I was brought up in an entrepreneurial family. My mother, Marguerite, planted the seed of what we now know as EC, the chain of schools that specialises in English language learning.

Although there were many who came after her and nurtured that seed until it grew into the international organisation it is today, she was the thought-provoking, business-minded leader who started with one school and a vision.

Before my mother, there was my grandmother who acquired and took over the leadership of a school for expat children in Malta because she had a vision for what that school could be. Growing up in this kind of family, surrounded by talented, outgoing female role models who saw what needed to be done and then went about doing it, made me assume this was the norm for everyone’s family. When I left home and went out into the ‘real world’, I was both surprised and a bit saddened to see that things were quite different.

This is one of the reasons that I so strongly support Lead5050. The initiative promotes diversity in gender and leadership in our industry, and that’s important. I’m a firm believer in diversity, not simply for the sake of being able to say, ‘Look at us and how cool and diverse we are,’ but because of the extraordinary value it brings. When you work with a diverse group of people, whether it’s race, nationality, gender or age, you have access to so many more levels and areas of information, and you can tap into that knowledge and expertise to elevate your organisation in a number of ways: strategically, tactically, logistically, proactively – you get the idea.

If you look at our client base in this industry, you will find that it’s approximately 55-60% female. Our students need to see dynamic female leaders in our industry. If they can see someone who looks like them professionally managing a leadership role, our students may be more inclined – and in some cases, even encouraged -- to move in that direction. Imagine how great it would be if students come to our schools and not only find great educational opportunities, but also a great team of knowledgeable female leaders managing those opportunities, and are then inspired to follow their lead.

At EC, we work hard to promote diversity because we want that expertise and knowledge to grow and develop in our company. We seek out that entrepreneurial spirit because we want our people to become intrapreneurs – those who can look at what’s happening (or not happening) inside the organisation and find ways to create an opportunity, or develop an existing one and somehow make it better. This is how our CSR initiative was developed, and why it has grown to a point where we recently helped build a school in Cambodia so that children could have access to an education. We also promote gender diversity because we want to make a statement in the industry that EC values and supports capable female leadership. I believe we’ve done a good job of this in our middle management level, and we intend to do more to encourage and support women at the executive and board level.

One of the ways that we can all promote gender diversity is to create an atmosphere in which we are, in a sense, blind towards gender. As I mentioned earlier, I don’t think we need to encourage diversity simply for the sake of diversity. But I do believe we can significantly improve in this area if we focus on competency and merit rather than gender. In other words, rather than focusing on whether a leader is male or female, we should be looking at whether they are competent for the role, and whether their skills merit promotion to a higher position.

Our industry is expanding, and new opportunities in higher education and blended learning are creating new channels for growth. EC intends to stay at the forefront of the industry, developing innovative methods to ensure our students have access to these channels and that they receive the best possible experience. For us to succeed - for our industry to succeed - we all need to make sure we’ve got the right people in the right roles. In the EC World, that means making sure we have a diverse staff who have bold and creative ideas, who are willing to work hard and implement those ideas, and who aren’t afraid to be out in front.

Across our industry, let’s make sure we’re following the right leaders.

Andrew Mangion is the Executive Chairman of EC English Language Centres, one of the largest international language schools in the world, with 24 schools located in major English-speaking destinations in the US, UK, Ireland, Canada, Malta and South Africa. EC was recently awarded the 2017 ST Star Chain School Award for the third time. EC is also the Annual Sponsor of Lead5050.