Over the last few weeks there have been many events that have brought equality and diversity to the top of many people’s priority lists. Inevitably for some people this is no difference to their ongoing challenges, but in terms of the public awareness it has been a significant change. It is always good to be able to promote items that have made a very positive and high profile difference. Later this week, Jo Shiner will formally begin her work as the Chief Constable for Sussex Police as her predecessor Giles York, leaves his post after 7 years of his good work. Until then she will continue to be the temporary Chief Constable as he has been on leave for the last few weeks and so this weekend will seem very similar to the last few weekends from a Police point of view. This appointment made a few weeks ago and approved a week last Friday is a very significant role in an organisation that has an impact on all of us and the role has been carried out exclusively by men up until this point. Another role which for some people is equally significant is the appointment of Reverend Ruth Bushyager as the new Bishop of Horsham. Her post is also in a transitional period and it will remain so for quite a bit longer until she is consecrated as the Bishop. Although the Church of England has a very different sort of impact on our communities from the Police, the Diocese of Chichester which covers the whole of Sussex has been one of the least gender balanced structures in the country up until now and so the concept of a female Bishop has been very hard to imagine. There is still a great deal of work to be achieved in both settings but It is clear for many people that Jo and Ruth will have both broken through some very high glass ceilings here in Sussex. We also have female leaders for both of our Fire and Rescue Services and the two Sussex County Councils are managed by the same woman. Even here in Brighton a few years ago the Chief Executive role was also taken on by a woman although she has now moved out of Sussex. One of the strengths of these changes is that the leadership and decision making elements become capable of much better results because there is no longer male only groups involved. I work in an engineering context and not only do we have a predominantly male setting in our business, but engineering and construction industries are all very male dominated. It becomes very clear how much we can benefit from a more balanced group of people when occasionally we meet with people from other companies who have managed to recruit someone who breaks the traditional impact. In our case we have clear requirements to encourage all young people to consider studying STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths) subjects while they are at School, but the need for girls as well as boys to consider this is very significant.
Along with the challenge in some settings for gender balance to be achieved, we of course are also very aware of people who are working very hard to reduce barriers for people from other backgrounds to be able to study and recruited into key roles. Clearly as the death of George Floyd led to the Black Lives Matter campaign becoming the platform for a lot of our public reactions, the ongoing work to improve the racial diversity in a number of settings including the Police and Church structures such as the Church of England is also vital and has been reviewed as a result of this terrible situation. I personally recall how as a student many decades ago that there were a small number of black colleagues who I studied with when I was at a College of Technology in Liverpool, but when I arrived in Brighton to study at the Polytechnic the number of UK students had dropped to zero although there were some overseas students who helped to make the environment feel a bit more balanced. At that time the number of female students was also almost zero. Recently I was invited to go to Kent and Brighton Universities to speak to students about engineering work and whilst there are clear increases in the proportion of female and ethnic people studying these subjects, the numbers are still far too low for us to be able to benefit from the range of experiences and ways of responding to the engineering challenges. It is clear that we all have a great deal of work to do to ensure that industries and public sector bodies send strong equality messages to all of their potential workers.