21 Aug 2023
Confused by Diversity and Inclusion? Talk to your children
At a time when the topic of Diversity and Inclusion (D&I) can seem like a hugely complex and overwhelming one to handle, sometimes it’s important to take a step back and think about the starting point. This point is a very simple one:
We as individuals have both a need and desire to be able to live our lives as ourselves, being who we are and feeling safe to do that.
Having taken this step back myself recently, I’ve been listening carefully to the people around me, across multiple generations, who all have very different views of what D&I means. A couple different themes made themselves apparent.
To generalise slightly, there is a fear associated with diversity across the older generations. It’s either too complex, misunderstood or very little desire to learn “new” terminologies, characteristics or lifestyles. The “mid-life” generation (which I unfortunately probably fall into now) are generally more open minded having grown up in more diverse communities than generations that have gone before. But they can still have some fairly fixed views, stereotypes and biases that have come from their own backgrounds and the media they’ve grown up with. Then finally with the youngest generations comes the hope. Not only do they have less preconceptions with their limited world experience, they are being taught to understand the value in everyone’s uniqueness. Different characteristics are becoming more visible across various media and therefore considered more “the norm” now. My own children, aged six and nine, regularly correct their grandparents in terminology or call them out on any negativity that might be directed towards an individual or group. There are so many benefits in exploring D&I with kids and I think some of these conversations are ones that would benefit anyone who’s struggling to understand the “why” of D&I. As adults, our life experience can make us feel like there are so many different types of people and trying to understand everyone is just too much. As children, exploring our own diverse ways of being can actually make the differences feel less and so we can more easily grasp that we are all different.
As a result, children then also feel more comfortable being their genuine selves and have a sense of belonging through communicating their uniqueness more openly with peers. These conversations also help children to develop more compassion and empathy, which helps them to act as allies to others when they see people being treated negatively. Finally, by having these conversations early in life and really understanding diversity, children learn to communicate and listen to different ways of being and points of view. In the long run this will help children live more harmoniously and work collaboratively in diverse communities.
There is a challenge with a lot of parents holding children back from these conversations. Stories are plastered across the media of schools trying to update curriculums to teach about diverse lived experiences, which parents are either rejecting and pulling their children out of or protesting after the event. Many of these issues arise from parents having their own limited exposure and understanding of the experiences being talked about. As a result, they have a fear that children are in some way being corrupted or influenced to live their lives in different ways. These discussions aren’t going to change who children are, they just help them to both understand others, and also know that if they do grow up with the same characteristics, there are others like them, and they can be accepted.
It is the role of older generations to acknowledge that the world isn’t more complex now, it predominantly has the same characteristics it has always had. It’s only now that a lot of them are becoming more visible as more people live their lives more comfortably as their genuine selves in a world that is starting to become more accepting. There is still a very long way to go for the world to be accepting of everyone. And the only way progress can be made is by allowing each generation that comes along to have access to the conversations and to influence this change.
As a parent who ensures my children have access to these opportunities to learn, the main thing I need to help my kids to understand is how I get to “do D&I as a job” because they still can’t quite get their head around that one!
Written by Paula Arnold, Director of Consulting Services
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