Diversity & Inclusion

One of my favourite things to do in life is to watch my four year old daughter interacting with others her age when she doesn’t know I’m watching. Whether it be at preschool, playing in our street, the local park or out at the mall, the place and the people make no difference to her, everyone is included. She doesn’t differentiate the way the she relates to and interacts with people be they young, old, male, female, blonde, brunette – you get where I’m going with this. And it’s got me thinking lately about diversity and inclusion.

As I’ve said children don’t discriminate; so when is it we begin to be programmed to view people as different than ourselves, or to start to classify them under specific banners and headings? And what elicits this change? Does it get worse as we progress through life? Are there factors that contribute more or less to this phenomenon? And once learned can biases or ways of classifying people be unlearned? And would this be beneficial to society? Is diversity something that should be actively pursued in a workplace or is it something that should naturally occur out of an inclusive society? And does such thing exist?

That’s a lot of questions arising from the simple pleasure of watching a child forge their own relationships in the world, I know. But I can’t help wondering what I as a parent can do to halt or reverse what seems an almost inevitable decent into various biases? And in turn what could be done in organisations to do the same. I realise there’s been a lot written about and researched in terms of this subject in the workplace, and there is some incredible change starting to take place, but it’s a large slow old ship in general that will take a long time to complete a 180° turn.

New Zealand’s an incredibly diverse society to grow up in now, and I think our younger generation will be leaps and bounds ahead of generations before in terms of diversity due to the nature of that. A 2012 study, by the New Zealand Herald (published here: http://www.nzherald.co.nz/nz/news/article.cfm?c_id=1&objectid=10837572) is a testament to this and there are some really eye opening highlights from the 2013 census available (http://www.stats.govt.nz/Census/2013-census/profile-and-summary-reports/quickstats-about-national-highlights/cultural-diversity.aspx).

My daughter start school next year, at arguably one of the country’s most culturally diverse primary schools with 76 different ethnicities identified among approximately 500 pupils according to Board of Trustees members and the 2012 E.R.O. report (http://www.ero.govt.nz/Early-Childhood-School-Reports/School-Reports/Freemans-Bay-School-07-03-2012). At the tender age of four she is already well aware of cultural differences, but not biases. She knows Mummy is European, she herself identifies as Maori; she speaks both English and Te Reo fluently and easily adapts to and picks up on other languages – a week’s holiday in Noumea saw her come home speaking mainly French! When she starts school she will be entering a bilingual classroom, where despite her identifying as Maori, in terms of looks she will be vastly different from the majority of students. But this won’t matter; to her or the other students in her class and the rest of the school.  Within minutes of her first school visit she had disappeared with other students to explore, and I have no doubt this is how she will continue her schooling – by easily identifying with people from all walks of life and not treating them differently because of what they identify with or as, and despite any labels society may choose to impose on them.

I think we can learn a lot from pre and primary school children and the way they view the world. If we all held on to the inclusive and non-discriminatory views such as theirs we would all enjoy a society free of biases, without the need to create diverse workplaces as they would be a natural result of society. I haven’t got the answers to all my questions, but as a parent I’m going to do all I can to ensure my daughter doesn’t lose her naturally inclusive ways, and to encourage her to develop even more inclusive ways and practices with the hope that she in turn will encourage that in those around her.

I think current generations have made an excellent start; being aware of the need for diversity and inclusion is a huge step in the right direction. I hope this will simply become second nature for future generations and I can see this becoming a reality. The reasoning is two-fold; we are aware now, organisations and individuals the world over are actively working towards this and the world is a vast place but becoming smaller every day. The world of work is changing; borderlines are blurring and being removed, people are travelling and relocating for work the world over, and as a result societies are changing, diversifying…and hopefully becoming more inclusive. I say I always advocate modelling the behaviour of children, but in this instance, I’ve no doubt they’ve got it right.
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