may know that in the business world companies in the top quartile for gender diversity at senior levels, are 15% more likely to experience above average profitability than those in the bottom quartile. Similarly, companies with the most ethnic diversity amongst their staff are 35% more likely to experience higher profitability than those with less. There is now a solid business case for the benefits of diversity.

Now you might be thinking, what on earth has that got to do with the outdoors? Most of us aren’t in this line of work for the vast profits we are making! What fascinated me was the findings which flowed from this result. Further research within the creative industries reveals that what companies with greater diversity have is not particular groups of people who hold magical talents, but a culture of openness and inclusivity to all. They seek out, and value different perspectives. When a range of views, ideas and contributions are welcomed, celebrated and nurtured in alignment with organisational mission, this reduces the pressure to “play to type”. So, beyond whatever your skin colour, gender, or social class, whether you are a paddler, skier, furniture maker, E5 climber, tango dancer or obsessive football fan, introvert or extrovert, being authentic in interactions with colleagues and young people will likely lead to better engagement and performance at work.

Welcoming diversity, plus inclusive leadership increases the total human energy available to drive the mission of an organisation forward. Inclusive leadership describes leaders who are, “aware of their own biases and preferences, actively seek out and consider different views and perspectives to inform better decision-making.” . Whether this is leaders of young people, or leaders of staff teams, understanding more about who we are, how we relate to others and the systems around us can only benefit everybody involved.

One of our first actions at OBT, informed by the initial research, is to work with an external facilitator who will help staff to consider some key factors in developing inclusive leadership and working towards a more diverse workforce. Read more about our initial exploration of this in the Autumn edition of Horizons.

If this topic has caught your attention join us at the 2018 UK Outdoor Learning Sector Conference Equality Summit where we will be sharing more about our work in this area. You can also get involved by joining myself and Colin Wood from Worcester University, as we workshop Unconscious Bias following the summit.

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