Amanda Paul at the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education at the University of Toronto reviewed Opening Doors to Diversity in Leadership, in the journal Leadership. In the post below she discusses what drew her to the work, which looks at how systemic racism can be overcome by examining the cases of four specific marginalized communities: Indigenous populations, women, persons with disabilities, and racialized minorities.
What motivated you to pursue this book review?
I am a career educator. As a child, my mom would tease me as I was sitting teaching my dolls and toys and she would say that I was meant to be a teacher. Going through a period of self-discovery my initial career trajectory did not take me into the classroom. Instead, I felt a real calling towards the fast-moving world of business leadership. It was only as a result of the 2008 recession at a critical moment in my career that I had to step back and reevaluate my career priorities. I ended up taking a position teaching English as a second language at an international school. From there I was able to find a real passion for both teaching and supporting the goals, skills, and abilities of diverse students.
Were there any specific external events—political, social, or economic—that influenced your decision to pursue this particular book review?
What initially drew me to Dr. Bobby Siu’s work on Opening Doors on Diversity in Leadership was working with the grade 12 students that I had the privilege of teaching. Each of my students brought their own unique perspectives and skills to the classroom. Each and every student had the motivation and drive to succeed. What was so unfortunate was that I knew that the challenges that faced these students on the other side of graduation were not going to be equal. That students who worked so hard to achieve their educational goals just weren’t enough to ensure equity within hiring and opportunities they would face outside of the classroom.
What has been the most challenging aspect of writing this book review? Were there any surprising findings?
The work that I contributed was a book review. There were challenges associated with this however not to the degree I am sure that the book’s author (Siu) faced while writing his manuscript. One of the most significant challenges was determining how to position the arguments of the book in a way that showed respect, dignity, and integrity for all four of the different populations that were profiled within the book.
In what ways is your book review innovative, and how do you think it will impact the field?
One of the concepts that stood out was the idea of benevolent prejudice. This happens in a lot of more technical fields where candidates with advanced knowledge are more challenging to recruit. In a lot of cases, those who are from a marginalized background find a lot of success within these roles. The problem becomes when they seek to expand outside of this niche into leadership positions. Oftentimes the factor that most limits success is the gratitude and praise of how indispensable they are and how “the department would fall apart without them”.
This concept got me thinking about other forms of well-meaning or less intentional prejudice and how it impacts students in the public education system. I wonder how many times a well-meaning teacher uses differentiation or guided groups to support student success however limits a student unintentionally through unaware bias or unconscious prejudice designed as scaffolded supports. This is something that I would like to continue to explore further as I take on my own research projects.
What did not make it into your published manuscript that you would like to share with us?
One aspect that was mentioned within the book however I tried to position differently was the socialist solutions to solve a capitalist problem. I did spend some time going back and forth thinking about how to provide meaningful critique and solutions to supporting diversity in leadership that did not come from ineffective government edicts. Change within an organization needs to be comprehensive and resonate at all levels from the frontlines right through to the C-suite. Attitudes, mindsets, and perceptions must be challenged in order to even start to have conversations that lead to meaningful change. In the book review, I did try to minimize the direct political critique in favor of an extended conversation about overcoming bias.
Overall, how do you see this book review shaping leadership in general?
The most important factor in all education is the ability to converse and learn from one another. I think the book provided excellent insights and I am optimistic that my review will inspire others to read Dr. Siu’s work. I believe strongly that equity in private sector employment is possible. As a teacher, I need to live in a world where I have hope that my students who work hard and dream big can achieve their goals. I would like to see this book review and ultimately the book Opening Doors to Diversity in Leadership create a real culture of change. I want to see students be proud of their heritage, their names, and their unique schema because they know that by seeing the world just a little bit differently than everyone else they have the power to change it.