Alison Kriel, Founder, Beyond educationdescribes the importance of understanding equality in light of gender bias in society
A child’s journey through the world of limiting beliefs and gendered attitudes begins at gender reveal parties or the putting on of a blue or pink bonnet on a newborn’s head. It’s the start of a lifetime of subliminal messages that boys “do” and girls “look pretty.” We are light years away from eliminating gender bias in society.
Gender bias in society
The moment baby walks into a toy store, he knows if he’s going to the blue corner filled with wonderful toys for boys to develop their skills as actors and builders, or to the pink corner for girls develop their role as the perfect housewife and babysitter. . By the time our students start kindergarten at the age of three, the boys already have the foundations of creative thinking developed to design and build houses wearing clothes that allow them to go out into the world to fight the dragons and demons. The girls know they have skills as nannies and housekeepers in houses designed and built by the boys they follow in their pretty clothes and shoes that forbid playing as equals. The boys arrive ready to take risks, the girls with a mindset of perfectionism.
One of the biggest challenges for early years staff is challenging the gendered thinking that has formed in the minds of their young students throughout their lives, acquired through media, publicity , shop fittings and adult models. School staff should help them unlearn that girls are born to have a limited mindset and that boys are encouraged to have an unlimited mindset.
An understanding of gender equality
If we are to ensure that every child has the opportunity to reach their full potential, it is essential to focus on redirecting the subliminal messages received by every child in order to develop an understanding of gender equality. This is an essential aspect of the early childhood foundation stage (EYFS) study programme. Children need to understand what gender bias is and learn to see that gender inequality is a problem in our society. This is done through a carefully considered curriculum, gender-neutral play activities, gender-neutral toys, books that challenge stereotypes, positive role models (“we can’t be what we can’t not see”) and adults’ use of language and expectations to debunk the myth that gender bias against boys is okay.
Bias awareness is just the beginning. As we grow, our students need to understand their responsibility to themselves to set aside limiting factors and recognize that they have a role to play in shaping the perception of bias in the world around us. Students can challenge bias and be the change they want to see in the world by having high aspirations and being the best role model they can be. They must learn to help restore the balance and be part of the solution.
It is well documented and proven that diverse teams perform better. The world’s most successful companies actively embrace diversity. Workplace diversity studies have found that for every 1% increase in gender diversity, company revenue increases by 3% and increasing ethnic diversity increases revenue by 15% . The better the representation of rank diversity, the greater the success, the greater the profit. A workforce that knows there are opportunities for development makes a strong team because it recognizes its potential. We also know that the countries most open to equity, diversity and inclusion are also the wealthiest and happiest countries with the lowest crime rates.
Schools that are ambitious for the future success of their students and want them to take on leadership positions in globally successful companies, who want their students to contribute to a rich, happy and peaceful country will actively support their students’ understanding of inclusion, equity, diversity and belonging. They will want their students to be JEDI warriors (Justice, Equity, Diversity, Inclusion) and will do so by making these values the cornerstones of their hidden and measured curriculum. Successful delivery will be evidenced by low exclusion rates, a reduced achievement gap between all groups, and resources that provide every student with equitable access to learning. Students will demonstrate their understanding of the immorality of exclusion, marginalization, disparity and unequal access through their learning and social behaviors. This is at the heart of all happy schools where every student has increased self-esteem because they feel accepted, valued, and know they are succeeding.
A school that places diversity, equity and inclusion at the heart of what it does will take conscious steps to ensure that these values permeate everything it does. By actively recruiting a diverse workforce who understand their role in actively eliminating discrimination and violence; a program that allows each child to feel good and develops their understanding of the world and their role in eliminating prejudice; gender neutral uniform policies; carefully considered playing times and learning environments. Deliberate leaders who take conscious action to eliminate inequality and marginalization to create a culture of belonging and achievement create communities of students who will go out into the world with great aspirations. These leaders know that their work goes far beyond checkbox data, the digital divide and technology. They know it’s about being human-centered.
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