Our Leadership Lacks Diversity


by Jesper Damberg and Jeppe Damberg,
February 7th, 2018


This week United World College Red Cross Nordic has been visited by several candidates for the soon-to-be vacant position of headmaster. Every candidate is, naturally, the topic of conversation for the students at lunch, dinner and casual chats in between. First years are curious to see who will be in charge of their college during their final year, and second years are eager to know who will get the chance to shape their home long after they leave. “He looks pretentious”, “he seems liberal enough”, the opinions are many. One particular observation, however, has been made by the majority of the student body at RCN, and it has to do with the one character trait that the vast majority of headmaster candidates share. Except for one candidate, they all happen to be white men in their 40-50s. Of course, it may just happen to be that they were the only ones to apply or that these were simply the only qualified, or, perhaps, this is the sad continuation of a non-progressive trend within United World Colleges.
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For a movement based on deliberate diversity, it seems rather odd that out of 17 headmasters only three are of colour (Roderick Jemison, Mauricio Viales Salas and Victoria Mora) – and Jemison came with the establishment of UWC ISAK last year. A quick google search of Head of Colleges of the flagship schools within our movement, will display the names of Stephen Lowry (UWCWK), Chris Edwards (UWCSEA), Peter Howe (UWC Atlantic), Arnett Edwards (UWCLPC), Michael Anthony Price (UWC Adriatic), Pelham Lindfield Roberts (UWC Mahindra), Richard Larmont (UWCRCN) and so on. In fact, among 17 headmasters only four are women. This finding left me curious to see how diverse the administration of the different UWCs actually is.
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However, such an inquiry is not easy. All United World Colleges do not follow the same organizational structure. Some have a Council, with both regular members and invited members and at the same time a Board of Directors, and others just have a Council or a Board of Directors. The data I use is the data available from most colleges’ websites, and so its accuracy depends on the latest information given by the colleges. I have excluded the numbers of which I was not absolutely certain. Nevertheless, I would say that the data I did gather should serve as a wake-up call to the movement.

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From this data of Head of Colleges, many trends can be inferred. The issue of age is, of course, a debatable matter, and it can be argued that experience is required for the position of Head of College. However, the fact that only four women out of 18 (including UWC International) are represented among headmasters is, to me, worrying for a movement claiming to enforce deliberate diversity. This, of course, also applies to the issue of colour.
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The only non-white headmasters are the headmasters of Costa Rica, Mauricio Viales Salas, of ISAK, Roderick Jemison and of UWC Armand Hammer, Victoria Mora. Also, the nationalities of our Head of Colleges tend to coincide. Of 17 head of colleges, they only represent 8 different nationalities with the majority being Brits (7/17). This again, at least to me, does not display diversity. Moreover, only 3 headmasters are non-native English speakers. Of course, it could be argued that this lack of diversity has to do with the qualifications of the candidates. By the same logic, it could be assumed that fewer people of colour and women happen to apply with the right qualifications. But even so, it seems unlikely that so few women and people of colour are qualified, especially within the United World Colleges framework. It seems right to ask ourselves: have we not promised ourselves to make a deliberate effort to prioritize diversity? Surely, diversity of representation might also lead to a diversity of talent? Instead of finding some vague sense of comfort in the explanation of fewer qualified women or people of colour, we should reflect critically over the scope through which we look for candidates.
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Boards

Having explored the diversity of our Head of Colleges, and having been disappointed by my findings, I wanted to identify the women-to-men ratio, white-to-non-white ratio as well as the age brackets of all Board members across the entire UWC movement (excluding national committees). Only one board have managed to achieve some degree of gender balance (the Executive Board of Costa Rica). Changshu does not have a single woman on the board, and Mahindra, ISAK, Maastricht, and Robert Bosch have only one woman included on the board.
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Having said that, female chairs of the board appear more frequently with Red Cross Nordic, ISAK, UWCSEA, Dilijan, Mostar all employing female chairs of the board. Still, for a movement of diversity, it seems that our celebration of diversity does not always apply to the governance of our colleges.
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It is clear that we lack diversity of background in our governance as well. At Mahindra, all 18 members of the board are from India. Similarly, everyone on the board of Li Po Chun are of Hong Kong or Chinese background. At Pearson, one of the most progressive colleges of our movement, not a single person of colour has made it among the 18 members of the board. However, two of the woman on the board do have indigenous roots. Equally stunning is it that, at Waterford Kahlamba, 16 out of 18 members of the governing council are white. When it comes to diversity of colour and/or descent, not a single board nor council seem to have achieved a balanced composition in this aspect. Indeed, at this point of my investigation, I was not even surprised to learn that at the highest level of governance, UWC International, we have managed to exclude any person of African descent.
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Well, perhaps it is not all that bad, and one could argue that our movement, like many other institutions in society, adapts to modern demands of diversity slowly too. Well, then it should be worrying to see that the aspect of diversity among governance is not addressed anywhere in the UWC 2020 Strategy. How can we brace ourselves with the label of deliberate diversity throughout the community if it only applies to the student body? Are we not to celebrate diversity at all levels of our organization? Or should we sacrifice this aspect of our movement to ensure ‘proper’ western governance? I hope the latter question is one we can all disagree with – for how are we to hope of a world of equality if we cannot ourselves uphold an organization with diversity at the heart of our institution?
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My investigation led me to two conclusions. Diversity is not an aspect of our movement as such, it is an aspect of our student and, to some extent, our teaching body. Indeed, the governance of our school proves to be very homogeneous, and it can be questioned whether we are in fact harvesting the fruits of diversity and intercultural understanding at all levels of our organization. Secondly, reflecting over my own surprise by these findings, I believe that we, students and alumni, have not been good enough at reflecting over whether we live up to the ideals we are proponents of. Indeed, the moment a movement becomes ignorant to self-criticism, it becomes incapable of being a force for any change.

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