Diversity in recruitment – why should we seek it? by Andy Hockley

Note: This is the first of two blog posts. The first seeks to explain what diversity is all about and why it is important, and specifically why it is important in our context in language teaching organisations (and indeed what it should mean to us).  The second, to follow, will talk about how we can think about our hiring policies and practices such that we ensure a diverse group of teachers and other staff.

What is diversity and why should we seek it?

An introduction to diversity

Diversity in organisations involves hiring and supporting a workforce of people with differences. The typical range of differences mentioned and referred to in the literature include race, gender, ethnicity, sexual orientation, physical abilities and economic backgrounds. The idea of a diverse workplace is that employees work together to create a culture of inclusiveness, where all employees feel valued.

Being part of a diverse organisation has many benefits. One of the most obvious is that an organisation with a diverse range of experiences and points of view to draw from will inevitably have a greater range of approaches to dealing with possible problems or new challenges.  This also clearly illustrates why diversity is not merely about hiring practices – a diverse organisation will not benefit from its diversity if employees are not listened to and have no voice.

Diversity in language teaching organisations

In addition to the differences mentioned above which are meant to be tackled by diversity policies, I would suggest that in language teaching organisations (LTOs), and particularly in the teaching staff, we need also to ensure (as much as possible) a diversity of first language speakers.  Specifically, a mix of native and non-native speaker teachers. I am, of course, aware that the vast majority of LTOs around the world do not have the option of having such a mix, as they can only possibly hire local non-native speaker teachers – this is of course the reality of many contexts. However, for language schools that do have the option of hiring native speaker teachers, the aim should be to hire a diverse teaching body – meaning some native speakers and some non-native speakers – as well as diversity in race, gender, age, etc.

But, why is this form – that is to say speakers of different languages – of diversity important? Why is striking a balance of non-native and native speakers teachers so valuable? There are 4 main reasons

  1. Staffroom Sharing

The great benefit of diversity is having a diverse body of experiences to draw from. It is in staffroom interactions – teachers sharing ideas, getting suggestions, brainstorming ways of dealing with certain students and certain lesson aims – that this is most obviously valuable in the academic side of an LTO. Non-native speakers contribute greatly to these conversations – not only through their own experiences as teachers and as trainee teachers (frequently non-native speaker teachers have gone through much more in depth training than native speakers), but also through their own experiences in learning the target language in the first place. These professional conversations that occur in the better staffrooms are immeasurably enriched by the presence of non-native speaker teachers.

  1. Student Learning

It is difficult to research the effects of different factors on student learning as so many variables come into play. However, there is a slowly growing body of research into the effects of ethnic diversity in the teaching body into student learning in LTOs. The findings of these studies tend to show that there are benefits in having a diverse teaching body because (a) teachers from the “mainstream” privileged groups tend to have lower expectations of students – which in turn tends to result in lower student achievement; and (b) members of minority ethnic groups in the teaching body have a greater understanding of ethnic minority learners’ cultural experiences, and they are better able to serve as role models (Donlevy, Meierkord, and Rajania, 2016).

We cannot simply transpose these early research findings over to the non-native/native speaker question, but it would seem – especially in the case of (b) above – to make sense to at least consider (and research) the benefits that having non-native speaker teachers have on student achievement.

It is also important to note that research has been conducted into students’ attitude towards native speaker and non-native speaker teachers and concluded that students do not have a preference for one over the other (see articles on this site)

  1. Organisational Culture

As with any form of diversity, having a more diverse workforce has a positive impact on organisational culture. Having a variety of viewpoints, a variety of backgrounds, a variety of skillsets, enhances the organisational learning as well as the potential personal mastery of all.

In addition, in many “onshore” LTOs, the commonly observed organisational divide between academic and administrative sides of the school is exacerbated when all the teachers are expatriate native speakers.  A diverse teaching body makes a huge difference in this instance. (By “onshore” in this context, I mean language schools whose market is local, where the languages taught are not – usually – the languages of the country or region in which they are located.  An English language teaching school in Spain, for example, or a school teaching Spanish in Brazil.  By contrast an “offshore” LTO is one for which the market is elsewhere, such as a school teaching English in Australia to students wishing to study in universities there.)

  1. Societal Benefits

The message our organisations promote when they truly embrace diversity is not to be ignored. Offshore LTOs help with promoting wider integration in society when they employ truly ethical hiring practices. Onshore LTOs, on the other hand, provide a model for people in the community to aspire to.

In addition:

Finally, a growing body of literature investigates how the demographic make-up of public organisations affects policy outputs, often focusing on the theory of representative bureaucracy. This literature suggests that public sector organisations (such as schools) are more likely to formulate and implement policies that are in the interest of the service recipients (such as pupils) when they mirror the target population on key demographic dimensions, such as race or ethnicity. (Donlevy, Meierkord, and Rajania, 2016)

I hope that you will see the value, therefore of having a diverse workplace – in all ways. Be they related to race, sexuality, age, gender, ability, socio-economics, and in our particular context, first language.

In my second post, I’ll suggest some ideas regarding recruitment policies and practices that can help to build a more diverse workplace.

hockley5042Andy Hockley is the co-ordinator of IATEFL’s Leadership and Management SIG (LAMSIG) and is a freelance educational management consultant and trainer based in deepest Transylvania. He has been training (both teachers and managers) for 20 years and has been coordinating and training on the IDLTM (International Diploma in Language Teaching Management) since its inception in 2001. He is co-author of ‘From Teacher to Manager’ (CUP, 2008), ‘Managing Education in the Digital Age’ (The Round, 2014) and author of ‘Educational Management’ (Polirom, 2007).

Bibliography & Further Reading


9 thoughts on “Diversity in recruitment – why should we seek it? by Andy Hockley

  1. Daniel Barber says:

    An interesting post, Andy, thanks for all your research. Refreshing to see arguments to persuade the benefits of teacher equality from an organisational point of view, not just a teachers’ or students’ stance. I particularly liked the point that a diverse staff room can be an enriched environment.
    However, I was surprised by your assertion that ‘teachers from the “mainstream” privileged groups tend to have lower expectations of students’, until I followed up the reference you gave and discovered that it was in fact students from ethnic-minority backgrounds they tend to have lower expectations of, not all students. (See http://ec.europa.eu/dgs/education_culture/repository/education/library/study/2016/teacher-diversity_en.pdf, bottom p.28)
    The distinction is important, I think, in an industry with such varied student ethnic backgrounds, ranging from very mixed multinational classes in ‘offshore’ LTOs to almost purely mono-cultural ‘onshore’ schools such as where I work in Spain.
    The studies where this data comes from were carried out in ‘Germany, the United States, and New Zealand’, places where there are wide educational gaps between the dominant host culture and ethnic minorities already, so teachers’ prejudices will already be well established before they step in the classroom. This differs from my experience as an English teacher in both on- and offshore settings, where I have taught for the most part to ethnic groups, such as Thai, Russian, Chinese, Brazilian, Mauritanian, Japanese and Spanish, of whom I had very few assumptions when I entered the class. My prejudices in subsequent encounters with these nationalities was based on my prior experience, and while I can’t deny that some may have been unfair, I can safely say that these were not due to their status in my eyes as belonging to ethnic minorities, since in the offshore LTOs ALL my students were in ethnic minorities, while here in Andalucia I am the only ethnic minority in the classroom!

    • Andy Hockley says:

      Thanks Daniel. Absolutely your point is entirely fair, and I was careful to make clear that this was research into mainstream education and specifically on ethnic diversity – and obviously lessons from mainstream education are much more likely to inform us in offshore ELT provision than onshore, because the contexts are that much closer.

      On the idea of prejudice from teachers, I think the point here is that not that we as teachers think of ourselves as prejudiced (I’m imagining pretty much all teachers think of themselves as non-prejudiced), but that deep down we may well be in very unconscious ways. I taught English for over 15 years in many different locations (both in offshore and onshore markets) and would like to think that I held no prejudices, but I think it is always worth looking at myself in that way and wondering whether in some unconscious ways I did. (The second article that follows this will talk about some research that shows that hiring practices are, even in companies (not ELT, but general business) which are fully committed to diversity, often unconsciously slanted, because we all have certain biases)

  2. Leda says:

    Hi Andy,

    Thank you for the post, and I particularly agree with your comment when you point out we cannot be 100% aware of our own prejudices – we’d have stopped learning if we were!

    There are certain things that I believe are quite opaque to NESTs, since they cannot experience the debate from the other side – to be fair, even I a NNEST have to keep reminding myself that my competence does not derive from my place of birth. The very use of “native” vs “non-native” is so ideologically charged, with “non” suggesting an insurmountable deficit, and so much research nowadays is still based upon a deficit model of L2 users.

    I look forward to the day someone comes up with a better terminology to refer to these differences, or to when the majority of teachers, schools and learners come to grips with the fact that if we’re teaching and learning English to be able to participate in a global culture, such differentiation is largely irrelevant if not to some extent toxic. That may sound exaggerated within the current conceptual climate in EFL but taking into account how closely interweaved language and identity are, initiatives that embrace this interrelatedness are a pleasant change of tune.

  3. Noel says:

    Perhaps I’m missing something with this crusade. It is starting to alienate the people who care and it’s targeted at the wrong audience. I have worked in many schools since 1994 when it was called CTEFLA and all, except London, had many NNSs who were better, worse and useless as my NS teaching colleagues were.

    Is this about equality or NNSs from countries that don’t have a passport that governments decree are not valid for permits to work as English teachers in their perspective countries?

    The EL Gazette puts it much more succinctly and accurately than I can – https://main-elgazette-rhapsodymedia.content.pugpig.com/rhapsody-elgazette/elt-prejudice-and-the-politics-of-passportism/pugpig_index.html – after all, I’m just a privileged white British passport holder [that worked for LB of Camden, Equalities Unit as Language Services Manager – immigration].

    • Andy Hockley says:

      Hi Noel, thanks for the comment. I’m not sure I understand however. Are you commenting on this piece or something else? The audience that this article is aimed at are those doing recruitment – academic managers, DoSs etc. Can you say why it is alienating?

      I think that the issue of “passportism” as presented in that EL Gazette piece is definitely a problem, and a legal one at that, but I’m not sure where it comes into the discussion of diversity as I’m trying to put across here.

      Thanks for any help you can offer!

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