Research

Claire Stewart-Hall’s research focuses on race, whiteness and diversifying workforce.

Many organisations seek to diversify their workforce but still seem to end up with all white teams. We work with senior leaders in organisations to change these patterns. We use theories of ‘critical whiteness’ and ‘Critical Race Theory’ to support teams to understand their own role in creating structures that are exclusive.

By using research into whiteness and its impact on systems and processes in the workplace, we are able to support teams to consider different angles from which to view their current organisational diversity.

Positionality and the construction of race in wider sociological terms

Lewis (2004) explores the ways in which whiteness maintains its power through its silence. Discourse about race is focused on racial minorities she argues, and whiteness hasn’t been afforded the same scrutiny in its role in the social construction of race. It has been argued that notions of colour-blindness are prolific in schools, (Williams 1997; Lewis 2004; Rollock, 2014; Gillborn, 2008) and has been an effective way of silencing discourse about whiteness and consideration of whites as ‘a social collective’ (Lewis, 2004, p. 624) and therefore the relationships between power and whiteness and how categories are negotiated, reinforced and contested through everyday experiences. It is arguable that lack of discourse about whiteness in schools contributes to a lack of awareness about privilege, power and how this might be assumed and distributed.

Apple (2003) sees race as socially constructed arguing that continued ideas of whiteness as universal, neutral and objective enables hegemonic groups’ positioning to represent all groups; the othering of Black, Asian and ‘ethnic’ means that conceptually the association is different to or different from the majority – therefore not us, not everyone. Arguably, when applied to school leadership which positions Head Teachers and senior leaders as representing communities and staff, there emerges an image of a leader. It is undeniably a patriarchal image, suggested by the percentages of male Head Teachers outnumbering female (DfE, 2018) and plausibly a colonial one, with white men and women taking up most positions in senior leadership. (DfE, 2018).

It is pertinent to my research that schools as organisations and senior leadership roles in particular are structured into teams. Intergroup Theory (Alderfer & Smith, 1982) notes the impact of group membership in organisations, exploring ways that group affiliations, either through identity or assigned organisational membership, navigate group boundaries and differences. Alderfer & Smith (1982) note the psychological unconscious need for some leaders to maintain conformity and shared values as a method of sustaining organisational development. This is arguably an area to be further explored when seeking to understand how senior teams appoint into leadership positions.