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APU Business Careers & Learning

Diversity and Inclusion: Taking a ‘Mental Trip to the Moon’

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By Dr. Novadean Watson-Williams
Program Director, Information Technology Management and Computer Technology

and Dr. Karen G. Hand
Assistant Professor, Information Technology

When you hear the words “diversity and inclusion,” what comes to mind depends on your unique life experiences. Frank Borman, commander of Apollo 8, the first mission to fly around the moon, recalls that “When you’re finally up on the moon, looking back at the earth, all these differences and nationalistic traits are pretty well going to blend and you’re going to get a concept that maybe this is really one world and why the hell…can’t we learn to live together like decent people?”

Start a B.S. in information technology management at American Public University.

In a similar vein, Janina Kugel, Chief Diversity Officer at Siemens, suggests that diversity is beneficial in the workplace. She notes, “Diversity strengthens our innovative capacity, unleashes the potential of…employees and thereby directly contributes to…business success.” 

Adding a generational perspective, Fast Company writer Lydia Dishman shares that “Millennials view diversity as the blending of different backgrounds, experiences, and perspectives within a team, which is known as cognitive diversity. Millennials view cognitive diversity as a necessary element for innovation and are 71% more likely to focus on teamwork.” 

Diversity and Inclusion in the Workplace

What do the words “diversity and inclusion” mean to you? Diversity is important in the workplace because a diverse group of employees brings a broader range of ideas, strengths and viewpoints to the table. 

A workplace environment of tolerance and inclusion allows new employees to adapt to an organization with ease and promotes a keen appreciation for the individual talents and skills of each member of the organization. In an environment where each employee feels accepted and appreciated, individuals perform more skillfully and tackle challenges with confidence that their leadership will provide them with the support, respect, and autonomy they need.

Leadership and diversity expert Ann Morrison studied diversity practices in U.S.-based private and public organizations and shares some important results in her book, “The New Leaders: Guidelines on Leadership and Diversity in America.” Her results reinforce some key practices that promote diversity and inclusion, such as:

  • Top management’s personal involvement
  • Target recruitment
  • Internal advocacy groups
  • Emphasis on Equal Employment Opportunity statistics
  • Inclusion of diversity in performance evaluations
  • Inclusion of diversity in management succession
  • Diversity training groups
  • Network and support groups
  • Work and family policies that supports diversity

What Can You Do to Promote Diversity and Inclusion in Your Organization?

To promote diversity and inclusion in your own workplace, you can take the first step by simply starting with a smile, an open mind and a positive attitude towards individual differences. Also, seek opportunities to participate in diversity training when it is offered in your workplace. In addition, take the time to learn about and understand the cultural and personal backgrounds of your colleagues and seek to be a unifying presence in your organization.

In their book “Building Community: The Human Side of Work,” authors George Manning, Kent Curtis and Steve McMillen provide a list of techniques and strategies for both individuals and organizations.

Individuals

  1. Connect with and value your own culture. Use differences as a way of gaining a broader range of ideas and perspectives.
  2. Think about how it feels to be different by remembering times when you felt that you were in the minority.
  3. Try to understand each person as an individual.

Organizations

  1. Look for opportunities to develop employees from diverse backgrounds and prepare them for positions of responsibility.
  2. Show sensitivity to your physical work environment. Display artwork and literature representing a variety of cultures.
  3. Celebrate differences through team-building activities.

Promoting Diversity and Inclusion in the Classroom

Teachers are central to the cultivation of diversity and inclusion in the classroom through their roles as facilitator, mentor, and role model to students. In classroom discussions, teachers can create an environment of tolerance and inclusion by setting an example through their own words and attitudes. 

Always keep an open mind towards all students, and avoid making assumptions about a student’s gender, ethnicity, religion, or abilities based on a name or physical appearance. Also, be sure to ask students which pronouns they use, and address each student as he or she wishes to be addressed. Consider the many differences among your students as an opportunity to learn from each one and to grow in your own world view.

Teachers need to understand the impact that unconscious biases can have on their interactions with and assessment of students. In the white paper “Unconscious Bias in the Classroom: Evidence and Opportunities,” researchers from the Stanford Center for Education Policy Analysis (CEPA) and American University’s School of Public Affairs, in collaboration with Google, contend, “When the UBs [unconscious bias] of well-intentioned teachers influence their judgment towards particular students (e.g., by race, ethnicity, gender), it can influence their instructional practices, the expectations they convey, and their recommendations for relevant outcomes like course placement, special education, and discipline.”

Other studies have shown that unconscious bias towards certain students’ ethnicity, gender or other personal factors can influence the grades a teacher gives on otherwise identical assignments. When possible, instructors can eliminate unconscious bias by grading blind (i.e., grading assignments without seeing the name of the student attached to each submission). 

Unfortunately, some teachers even offer less assistance to certain students because of who those students are, not because of their potential. Teachers should guard against allowing unconscious biases to influence their behavior toward their students and instead strive to treat all students equally, providing encouragement and assistance to everyone.

Think About Your Biases and Look at the View from Above

So whenever you hear the words “diversity and inclusion,” think about the impact your attitudes and actions will have on individuals, an organization, or even students. Examine your biases and then take a “mental trip to the moon” to consider the long-range view of life and your behavior. Think about this beautiful world that is rich with opportunities for everyone to make an impact because of his or her unique differences.

About the Authors

Dr. Novadean Watson-Williams is currently the Program Director for the undergraduate programs in information technology management and computer technology at American Public University. She serves an aggressively growing department and has over 20 years of experience in the information technology field. Dr. Watson-Williams holds an A.A. in Computer Studies and a B.S. in Information Systems Management from the University of Maryland University College, a B.S. in Social Science Education from the University of South Florida, an M.A. in General Counseling from Louisiana Tech University, and a D.B.A. in Information Systems from Argosy University. 

Previously, Dr. Watson-Williams published several blog articles on topics such as “Countering Cybersecurity Attacks through Accountability,” “Creating a Personal Brand through Using the Internet,” “Leadership Using Effective Nonverbal Communication” and “Inspiring Self-Improvement through Technology Education, Collective Intelligence and Soft Skills.” She has also co-published several other articles, including “RFID with Real Implications,” “Artificial Intelligence in Information Security” and the “Evolution of Information Security.”

Dr. Karen G. Hand is an assistant professorof information technology in the school of Science, Technology, Engineering and Math at American Public University. Dr. Hand holds an A.A.S. in Electronic Systems Technology from the Community College of the Air Force; an A.A. in Computer Studies and B.S. in Computer and Information Sciences from the University of Maryland; an M.S. in Computer Science, M.S. in Open and Distance Learning, and a Ph.D. in Instructional Systems and Learning Technologies from Florida State University. 

Her previous work experience includes positions in the military, government, academia, and industry, in areas such as technical support, computer programming, database management, and software engineering. Previously, Dr. Hand has published blog articles on topics such as “Is a Career in Robotics Right for You?” and “Steps Remote Employees Can Take to Prevent Burnout.” Her dissertation, “Descriptive Post Titles as Advance Organizer: Effects on Critical Thinking and Cognitive Load in Asynchronous Threaded Discussions” was published by ProQuest.

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