We’re hearing increasingly about the benefits of diversity and inclusion to workplaces these days. Diversity translates to significant increases in the bottom line, attracts top-level buy-in, and helps reach a broader customer base. It also strengthens trust in company culture, promotes better decision making and drives better innovation.
It’s all the rage.
The idea of leveraging diversity and inclusion isn’t a new one, but as well as the workplace, it’s just as useful to apply diversity in STEM and non-STEM schools.
So, how can we think about the benefits of diversity and inclusion in the classroom? First, let’s consider what diversity and inclusion are really about.
What is Diversity and Inclusion?
Diversity refers to the differences in the makeup of a group, for example the mix of genders, racial backgrounds, nationalities, sexual orientations, etc.
Inclusion is a related and connected concept to diversity, which considers how well each of the various identity groups present are represented in the functioning of the group – are there equal levels of contribution, reward, presence and appreciation of perspectives for all identities, or are some favoured?
Identity groups who are favoured or represented more are considered to be privileged, while those which are under-represented are considered to be minorities.
What are the Benefits of Inclusion and Diversity in STEM and Non STEM schools?
Within the classroom, teachers can help to bring awareness of diversity and inclusion through the ways in which they guide class discussions and class content relating to people with identities of different kinds. They can also help the class to feel safe as a group, especially students who may fall into minority groups, and set examples through the behaviours they model. Some of the benefits of this are as follows:
1. Provides Good Foundation For Confidence In Early Adulthood And Adulthood
When students are exposed to various aspects of the world from an early age in a safe way, they can learn about people who are different as well as similar to them in an open-minded way. Learning about people from different cultures, different religious backgrounds, different types of families and different ways of thinking helps them to foster a deeper sense of safety and self-confidence when they come across these people in tertiary education and the workplace.
2. Builds Valuable Soft Skills
Learning to relate to people in different ways, especially people who are different to us, helps foster empathy. Being able to consider the different circumstances and experiences that different groups of people experience helps students to become aware and appreciate some of the things they make take for granted. It may also help them to form stronger friendships, both at school and post-school.
3. Reduces Prejudice and Builds Interpersonal Skills
As students build empathy, they are able to reduce their prejudices consciously, allowing them to form closer relationships with their peers. These interpersonal skills are valuable not only to strengthen friendships, but will also be valuable skills which set them aside from others as they apply for jobs in the future.
4. Improves Student Achievement
As students develop an appreciation for people who are both similar and different to them in different ways, building empathy and interpersonal skills, they become better equipped with the skills needed to improve their school performance. They are able to perform better in groups, better manage interpersonal conflicts if they arise in the schoolyard, assisting in managing emotions more effectively.
5. Builds Creativity
Being exposed to different ways of thinking and being in the world helps broaden student’s minds to appreciate the depth and breadth of the world. This equips them to be better able to come up with new ideas, see different perspectives and to be open-minded.
Teachers As Role Models
Given the suite of benefits of diversity in STEM and non-STEM schools and workplaces, it makes sense to build an awareness and positive culture around it in classrooms.
Teachers are major role models to their students. So, they are in a unique position to offer gentle questioning when situations where diversity and inclusion matters arise. These could come up as part of discussions around material being covered in class and different peer groups and individuals within the class.
Sometimes the most impactful thing to do is to merely call attention to the fact that there are assumptions at play, and students will often respond positively to this increased awareness. Teachers can also weave curiosity about difference and STEM diversity into class content, helping to guide students gently to an awareness of the depth and breadth of types of people in the world.
You never know what sorts of academic or creativity benefits your students might come up with as a result!
Click here to read more about Unconscious Bias and How to Challenge it in the Classroom.