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Diversity & Inclusion: Overused and Undervalued

By Tabor Martinsen, SWS Alum (2011) and Recruiter and Diversity Program Specialist for Facebook

As a Waldorf Alum, I was greatly influenced by Waldorf’s diverse curriculum. After transferring from a public school in fourth grade, I remember being completely enthralled by Waldorf’s inclusive curricular approach to learning about the genesis of many world religions including Paganism, Christianity, Buddhism, Islam, etc. Over the next few years, I relished the opportunity to study many different cultures of the world from the earliest human civilizations of Mesopotamia, to the complexities of Indian spice trade industry, the enormous Mesoamerican empires, the birth of democracy and politics in Ancient Greece, the global impact of the agricultural revolution in the Levant, the advanced society of Ancient Egypt, the innovative economy during American Gold Rush, the powerful Ancient Incan Empire, etc. Waldorf ignited a burning curiosity in me to learn everything I could about the diverse, wonderful world around me.

After graduating high school at SWS, I attended Whitman College where I cultivated my passion for learning about different people by studying Cultural Anthropology. Currently, I work at Facebook as a recruiter and Diversity program Specialist. I’m responsible for building initiatives that align with Facebook’s goals around diversity and inclusion. I help our teams understand why it’s important to hire traditionally under-represented, marginalized groups of people. I also put together educational workshops for our teams to understand nuances around terms like ‘race’ vs ethnicity’, and I give them tools to deal with unconscious biases that can pop up during the interview processes, etc.

The two most common questions I get are: 1) “what do ‘diversity’ and ‘inclusion’ really mean?” And 2) “Why have they become so important?”

‘Diversity’ is a term typically used to describe fundamental characteristics and identities that are inherent to all people such as ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, disabilities, and economic status. Understanding diversity can be pretty simple: from a hiring perspective, diversity is mostly a numbers game. Having a diverse work environment or school campus is simply a matter of hiring or enrolling a variety of people from different backgrounds.

If diversity is easy to understand, inclusion is much more difficult to figure out. Inclusion refers to the behaviors that embrace diversity. Building a diverse environment simply requires bringing more diverse people into that environment. But building an inclusive environment can be unclear. It requires listening to and learning about marginalized (i.e. diverse) voices and how to ensure those needs are met. There must be programs, platforms, and resources in place to support and retain diverse people.

Additionally, studies show that diverse people only begin to feel their voices are heard once they’ve reached a certain threshold compared to majority group. In other words, a company or school cannot simply add 1 or 2 diverse people to their environment and expect that they will contribute positively to the environment. Instead, companies and schools need to look beyond the simple diversity numbers, and focus additional resources on making sure there is support in place to encourage existing diversity to share their own ideas, thoughts, etc.

When institutions do prioritize diversity and provide inclusive support, the results are powerful. In recent years, many studies have shown that there is a strong positive correlation between a company’s diverse workforce and the profitability of that business. In other words, having a more diverse group of employees is better for business. Diversity of voices leads to better innovation, more thoughtful products/services, and ultimately increases both employee satisfaction as well as the company’s bottom line.

In addition to being good for business, there is ample evidence that a more diverse environment cultivates a more tolerant, open-minded, and curious culture. This is critically important in schools, where valuing diversity helps create a more close-knit, curious community and vice versa.

Although diversity typically refers to ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, disabilities and economic status, it also includes any number of aspects that make up a person’s identity such as someone’s upbringing, their family heritage/traditions, their religious beliefs, where they grew up, their family structure, their education background, etc. While Sacramento Waldorf School works to develop a robust strategy around diversity, it is important to recognize the current diversity of the Waldorf curriculum as well as the diversity of life experiences that each student, faculty member, teacher, and family member bring to the community.

Additionally, if SWS’s goal is to cultivate a sustainable, diverse learning environment, our intentions should focus not just on how we can bring more diversity to our school, but how we can make our school more accessible to different groups of people, and what support services we can provide to retain different groups of people long term.