2014 PDW Q&A Transcript on Teaching Diversity

What is the one take-home message (or underlying technique) of how to change attitudes and behaviors towards students who are different?

Have students engage their own identities to reflect upon times when they felt 'different'. They soon discover one can experience this even if you think you are in the majority. Or set up very carefully a field experience where they have to go somewhere that they will not be in the majority. For race or ethnicity, churches work well (send black students to a white majority church and vice versa). For my male students I send them to a spa that I know is frequented primarily by women but also do spa treatments for men or send the male students to get a manicure. It is important that you check out the places yourself to make sure they are safe. Or have them pair up with someone in the class who is different from them and they figure out a field trip for one another! We have done it in South Africa and wow…it is an eye opener!

-Professor Stella M. Nkomo
University of Pretoria (South Africa)

A significant aspect of change is critical reflexivity where the educator seeks to question her/his assumptions, beliefs and taken-for-granted behaviours. Our actions are embedded in a context where there are unequal relationships and where power plays out in a social context, including in the learning situation.

- Professor Edwina Pio
Auckland University of Technology (New Zealand)

Let's talk differently – I am convinced (and evidence shows) that stereotypes can be changed by using inclusive language. That includes this question (!) – if you say "students who are different", my question would be a) different from whom, and b) why imply that there is a standard / norm?

- Associate Professor Claartje Vinkenburg
VU University Amsterdam (Netherlands)

I would like to offer one do and one don't: First the don't – make sure students do not try "to get into the shoes" of someone who is different from them. This is a tempting technique that leads to a superficial and often misleading understanding of the other person's challenges as well as joys of being who they really are. Now to the do: encourage students to ask others who are different from themselves about their experiences and then truly listen to what the other person says with open ears and open hearts.

- Professor Michalle Mor Barak
University of Southern California (USA)

One is very hard to choose! I suppose I'd have to say education if I had to choose one. I think a lot of what we see has to do with being misinformed by the media and politicians and uneducated.

-Professor Myrtle P. Bell
The University of Texas at Arlington (USA)

In addition to intersectionality and multiple identities are people also discussing fluidity (sounded like it from the panel)? Any recommended exercises or role plays?

I do not know of any effective role plays. The fluidity occurs as the context changes—it can be at many levels. A simple example of course is to talk about, how identities are fluid based on the social historical context…..African-Americans in the USA went from being labelled slaves, Negroes, Coloureds, Blacks, African-Americans. One could also talk about how different ethnic groups in the USA became 'white.' Here is an article I wrote that is related to these points:

Nkomo, S. M. & Ariss, A. (2014): The historical origins of white privilege in U. S. organizations, Journal of Managerial Psychology, 29 (4): 389-404.

-Professor Stella M. Nkomo
University of Pretoria (South Africa)

Yes, a role play where the words/sentences of one person are interpreted (critiqued gently) in terms of differences (e.g. a Eurocentric view/ an American view/ a Black view/an Asian view).

-Professor Edwina Pio
Auckland University of Technology (New Zealand)

Yes, most certainly we discuss fluidity. I like the case on identity and diversity written by my PhD candidate Carolin Ossenkop (under review), including her ideas for exercises in stepping aside, creating space for alterity.

- Associate Professor Claartje Vinkenburg
VU University Amsterdam (Netherlands)

A simple but effective class exercise is to ask students to create small groups and find one characteristic on which each individual is different from the others and one that they have in common with the others, then ask them to move to another group, then another and repeat the exercise, recording the information. Then have a discussion about the characteristics they identified as unique or common at each context, the centrality of these characteristics to their sense of authentic self and how these may change over time or in different contexts.

- Professor Michalle Mor Barak
University of Southern California (USA)

Yes, people are talking about fluidity (changes in identity—I may have missed that part). I don't know any role plays or exercises but would be curious about others' suggestions.

-Professor Myrtle P. Bell
The University of Texas at Arlington (USA)

Do people teach about transgender people and the difference between sexual orientation and gender identity?

I try to help students understand the concept of 'genders' and that gender should not be thought of as a dichotomy (i.e. male or female). This is a hard one for students when I discuss it.

-Professor Stella M. Nkomo
University of Pretoria (South Africa)

Perhaps they do.

- Professor Edwina Pio
Auckland University of Technology (New Zealand)

No I do not, but I do use this example to show how biological sex is different from gender and how most differences / distinctions are not clear cut.

- Associate Professor Claartje Vinkenburg
VU University Amsterdam (Netherlands)

The best approach in my experience is to invite a speaker who can discuss his or her own experience as a transgender person. The risk in "teaching about" rather than listening to a speaker with a personal experience, is that the focus tends to be primarily on the difficulties and challenges, but when students have the opportunity to hear a person's real life experiences they can also learn about the triumphs and joys of living a more authentic life.

- Professor Michalle Mor Barak
University of Southern California (USA)

Yes, I do, to the best of my ability. I try to use research, what exists. I also use videos about real transgender people and examples that appear in the news.

-Professor Myrtle P. Bell
The University of Texas at Arlington (USA)

I realize that this question is very basic, but the problem keeps coming up in my Human Resources class, where I don't have as much time to devote specifically to diversity (although, obviously, diversity is an underlying theme). How do you manage to present research findings that support generalized differences between men and women without students forming the belief that "men are like 'A' and women are like 'B.' " The idea of generalized vs. individualized information is just difficult for me to emphasize properly. Any help would be appreciated so that I don't have classes full of people that walk out with stronger gender stereotypes than they had when they walked in!

It is important to stress the socialization aspect of gender identity and the mechanisms that reinforce them. People learn their gender and society reinforces these differences and identities. So the trick is for you to really help them understand where the differences emanate from and that they are socially constructed. I tend not to use articles that take an essentialist view of men and women. I would suggest the following articles as giving a better understanding of gender and where gender differences originate:
Ely, R. (2005): The Power in Demography: Women's Social Constructions of Gender Identity at Work, AMJ 38:589-634
Kantola, J. 2008 Why do all the women disappear? Gendering processes in a political science department. Gender, work and organization 15 (2): 202-25.

-Professor Stella M. Nkomo
University of Pretoria (South Africa)

I think one has to repeatedly emphasize that we all have aspects of both the typical male/female characteristics, but that these are on a continuum and different people engage with them and act out these characteristics based on their life circumstances as well as the specific events that they are engaged in. Repetition of this premise is very helpful.

- Professor Edwina Pio
Auckland University of Technology (New Zealand)

Amoroso et al (2010) give useful advice on how to move beyond reification. Also consistently using counter-stereotypical examples helps –their unexpected and "out of the box" nature, spurs students' thinking and reflection.

- Associate Professor Claartje Vinkenburg
VU University Amsterdam (Netherlands)

I say strongly that there are more within group differences than there are between group differences, and use simple examples so they can understand this. I reiterate and reiterate that many of the differences we see are gender based, as a result of gender role socialization, rather than biology. We are (men and women) as we are treated and learn to be, yet many men display behaviors more similar to what we'd expect for women and vice versa.

-Professor Myrtle P. Bell
The University of Texas at Arlington (USA)

My Human Resources students (regardless of ethnicity, it seems) still have a strong belief that affirmative action results in companies being "forced" to hire under-qualified or less qualified individuals from under-represented groups. Are there particular techniques to combat this strongly held belief?

I would suggest that you bring in a panel of HR managers responsible for hiring to dispel this myth. Also you may want to challenge them in terms of what evidence they are using to come to this conclusion.

-Professor Stella M. Nkomo
University of Pretoria (South Africa)

This goes to the heart of a level-playing field, and the starting point of different groups – affirmative action affirms the possibility of choice in reducing inequality and can mean not only recruitment but also career paths so that individuals have the necessary skills/competencies for the role.

- Professor Edwina Pio
Auckland University of Technology (New Zealand)

I have a lawyer from the national Equal Rights commission come and explain the legal context of what they call preferential treatment and which can only be applied in situations of a) equal qualifications and b) proven disadvantage for one group vs the other. It helps somewhat to show theories and simulations such as Martell et al. (2012) how small biases can explain underrepresentation, and to explain why members of disadvantaged groups are often over-qualified.

- Associate Professor Claartje Vinkenburg
VU University Amsterdam (Netherlands)

You just have to keep telling them that "quotas" are illegal in the U.S. You may want to acknowledge that lazy HR people or managers might do it, but it's not common. If it were common, why then is black (which is most often the group perceived to be hired) unemployment in the U.S. consistently 2x that of white unemployment (if so many under or unqualified blacks are getting hired). Make them think for themselves "is this logical?".

-Professor Myrtle P. Bell
The University of Texas at Arlington (USA)

Bonus Question: Identify and share your favourite resource (e.g., case, exercise, TedTalk, YouTube, etc.) that facilitates discourse on diversity without reinforcing stereotypes, and indicate why you like it.

My favorite is Identity Pie Chart. I have attached the instructions. I find that the pie charts do not come out the way that everyone in the room believes they will. The pie charts typically end showing that much of one's identity is based on deep level aspects. I would also refer you to a book by the Centre for Creative Leadership that has some good exercises and cases entitled:
Hannum, K., McFeeters, B. & Booysen, L. (eds.). (2010) Leadership Across Differences: Cases and Perspectives. Publisher: Pfeiffer.

-Professor Stella M. Nkomo
University of Pretoria (South Africa)

I like to talk about Mother Theresa, Nelson Mandela, Mahatma Gandhi and how their lives and actions created the changes they sought to bring about in the world.

- Professor Edwina Pio
Auckland University of Technology (New Zealand)

I like the Pendry et al article (2007) which provides evidence on the effectiveness of various exercises, also Joan Williams' notion of bias interrupters (HBR, 2014) which I would love to see developed further. And the case I just mentioned by Ossenkop.

- Associate Professor Claartje Vinkenburg
VU University Amsterdam (Netherlands)

I like the EEOC.gov website because it hits hard how much we still need to be doing this work, studying it, and educating people about their rights. The students get upset when they read some of the disgusting, sometimes criminal stuff that people have experienced. Students can easily share it with others outside class who think the government is meddling in organizations' business, that people sue for no reason, and other kinds of uninformed stuff.

-Professor Myrtle P. Bell
The University of Texas at Arlington (USA)