We know that our country is more diverse than ever. That diversity brings with it new perspectives and ideas that benefit everyone.

Research by organizational scientists, psychologists, sociologists, economists and demographers have shown that socially diverse groups (that is, those with a diversity of race, ethnicity, gender and sexual orientation) are more innovative than homogeneous groups. Simply interacting with individuals who are different forces group members to prepare better, to anticipate alternative viewpoints and to expect that reaching consensus will take effort. An article in Scientific American magazine cites a study conducted by several research professors who found that groups with racial diversity significantly outperformed groups without diversity in a problem- solving scenario. The piece notes, “Diversity jolts us into cognitive action in ways that homogeneity simply does not.”

One way to promote diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) in any organization is to conduct staff training on the topic. That was the thinking when the executive directors of five state school boards associations — New Jersey, Illinois, Missouri, Ohio, and Texas — decided to join forces to develop a multi-state full-day DEI training program. The Minnesota School Boards Association also participated in the training, which was held in May.

The goal of the day’s training was to help employees learn how to understand and deal more effectively with all people, become more sensitive and welcoming to those who are different, and more comfortable with their own diversity.

All NJSBA staff attended sessions at the virtual program. NJSBA’s own Vince DeLucia presented “Implicit Bias: What We Think We Don’t Think, We Do Think.”  Among the nearly two dozen other sessions: “Let’s Talk about Race: Real Relevant and Necessary”; “Your Role as a Partner in Disability Leadership”; “Why is Equity an Educational Imperative”; “Gen Z to Silent Gen: How to Improve Communication at Work”; and “Power, Perception and Prejudice.”

The feedback from our staff regarding the training was gratifying. Employees told us that the training was thought-provoking, pertinent, and made them more aware of cultural differences.

I was enormously pleased with the outcome of this project. It was a natural extension of some of the other work we have undertaken in the area of DEI, most notably, our NJSBA Equity Council, which meets regularly to examine how DEI impacts educational opportunities and social-emotional learning in schools. The Equity Council disseminates research, information and best practices through seminars it holds, through a column that appears monthly in School Board Notes, and through various initiatives that we support through the council.

NJSBA is committed to continuing this important work, both in our own organization, and in providing resources to our members.

DEI training helps build a workplace that is collaborative, supportive and respectful, and one that is committed to valuing the rights, differences and dignity of others. That is in alignment with the core values of our Association — and the values of our members.