Jiten Patel: Diversity Champion for Education

Jiten PatelWe spoke to Jiten Patel, Head of Diversity & Inclusion at The Open University to catch his feelings on winning The Diversity Champion Award for The Education Sector.

I felt honoured and very pleased. Thinking about it further, I felt vindicated in terms of what I do:- I consciously took a decision to work freelance in 2001 and made the education sector a specific focus because I felt that, if we can get it right here, then that should be the starting point of a domino effect into the workplace and into the work of customer service.

How did you feel about the other shortlisted nominees within your category?

Whilst I didn’t really know much about them before the event, since then, I’ve gotten to know some of the shortlisted nominees.

What I found and appreciated was that a couple of them came and congratulated me, what a great level of support; I think this is the part of what Diversity & Inclusion is all about – sharing the successes and celebrating diversity. Every one of the nominees and especially those who were shortlisted are winners; they have made a difference in their communities.

Where are you going to go from here with your work?

There’s still a long way to go, I don’t see my work being done in this lifetime but in fairness I think it’s about ratcheting up what has been done so far and bringing it into business as usual someday, one day! Also I am writing a book Demystifying Diversity which is all about taking away some of the fog that surrounds the topic and making it easier for everyone to understand. Watch this space…

What does Diversity & Inclusion mean to you?

Before we look at Diversity, I think that, firstly it is important to consider equality. Equality: has to be about removing the taint and injustice endured by so many people whose characteristics were outside what has historically been perceived as ‘normal’. It is about creating that proverbial playing field where each team or individual does not have an unfair advantage.

Diversity for me is very much about moving away from mere compliance with the law to recognising the value that a diversity of people are able to bring to an organisation in terms of creating, innovating and performance. The latest ‘Diversity Matters’ report from McKinsey (February 2015), clearly points to a strong link between gender and ethnic diversity on a Board and higher performance.

I have summed up the progression from equality and diversity to inclusion in the following matrix

Equality: Creates an environment that is free from unlawful discrimination/unfairness in employment and customer service.

Diversity: Recognises, encourages and accommodates differences, valuing the contribution such difference brings to the business.

Inclusion: Recognises every individual’s right to be treated equitably, and to be accorded services and opportunities in a suitable and bespoke manner that is cost effective to the business and valued by customers.

Jiten Patel winningIn my opinion, inclusion is not really a possiblility until basic equality and diversity issues have been first addressed.

Where does this rank within your Diversity & Inclusion achievements?

I would say, this year, at the top! In fairness I’m very proud to have received this award; my real award was the fact that there were people that wanted to nominate me and if I’m making a difference in people’s lives then, at the end of the day, that’s what matters most to me. My other great award this year is knowing that I am working in an institution where the new Vice Chancellor, Peter Horrocks (much like his predecessor) is very much engaged in further Equality, Diversity and Inclusion for all stakeholders.

What were your thoughts on the Awards?

I thought it was extremely well organised, energising, motivating, and great to be in the company of like minded people. It was an honour and privilege to be able to celebrate the achievements of so many people and organisations. Paul and his team made the whole event memorable. A lot of thought has gone into making the event interesting and engaging. The breaks allowed people to get up from their table to talk to others and the entertainment was excellent.

I particularly enjoyed the after party and the opportunity to speak to more people than would have been possible during the formal event. The venue was great and I would not hesitate to recommend others to come along if they have the chance.