By Sally Alexander, CEO and Group Principal of MK College Group
I am of the firm conviction that education is the most important factor in driving equality.
On this, International Women’s Day (IWD), our focus is on women in our societies, be they local, national or international.
The theme of the day this year is Embrace Equity. The easiest way to explain this, is that Equality means everyone having the same resources or opportunities to achieve their best life. Equity looks at where everyone starts from, and allocates the resources and opportunities they individually need to reach that outcome.
As CEO of Milton Keynes College Group (MKCG), this really resonates with me, reminiscent as it is of our Fairer Futures Strategy, which aims to Promote and live fairness, equality, diversity and inclusion. We aim to deliver awareness and change in our society, to lead by example and inspire those within our sphere of influence. This compels us to become a beacon, first in ensuring that everything we do is inclusive but also in influencing others to do likewise.
We are committed to Embracing Equity, and through our power as a leader in education, to drive an inclusive approach and way of working. It’s a lofty ambition, especially given the many challenges and obstacles there are to overcome.
Looking back on history it sometimes feels like true equality is an inevitable destination, but we have hit some serious crisis points very recently along that path.
The challenge to a woman’s right to control her own body and fertility with the overthrow of Roe v Wade in the United States will damage outcomes for women in a number of ways. There will be more unwanted teenage pregnancies. Those already disadvantaged, the poorest in society, will be hit the hardest. The potential deaths at the hands of backstreet abortionists, the abandonment of unwanted children, the curtailing of girls’ education – all of these are inevitable consequences of such a backward-looking policy. We must beware of the influence that the US can have on thinking in this country, and be ready to defend the rights of women here.
Misogyny, particularly among young men, is on the rise. The cult of Andrew Tate stands as evidence of this, and make no mistake it is a reaction to the gains women have made, socially, politically and in the world of work. Men are being told they have lost their place and that they need to take it back. Education must debunk this falsehood and demonstrate that when there is equality, everyone wins, men included. We must lead in supporting and educating both our young people and those close to them. Education is essential to raise awareness, unpick the false arguments, and illustrate the terrible negative impact of these attitudes and behaviours
There are places even more on the frontline. The courage and tenacity of the women of Iran in demanding change in the Hijab protests; the repression of women by the Taliban in Afghanistan – these feel like desperate days, but there are beacons of light. Ukraine has a long history of patriarchal rule, but a quiet revolution in the place of women in that country’s society has been taking place since the first Russian invasion in 2014. Notably, women now make up a significant proportion of the armed forces and have previously unimagined roles in politics, business and academia. We have seen in this country following the two world wars how wartime necessity can drive social change, and in 2022 Ukraine launched a National Strategy of Equality of Women and Men, something unthinkable in the Soviet era.
Here, if we really do desire change, and the fairness which comprises both equity and equality, it is important to do as well as to say. We are proud of our official Leaders in Diversity status, but we recognise that we cannot stand still. With that in mind we have both an Equality and Diversity Strategy and an Equality Strategy Action Plan – concrete steps to drive change. We celebrate and cherish our place in the community through such initiatives as FE Voices, College in the Community Day, Employee Forums, Student Commissioners, our Friends and Allies network – all monitored by the Equality Strategy Review Group (ESRG) which as CEO I chair.
It is important to acknowledge we are on a journey, we are not perfect.
We at MKCG are on a pathway toward equity and equality and that pathway is probably a never-ending one. But we recognise that our position as the largest educational institution in the city carries with it a significant responsibility to lead by example and inspire those within our sphere of influence to do the same.