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Diversity and inclusion: Mitigating unconscious biases in education

Date: 
Wednesday, January 24, 2018

Is your school free of bias? How about you, yourself? And how can you be sure?

Unconscious bias can sneak up on the best of us. Claudia Schabel knows that well. Schabel, founder and president of Schabel Solutions, a consulting firm that works with businesses to build inclusive workplaces, will be presenting at the upcoming 2018 Expanding Possibilities: Iowa Adult Education and Literacy Virtual Conference. The conference will be held online Jan. 30 through Feb. 1.

With over a decade of experience as a diversity and inclusion practitioner and strategist with Fortune 500 companies, Schabel helps businesses, non-profit organizations, and educational institutions address areas of equity, cultural competency, diversity, and inclusion.

Conference registration is still open and Schabel is scheduled to present her session at 2 p.m. on Tuesday, Jan. 30.

Below, Schabel reflects on today’s collaborative education system, focusing the value of diversity and how unconscious biases impact cultural competency.

What have you learned as you help organizations with cultural competency?
Through working with numerous businesses and organizations, I have learned that people are people. The most important thing to remember is that no one is perfect. Developing a cultural competence is a dynamic and complex process. Giving people the benefit of the doubt is the first step in helping people understand how we can perceive the world differently and how we feel when we are not respectful of each other’s views. Before judging someone, keep in mind that most people have good intentions, they may just lack awareness.

Why are diversity and inclusion important in the education field?
Classroom culture directly impacts student academic success. It is critical for the school and the classroom culture to reflect, acknowledge, and celebrate diversity and practice inclusion. When students are exposed to different cultures, backgrounds, ways of thinking, and respectful and courageous dialogue, there is a tangible impact on their acknowledgement of differences and increased empathy for one another.

When educators include all students and leverage all skills sets, experiences and backgrounds in the classroom, the learning process is enriched for all students. Acknowledging our differences and uniqueness is part of treating students in an inclusive and equitable manner.

What are some of the challenges to working in a diverse environment?
If companies want to attract and retain top talent, and retain a competitive advantage, they need a diverse workforce. According to McKinsey research, public companies in the top quartile for racial and ethnic diversity are 35 percent more likely to have financial returns above national industry medians. These companies can better serve their customers because of their diversity, not despite of it.

The primary challenge in a diverse workplace is that not all leaders understand how diversity and inclusion are critical to business performance. Lack of inclusiveness can actually decrease productivity and employee engagement.

How do biases impact adult education?
Biases – conscious and unconscious – can hinder a student’s abilities to learn. When we make assumptions about people we are not giving them a fair shot at living up to their potential. I have heard of multiple instances in which students were discouraged from pursuing certain areas of study based on factors such as ethnicity, socio economic status, or gender. One young woman was actually told not to pursue mathematics because that major was tough, “even for the boys.” Imagine the impact of the bias on this one student.

What should participants expect during your presentation?
During my session, we will address individual accountability in a guilt- and blame-free environment. Participants will leave with an improved understanding of how the brain functions and shapes our behaviors, both consciously and unconsciously. Participants will have the opportunity to explore ways to mitigate their own unconscious bias.

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Printed from the Iowa Department of Education website on March 08, 2021 at 4:31pm.