Celebrate Spring with Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion
Spring has long been a time for reflection, renewal, growth, new beginnings and hope. The natural world begins to blossom into life, and we find ourselves drawn to its radiance, warmth and splendor. We shed the winter rituals and routines brought on by cold days and long nights and embrace the longer days, warmer temperatures and a renewal of self. As we clean our houses, set new goals for healthy living (hello, swimsuit season!), and plan our summer outings, Spring also allows us to renew our relationships with one another and find ways to practice Diversity, Equity and Inclusion in daily practice.
Spring immediately calls to mind DEI efforts with March's celebration- Women's History Month. Beginning March 1st through 31st, we remember, celebrate and recognize the contributions of women to events in history and contemporary society. Celebrate this month by reading up on the Women's Rights Movement, or take a moment to see the world through someone else's eyes with an autobiography such as The Story of My Life by Hellen Keller. During Women's History Month, we celebrate how far women's rights have progressed thanks to powerful, brave women such as Susan B. Anthony, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Mary Church Terrell, Frances Ellen Watkins Harper, Harriet Tubman, Michelle Obama, Malala Yousafzai, and Kimberle Crenshaw. However, we also must pause and take a moment to recognize how far we have yet to go. For example, the National Center for Science and Engineering Statics (2023) reports that among STEM careers, women still only account for 35% of the workforce. Perhaps this lack of representation is why women still feel like outsiders in the professional world (Stop Telling Women They Have Imposter Syndrome).
Next, as we transition into April and begin spending more time outside, we can't help but be reminded of the environment and what the future holds for our planet. It is no wonder then that April is nationally recognized as Earth Month. There has never been a better time to start composting, review those recycling guidelines or maybe even look into some Zero Waste strategies to use around the house. The SMART committee at National Jewish Health is also a fantastic resource and has so many opportunities to expand your Green practices during their Earth Week Celebration starting on April 17th. It may be unexpected to see so much about Earth Month in a DEI newsletter; however, the environment and equity work are more closely intertwined than they might appear at first inspection. Environmental Racism (also known as ecological apartheid) is another type of systemic racism perpetuating social and racial inequities through the disproportionate impact of environmental hazards on marginalized communities- specifically communities of color. The term, "Green Jobs" in particular, has become a buzzword in both environmental and DEI communities alike, because these jobs not only seek to use or develop renewable forms of energy (i.e., wind, hydropower, geothermal, landfill gas and municipal solid waste), but to also stress the importance of diverse and inclusive hiring practices. Green Jobs also work to address social determinants of health for diverse populations by providing livable wages/benefits, building skills and educating workers so they can be competitive and upwardly mobile in the workforce, and finally, by providing those opportunities for advancement into leadership roles. Check out more about the Green Jobs here!
Finally, the month of May makes good on the promises of April by fully transitioning into warm weather and bidding adieu to spring snowstorms (fingers crossed). The month of May is also known as AAPI heritage month and Jewish American heritage month, in addition to Mental Health Awareness Month. Mental Health diversity is one form of diversity that isn't traditionally measured when we look at how diverse the workforce is. Yet, neurodivergent diversity is an essential part of DEI work. Although great strides have been made in diversifying the STEM field, the dominant discourses that speak to who gets to lead and have a voice in STEM work often forget about this marginalized group of individuals. The NSF (2023) found in terms of STEM workforce representation, there was 0% growth for those with disabilities from 2011 to 2021- disabled individuals (including neurodivergent individuals) still only make up 3% of the STEM workforce (National Center for Science and Engineering Statistics (NCSES, 2023).
One of the reasons for this is that neurodivergent differences can be difficult to navigate in the professional world at an interpersonal level. What is a symptom of the neurodivergent mind can come across to others as an inability to work well with others, absent-mindedness, disorganization, or even hostility. These individuals are typically weeded out early in the interview and hiring processes because, due to this disability, they can be seen as lacking basic the interpersonal skills that have become some important in a collaborative workforce. Neurodivergence is both invisible and visible simultaneously because it can appear as a personality flaw- such as laziness or rudeness. However, instead of responding with empathy when we encounter neurodivergent individuals, our first reaction is to dislike and distance ourselves from them. We can see the result of the disability (or the "difference"); however, we do not recognize the disability for what it is and great it with empathy and compassion. Instead, we label these poor social interactions as a personality flaw and place the onus on the neurodivergent individual- blaming them for not learning how to interact in the "correct way" or operating within basic social tenets set forth by the hegemony. Mental Health Awareness Month focuses on recognizing these neurodivergent differences and urges us to challenge these and other implicit biases- helping reduce the stigma and prejudices so many experiences.
~Tessa O'Connell M. Ed/Ed.S (Director of DEI and Leadership Development)
Of course, springtime has many other days and occasions to celebrate, so please visit our complete DEI Celebrations Calendar to see a full list and information on springtime celebrations.