What is your organization about?
Daniela: We’ve met each other at a hackathon, which was focusing on the future of education in Germany. Our team of 10 had five days to come up with an idea for a project. GE is our baby that came out of this hackathon! Our goal is to bring more visibility to diversity and inclusion in schools. We’ve conducted numerous interviews with people, asking them how did they feel in school or what they would have wished for to be different. And one answer that stood out was the lack of visibility and lack of role models and representation. With our platform, we aim to make it easy for teachers to get in touch with diverse role models and bring them into classes.
Florian: The initial idea was based on our philosophy that learning experiences can be very enriching when it comes to authentic encounters with people who have dealt with discrimination. I think all of us remember at least one situation at school, where we have met someone who was different than others. Those encounters can be very interesting and mind changing. We truly believe it’s important to actually bring diverse people into school so that students have the possibility to see face to face what empowerment and intercultural learning means.
You described diversity as a skill and competence rather than just something we should think about. Could you talk more about that?
D: I think the underlying skill is to acknowledge and appreciate diversity. It was really sweet when one of our co-founder’s daughter said that no one is different, but everyone is unique. It really struck us that there are small children that carry this message within them. That’s a skill that we want to preserve and make sure that children grow up keeping this appreciation for uniqueness.
F: In our ideal society, diversity and inclusion does not have to be a skill anymore. However, at the moment we have to emphasize that there are vulnerable groups who, unfortunately, do not belong to ‘normality’, whatever that means. And as long as this is the case, we need to build the empathy. That’s why we think diversity skill is a future skill and we want to work on that.
“It’s absolutely important that stereotypes are not established in a negative way at early stage”
You focus on raising awareness at an early stage in school. Would you consider having programs for adults?
F: I can speak from my experience as a teacher: When students start school, when they are six or seven years old, they normally don’t see any differences between male and female students. Then, as they are older, this perspective completely shifts. Their perception changes to this very typical thinking that girls like pink and ponies and boys like blue and cars. I don’t want to blame primary school teachers for that entirely, but I do think that’s a very crucial period where role ideas are formed. It’s absolutely important that stereotypes are not established in a negative way at that early stage. And that’s why our current and first focus is on working with primary schools.
The topic of diversity is gaining more attention. But are we doing enough? Apart from the education, what can be done in other areas?
F: Apart from the educational sector, it’s important that we have stronger mentor programs for vulnerable groups and, of course, female students and workers. When diversity is discussed you have to take girls in consideration. Because when it comes to job opportunities there are still huge differences, which we have to overcome. That’s why I think it’s also important at the end of the school path to support especially females to start working in a more male oriented area or domain. I think that parents are also a crucial stakeholder. You can have a very tolerant school culture, but if you don’t have family and friends who support diversity, nothing will change.
You said a lot about the importance of having a mentor. Do you have any role models?
F: I have a very intercultural background. My mom’s German, my father’s Muslim, my mom is Christian, I’m homosexual, I’m the member of Social Democrats in Germany while coming from a very conservative region in Lower Saxony…the list goes on! When I was studying in the south of Germany, I realized that I’m really diverse and that I don’t belong to the vast majority. And that’s why it’s hard for me to have one role model. After realizing that diversity is such an enriching part of my life, I wanted to become a role model for others.
D: I have a professional and spiritual role model and it’s actually a member of our team and he very much values equality of chances. He is always speaking up about important issues, for example concerning the LGBTQ+ rights, and I really admire him for that.
“When diversity is discussed you have to take girls in consideration”
The most common aspects that we think of when we talk about diversity are gender parity, LGBTQ+ rights or racial diversity. Is there a topic that needs more attention?
D: Intercultural competencies. Having lived in different countries and not speaking the native language has definitely shown me how difficult it can be and people perceive you differently. I would come across as not confident, not as knowledgeable.
F: For me it’s intersectionality. You can’t just tell someone: This is your race or ethnicity and this is your sexuality or this is your disability. I think having intersectionality in mind means being very sensitive with regard to discrimination and to celebrate diversity. We are all a puzzle of so many different attitudes and aspects.
Do you have any advice on what an ordinary person can do? How can we address those issues of diversity outside of organizations such as yours?
F: You can even make a difference with how you speak. German is a gendered language, so there is a debate about using feminine forms, instead of just masculine. Using language purposely like this can really change someone’s mind and perception. For example, when you ask someone: ‘Do you have a partner’?, I tend to start with the less ‘normal’ form; I would ask a woman if she has a girlfriend or boyfriend, instead other way round, in order to normalize the less common option, to make it ‘normal’ that a woman can have a female partner. Language and how we use it is key.
D: I make sure I speak up about those issues. In a very nice and gentle way, of course, but it’s important to explain or challenge someone’s views or thinking.
F: All the nationalists get so much room to actually express their opinions and their racist ideas. And that’s why it’s more important, also on the private level, to talk as much as possible about diversity in any way, so that the others don’t gain a majority in the discussion.
What are the main goals that you would like to see in X years, the future for the GE?
D: We want to be the Airbnb for diversity and inclusion. For now we want role models and experts being booked on our platform, go into schools and spread diversity.
F: Our platform can contribute to this fruitful debate and discussion about how diverse a society can be. And then one day hopefully we are not needed anymore.