Hello community of evaluators. I’m Salima Bhimani, Founder and Director of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion at Relational. Relational offers research and evaluation and consulting and education services to organizations, companies and institutions. My focus as an evaluator and researcher over the last two decades have been on addressing bias, discrimination and barriers faced by marginalized people in communities and institutions. Here I share the centrality of getting underneath the language of diversity so that evaluations can reveal how social inequities are designed into institutions and operate within them.
Case for consideration:
Recently I conducted an evaluation for a higher education institution. They wanted to understand how to make their curriculum and pedagogies more accessible to the linguistic, gender, racial, ethnic and economic diverse constituencies they serve in more than 10 countries. These constituencies all fall under the same religious community. The institution already had a conceptualization of accessibility. Their understanding foregrounded that everyone should be able to obtain their resources and relate to them. It was clear to me that their approach to accessibility was intimately connected to how they thought about what diversity means. In this circumstance, their benign conception of diversity was obscuring the connection between the social subjectivities of their constituencies and their relative power, voice and positioning in relation to their institution and the broader community. That is, there was no analysis of the historical and contemporary dynamics of unequal relations between their constituencies that were implicitly and explicitly defining the curricular content and pedagogical approaches. What was required is an awareness of how their approaches and content were already shaped for those unquestionably thought to be the norm.
Hot Tip: Break open taken for granted notions of diversity
- A benign concept of diversity flattens difference. It undermines and diminishes histories and cultural forces that design inequities within institutions and which relationally shape individual and group identities, positions, interests and needs
- A more critical conception of diversity understands how people and their experiences are socially and politically constituted in relation to each other, even within a community with a shared identity
- Such analysis is foundational to a more nuanced conceptualization of what the curriculum and pedagogies need to be and for whom
- Accessibility then is directly entangled with social realities and the biases, barriers, and inequities experienced differently within social minority groups
- Accessibility must be framed with a clear view of how social markers of difference intersect to inform experiences of access
As I have written before diversity is often used as a ‘safer’ concept within institutions. Yet, those researchers that have examined the limits of diversity as an institutional marker, make an incredibly strong case for why we should understand the function of its uses. We need be cautious and as evaluators ask whether the use of diversity in fact undermines goals towards equity and social justice.
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