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Posted by Philip on 16 June 2015, 7:41 am in , , , , , ,

From diversity to inclusion

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The question of diversity and inclusion in schools is by no means a new one. Some do it well, some refuse and most, I would say, are just not sure where to start.

Preparing a keynote for Auckland Careers and Transition Educators –whose "main focus is on the career education of youth and their transition into the wider world of employment, training and/or further education", I began by reflecting on the question, "Can we get straight from diversity to inclusion?" It occurred to me that, no, we can't.

Something we'd like to think as straight-forward is, in reality, a winding journey. First we have to rethink our ideas of diversity. Then we need to add some complexity, leadership and change. Then, and only then, we need to step back and see where we get to with including people. We may need to go back and start again.

Actually, let's not mince words. School populations are always changing, so we always need to be restarting. Diversity and inclusion are continual journeys – they're not destinations.


Schools, I assume, have some sort of hierarchy of diversity, which would go something like this: age (schools are fundamentally structured around it); gender; culture including ethnicity and race; socio-economic status; religion; sexuality; disability; and learning style.

As I write often, this model of diversity is simply labelling, categorising and representing the former two. We need to rethink it.

Diversity is the synergy of our uniqueness and commonality, or similarities and differences. Diversity exists in all people in all places at all times.


This reframe of diversity is complex for many reasons. Firstly because it is neither simple nor complicated. Diversity is dynamic, paradoxical, uncertain and, to a greater or lesser extent, unknown – at least until you start exploring it. To do this, it's important embrace the questions, rather than seek answers.


Complex situations need good leadership. Good leadership requires the willingness to have courageous conversations; be generous; be authentic and vulnerable; to ask, "What if?"; to have a balanced ego (equal parts confidence and humility) and self-awareness; to seek and give feedback; and to recognise and respond to assumptions.


For diversity to translate into inclusion, change has to happen. It's inevitable. Most people want to change (be diverse and inclusive) without changing (procedures, processes and presumptions. When something grows, something else has to decay – or decay has to make way for growth. This requires adaptivity, acceptance and trust. In essence, change requires an absence of fear, which is one definition of love.


I've always struggled with the notion of inclusion. It's an ironic and paradoxical concept. It can intend harmony, belonging and equality. And it may bring you somewhere near that.

But as history has shown us, the best intentions for inclusion have resulted in assimilation, colonisation and marginalisation. This is why it is a journey, not a destination.

Most people want answers but, as I said earlier, this work brings more questions than answers. The challenge in addressing diversity and inclusion is to inquire, be curious and to generously commit to being wrong; to recognise assumptions and humbly but confidently respond; and to embrace inevitable, constant change with love not fear.