by Nilofer Ali, Resources Manager
I recently took a four-week class with Dr. Sylvia Chan-Malik of Rutgers University titled, “Race and Islam in America,” in which she started off explaining epistemology: how we know what we know. I alluded to this in my last piece, and I’d like to springboard off that concept to discuss the ethical/moral and business cases for Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion in our educational-publishing and -technology organizations and institutions.
The concept of morals, our sense of right and wrong, is a great study in epistemology. How do we know what is right and wrong? We may first begin to understand this through institutions like family, school, society, and religion, and we recognize the truth or untruth of what we learn through our life experiences. Fairness is a moral shared by many, and when we become aware of unfair practices (against ourselves or others), we experience a sense of moral outrage. Such is the case with misrepresentation and non-representation of, for example, portrayal in U.S. History texts of Black American experiences. As each of us understands that we haven’t gotten the full story or the real story, and the result of that is injustice in our world, we experience a moral reaction. “Why wasn’t I taught this in school?” is a thought that may arise, and we can translate this into action. “America’s conscience,” Maya Angelou, gave this advice to Oprah Winfrey: “When you know better, you do better.”
We have the choice to use our collective moral conscience to drive ethics in our society—in our businesses, our schools, and our communities. In the U.S., the structural iniquities and oppression upon which the nation was built are becoming more widely known and understood, and if we want to truly be a fair and just society in which we demonstrate a belief that “all men are created equal,” we have an ethical duty to dismantle the inequitable structures. Diverse voices within an educational institution result in the disintegration of stereotypes, promotion of understanding across differences, and preparation of students for a diverse workforce and society. With the increasing globalization of information and collaboration, workers from all different backgrounds will be increasingly expected to interact successfully with people who are different from them. The “soft skills” necessary for such interactions can only truly be developed with practice, by putting students in the position of having to understand experiences and perspectives different from their own.
When we facilitate the engagement of diverse individuals from diverse groups, we expand our base of ideas, thought processes, and behaviors. Herein lies the heart of the business case for diversity, equity, and inclusion—the development of new knowledge through exposure to the “other.” While it can feel uncomfortable to encounter ideas, ways of being, and ways of doing things that are different from what we’re used to, it is those new ways of thinking and doing that create the disruption and innovation that is so often necessary for growth. “Disruption” is the shaking up of old ways of being and doing, the result of which is “innovation”—literally to “make new.”
In the education industry, disruption and innovation are more of an imperative than ever before. Teachers and school districts are clamoring for material that resonates with and represents their students, who comprise a vast range of backgrounds, experiences, and identities. Who better to create material for a diverse community of learners than people who have lived the same experiences as those learners? I, as a mixed-ethnicity, cis-gender female, Muslim, raised in the 70s, am hardly in touch with the life and experiences of a 12-year-old, Latino young man raised in today’s world. I simply lack the knowledge—even if I obtained academic, institutional knowledge, I will never have the experiential knowledge. This is the second case for diversity in our educational publishing and ed tech organizations. Studies have shown a 15% – 19% increase in profitability, particularly through innovation, when diversity is increased.
Bringing diverse perspectives to our institutions is critical, but it must be matched with the cultivation of inclusive environments, where curiosity about others is the norm. There must be equity in professional opportunity, so that individuals from diverse backgrounds can rise to positions of leadership and decision-making, without compromising their authenticity.
At Westchester, we’re taking a hard look at ourselves and our processes, and connecting with people and ideas outside the status quo, to identify the gaps that promote the “same old same old.” We’re embracing the disruption that comes with new ideas and perspectives, preceding innovation. It’s still a work in progress, but it’s important work that we’re committed to for all of the reasons outlined above. Additionally, it’s not done in a vacuum, but rather, as part of the larger community. To that end, we welcome your input and would be very interested in learning what your organization may also be doing to meet these challenges.
Bravespaces.org – The Case for Diversity
American Psychological Association – The Science of Motivation