No matter where you sit in the creative process, an awareness of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) and its application can make a difference in the experience of the end-user of your products. In education publishing, this is primarily the student and secondarily the teacher. Ask yourself: how far do the materials I work on represent people from a range of different backgrounds, abilities and identities?
Recently, Newgen were given two Intro to DEI sessions by Lottie Galpin, a consultant and trainer who specialises in diversity and inclusion in ELT and educational materials. These sessions were really useful, and while I can’t share what we covered in the workshops, here are my key takeaways.
DEI isn’t difficult. It isn’t easy, either
In a world becoming ever more aware of social issues, you don’t have to consider yourself particularly ‘woke’ to have a little voice in your head that says ‘this feels wrong’ when you come across content that excludes or stereotypes marginalised groups. Even a little DEI training can open one’s eyes to the many ways a text can succeed or fail at being diverse and inclusive.
A DEI approach considers what’s not on the page
Visibility and representation are essential for the realization of students’ potentials. How many great women, people of colour, members of the LGBTQ+ community or people with disabilities did you learn about at school? A text about great figures of history has little value if it doesn’t include people of varying sexes, genders, skin colours, levels of ability, etc. Referencing data that only represents one section of society, or only telling one side of a story, does a disservice to the reader, not only because they are less likely to be represented themselves, but it also provides a very narrow view of the world.
The market needs DEI
The longer-term future of DEI is more challenging. We cannot expect all markets to agree on all points, and appearing to push any sort of agenda won’t yield progress. A collaborative approach is the best way to affect incremental changes in sensitive markets. In publishing, just as in any other industry, the markets have huge power over what is produced. Some characteristics that are protected in the UK (such as LGBTQ+ identities) are illegal or stigmatised in certain countries. In order to develop market-appropriate materials, we can work together with the markets to come up with acceptable guidelines to ensure at least some level of inclusion.
It’s about time
The publishing world is finally waking up to the importance of inclusive content and it couldn’t have come soon enough. For a long time it’s been understood that sexist language and racist stereotyping are unacceptable. But we are finally at a point where the smaller and arguably equally fundamental ideas are being implemented. For example, using ‘parent’ rather than ‘mother and father’ and use of the singular ‘they’ takes nothing away from heterosexual families or cis-gendered people, but it does open up the learning space for people with marginalised identities to see themselves in educational materials.
It’s not about virtue signalling
As authors, editors, and everything in between, it is our job to remember why we’re working so hard at applying the principles of DEI to our content. It isn’t about selling more books or gaining a higher market share. We’re here for the end-user – for the students and readers, young and old, who see themselves in our content, both as they are and how they could be.
DEI should be baked in
Publishers are now looking to revise their backlists to bring their content into the 21st century. This often means completely rewriting texts to be more inclusive and represent a more diverse cast of characters, a process that can be expensive and extremely time-consuming.
Better, then to start as you mean to go on, and apply a DEI approach to a project from the very first stages, throughout and into the final publication. Lottie provided us with a checklist of questions to ask during project kick-off meetings. It is a great way to check DEI requirements. Not all publishers have DEI guidelines, but we in the Education and ELT departments at Newgen UK are now confident that we can work together within project teams to set these up according to market requirements.
The wider world of publishing is actively pursuing the aims of diversity, equity and inclusion, and nowhere is this more important than in educational materials. Anyone publishing for children has a responsibility to inspire, encourage and represent the next generation. Whatever your role in publishing, you can contribute to this continual improvement by asking the right questions and considering points of view outside of your own.
Sam Richter began her career teaching English as a foreign language to students of all ages, before working in-house at three of the big five educational publishing houses in the UK. She was a freelance editor and project manager for seven years, and now works for Newgen Publishing UK, a packager that supports publishers to produce high-quality educational and ELT content.