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A new app aims to offer a one-stop shop for diversity and inclusion training for leaders in schools and business and to make D & I a ‘no brainer’.
In late 2017 Nic Ponsford and Cat Wildman met on a Twitter group set up by primary school teacher Graham André who had worked with the BBC on a documentary on gendered behaviour in schools.
Nic had years of experience working in EdTech and on diversity issues, including special needs education. Cat had worked for years in business as a product design leader and consultant and in innovation and enterprise.
Cat had been reading Laura Bates’ book, Everyday Sexism, had a daughter who had been sent home with gendered material and was tackling gender equality issues at work. “I was 100% activated,” she said. Nic had been working on inclusion issues. Both felt there was a lot of talk about gender equality issues, but not much action.
“It was like everyone was moving chairs rather than doing anything,” said Nic. The two developed their own chat group and moved from that to a Skype conversation about what they could do.
The result was the Global Equality Collective – an app which provides employers [many of them SMEs who haven’t got the resources for D & I experts] and schools with the frameworks and research they need to do something practical to address diversity and inclusion issues in all its forms, including socio-economic inclusion.
The aim is to link the worlds of school, home and business. Nic knew the education and training world inside out, while Cat understood business needs. Both had small children. “We knew that if change is to be truly disruptive it needs to be about everything from schools and homes to business,” said Nic.
The first thing the two women did was to form a community group on Twitter at the end of 2017. In 2018 #MeToo happened which accelerated the need for intersectional action. Over the next two years Nic and Cat worked through the different characteristics in the Equality Act, starting with gender, developed frameworks and tested their idea and its content – hours of modules of activities, including walk and learns for school governors and focus groups with parents and students – thoroughly. Nic describes it as a “one stop shop” for diversity and inclusion training.
“The feedback from leaders was that they couldn’t tackle diversity and inclusion themselves because they didn’t feel like experts,” says Nic. “We turned this idea on its head. The GEC adds a solid layer of leadership training on top of their existing expertise, which enables them to look at the data we give them about their own specific situation and close gaps.”
Nic and Cat then raised money through a member of the Global Equality Collective and pitched the idea for the platform in early 2020, winning six-figure funding. Then Covid hit and both women had to contend with homeschooling – both have three children. By the autumn, Cat had decided to quit her job to devote herself to the Global Equality Collective and the platform was launched.
Since its inception, Nic and Cat have grown their online community to 15,000 people and they have been able to draw on over 100 specialists to ensure that their assessment and training product is accessible to all. Through their community they have managed to get their assessment work validated by three universities – Surrey, Kent and University College London. “We were keen for it to be very state of the art, ahead of the curve and we wanted to be quite transparent,” says Nic. “It felt like a fourth child.”
The app has two simple check-box assessments and a suite of e-learning resources, including a framework and leadership training in each D & I area. Cat admits it was a hard sell in the early days, but says the Black Lives Matter movement and concerns about the impact of Covid on gender equality have accelerated interest in diversity and inclusion. “Organisations are really paying attention,” says Cat. Nic adds that links between school, home and business have tightened during the pandemic and people are more aware of the connections between them. “They are joining the dots,” she states.
The businesses that sign up sponsor schools to keep the price down for them. Originally Cat and Nic had planned to offer the app free to schools, but they said the feedback was that schools wouldn’t use it if it was free. So the charge for schools is 150 pounds for a year’s access to the training and research on all aspects of D & I, including socio-economic status. In the long term it saves money on training. “We are bypassing continuous professional development on diversity and inclusion and giving them research and information and training. They often cannot believe that they get for the price,” says Cat.
The overall aim is to make D & I easy and accessible, to make it a no brainer. Nic and Cat are on hand to guide people through the material if organisations have specific challenges.
They believe that explaining the benefits in terms of productivity, talent recruitment and understanding a wider customer base, asking leaders what the barriers are for them in a non-judgmental way in a safe space and providing the tools they need to address D&I will be transformational.
“There’s a lot of fear [about D & I],” says Cat. “Some people feel they are not welcome or are scared they will offend someone because there is so much they don’t know. It makes them afraid to take those first steps, but our aim is to gently walk them through it. The benefits are huge.”