As a British-Indian woman embarking on an international school posting, I anticipated the usual challenges associated with such a transition: adapting to a new curriculum, understanding diverse student needs, and integrating into a foreign community. However, I was under prepared for the intense focus and attention given to Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Justice (DEIJ) initiatives within the international school setting. This experience has prompted me to reflect on my own journey with DEIJ and question whether my background had set a lower bar for understanding these critical issues.
Coming from the UK, where conversations around diversity and inclusion are not prominent by any means, I felt out of my depth when I first arrived and in my first month at a leadership retreat, I had to ask the Head ‘what is the difference between equality and equity?’ (whilst I quickly googled what the acronyms DEIJ stood for). My Head of School kindly proceeded to show me this powerful image and I was blown away by something so simple and yet so powerful:
Coming from the UK, where conversations around diversity and inclusion are limited and not prominent, I felt a huge lack of confidence in my awareness and sensitivity towards DEIJ matters. The UK’s rich multicultural tapestry has long been a source of both pride and contention, with issues of race, ethnicity, and social justice regularly occupying public discourse. And it is probably due to this that my transition to an international school revealed a stark contrast in the approach to DEIJ work.
At my current school, DEIJ is not merely a topic of conversation; it is an active and vibrant component of the school’s ethos. The commitment to creating an inclusive environment that champions equity and justice is palpable in everyday school life. From professional development workshops to student-led initiatives, the dedication to these principles is both inspiring and, admittedly, overwhelming. For me. I need to add this as, even though I feel we immerse ourselves in DEIJ work, there are people around me who say we still have a long way to go.
The intensity of this focus led me to ponder: Was the bar so low for me coming from the UK? Had my previous experiences inadequately prepared me for the depth and breadth of DEIJ work required in an international context?
It is essential to acknowledge that while the UK has made strides in addressing systemic inequalities, there remains a significant gap between rhetoric and reality. Initiatives often lack consistency and can be reactive rather than proactive. In contrast, the international school community appears to be embedding DEIJ into the very fabric of its culture, striving not only for representation but for genuine empowerment and systemic change. Admittedly different international schools are at different stages of the DEIJ journey, but at least they’re on it.
This realisation has been humbling. It has forced me to confront my own assumptions and prejudices whilst recognising that there is always more to learn when it comes to advocating for equity and justice. The bar was not only extremely low; it was different. In the UK, much of the work seems to be superficial and glanced over, like a tick of a box, but the international school environment has expanded my perspective in ways I could not have anticipated.
The emphasis on DEIJ work at my international school is not without its challenges. The diversity within the school community—encompassing various nationalities, languages, religions, and cultural backgrounds—creates a complex landscape in which to navigate these issues. The potential for missteps is high, and the pressure to get it right can be daunting. The leadership team has had unconscious bias training, particularly as we deal with a lot of recruitment, we have had some well-known consultants from the LGBTQ+ and DEIJ sectors and all this has been mind opening for me. It never crossed my mind to reflect on how other people suffered because of their colour, gender or sexual preference as I was too consumed by what I had had to endure throughout my life with the racial abuse and bottles thrown at me from the age of 3 on the streets of Northern England to working in the city of London and dealing with what I now know as micro-aggressions on a daily basis.
While I initially felt overwhelmed by the amount of attention given to DEIJ work at my international school, this experience has been enlightening. It has also taken me on a deep journey of self reflection and I’m not going to lie – it has been extremely emotional. The best way to describe it is being in a room full of mirrors – where I have been unable to ignore, hide and forget who I am but rather address it and acknowledge it in a profound way. I have let it empower me and fill me with a sense of purpose.