Celebrating Global Diversity Awareness Month with Emily Holthaus | By: Committee for Children In honor of Global Diversity Awareness Month, we chatted with chief diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) officer Emily Holthaus about the importance of diversity in creating a just and peaceful world. She also offers suggestions for steps communities can take to celebrate diversity this month and year-round. What is diversity? How is it related to equity and inclusion? Emily Holthaus: Diversity refers to the collection of differences—including identities, experiences, and ideas—within a given setting and has a nuanced definition based on a wide variety of global contexts. When we talk about diversity, we often reference structural diversity: numerating people based on group membership in a space. Actually, diversity is a fact related to the composition of a group of people within a space and place. Inclusion is behavioral and action-oriented and a choice (an individual within the space/place decides whether to include someone or not). Belonging is a feeling of connectedness that can be reinforced by an inclusive culture that can be purposefully cultivated. Equity is an approach that recognizes the diversity within spaces and the unique disparities that may be present based on dimensions of diversity. It’s also action-oriented to create relevant support for overcoming systemic barriers. Equity represents the guarantee of fair treatment, access, and opportunity for all, where individuals are not disadvantaged because of their identity or social position. Equity requires eliminating the institutional, systemic, and societal barriers that prevent the full participation of certain groups, and developing solutions that are relevant to social structures, trends, and emerging opportunities. Here’s a great way to think about the difference between diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging, and how to relate to one another. Diversity Did everyone get invited to the dance?Inclusion Upon arrival, were you invited to dance?Belonging Are they playing music that you like/can relate to? Equity Were there people that were invited, but couldn’t gain access to the dance because of the physical location, entry fees, or other barriers? Why is diversity important to creating a just and peaceful world where children are safe and thriving? EH: Justice is both a process and an outcome that consists of envisioning and actively working towards creating a culture that values, respects, and supports people across all aspects of their identities. Diversity and representation matter. Young people specifically need the opportunity to learn from the people around them they can relate to. They also need to see successful people around them that they can relate to. This helps to create and enforce the belief that success is possible. Imagine growing up in a place where none of your teachers, doctors, police officers, or other important figures hold similar identities as you. It makes it hard to believe that attainment of those roles is possible. The more we can cultivate a culture of inclusion where young people can be seen and heard and learn how to work collaboratively together across differences, the more we will be preparing the next generation to thrive. How do social-emotional skills in a learning environment fit into all of this? EH: Social-emotional skills are foundational for fostering DEI in learning environments. Specifically, intentionality around practicing empathy and perspective-taking helps us recognize that our personal experiences and vantage points are unique and not universally shared by others. Having the curiosity to try to understand and acknowledge the vantage points of others is critical to seeing and addressing barriers that might be present in the classroom and in our communities. Additionally, when we seek to understand others and build healthy relationships, we naturally extend more support and are more willing to extend grace when mistakes are made or circumstances are challenging. How are you personally celebrating diversity this month? EH: DEI is so much of my everyday life interactions and conversations–at work based on my role and at home based on being part of a racially diverse family with members with diverse abilities. Diversity is truly my every day. This month specifically, my family plans to be intentional about learning about a new culture through research, relationships, and food (Ethiopia). We’re fortunate to live in a community that is truly representative of the globe which allows us to be very intentional about getting into proximity with others to learn more about their unique experiences, celebrations, and traditions. I personally love food and I believe sharing a meal and engaging in conversation goes a long way toward building bridges between people. What are some ways we can celebrate this month and support diversity in our communities? EH: Learn more about your own identity and heritage and then share what you learn with others.Select a culture you’re not familiar with and make the commitment to learn more.Look for community celebrations or gatherings in your community that allow you to meet and interact with people who experience the world differently than you do.Where we spend our money matters. Choose restaurants and stores that help support local business owners from a variety of cultures and identities.Watch movies you may not naturally gravitate toward that expose you to a culture, race, or identity that’s different from yours.Choose a book written by an author who holds an identity that is different from yours.Visit and explore a new community that is relatively near yours but that you are unfamiliar with. Lastly, a friend of mine makes it a point to take her family to experience a different faith tradition once a quarter to intentionally learn and gain exposure to other religions. I absolutely love the intentionality behind this. It takes work to expand relationships beyond our current circles and spaces of affinity. Reaching out of our comfort zones in this way can directly advance inclusion interpersonally and generate a positive and connective ripple effect across our communities and global society. I believe if we all practiced things like this more regularly, we would be directly contributing to a more just and peaceful world.