This month – in which we celebrate International Women’s Day, Sydney’s Mardi Gras and Harmony Week – I’d like us to take a moment to think about diversity and inclusion in Scouting.
I was shocked to hear of the devastating tragedy in Christchurch, New Zealand last Friday. Freedom to practice our religious beliefs is a basic right in a modern society. We feel the pain of those who have suffered. Our belief in the richness of a diverse community, and our compassion for others, cannot be shaken by that experience.
On behalf of Scouts NSW, I have expressed our heartfelt sorrow to our New Zealand scouting friends. I have also expressed our deep sorrow to the Islamic community through our Muslim Scout Groups at 1st Liverpool and 5th Bankstown.
From the very beginning, the Scout Movement has been addressing diversity issues, whether they’re related to gender, social class, race, faith or nationality.
Did you know that 1 in every 4 people in Australia was born overseas, 1 in every 50 identifies as LGBTQIA+ and 1 in 5 people has a disability?
Australia has one of the most diverse populations in the world; NSW one of the most diverse communities in Australia.
This rich, cultural diversity is one of our greatest strengths. It is central to our identity as Australians and it is a fundamental value we hold at Scouts NSW. We want everyone to feel welcome and to be who they want to be in Scouting.
Encouraging diversity has brought us huge benefits in terms of ideas, perspectives and experiences, all of which have directly contributed to the increase in participation in Scouting in our State.
Our new Youth Program, which we began rolling out last year, has been designed to be fully inclusive. It gives our young people the right to have their voices heard and help guide who we are and what we do at Scouts NSW. Listening to other peoples’ views helps us be respectful and makes it easier for us to benefit from the genuine differences that exist between us.
There is a great saying: “You can’t be what you can’t see.” It implies that you need to see diversity to appreciate its benefits. Seeing diverse individuals in Scouting reinforces our climate of acceptance and our wish to reflect our community.
It’s unrealistic to expect that we are all the same and that some people should bring only part of themselves to Scouts. In a modern and progressive organisation, young people and adults must feel comfortable bringing their whole selves to Scouting. Everyone should feel safe and supported. No-one should feel obliged to justify someone else’s stereotypes or discomfort.
In part, this is why I was so determined last year to establish the “Family Support Program”. As Chief Commissioner, and reflecting my own past, I do not want any child or youth member to miss out on Scouting, or to be unable to fully participate in its activities, because their parents could not afford our fees. Enabling every child or young person to be part of Scouting regardless of their financial background is another key element to becoming a genuinely inclusive organisation.
What are the benefits of diversity?
Firstly, the research on the value of diversity is compelling. Studies prove that groups drawn from a diverse pool of people are better at solving difficult problems because they are much better at collaborating. Cultural diversity has been associated with improved cognitive skills, intellectual self-confidence and robust problem-solving ability. Organisations with higher levels of diverse workforces have shown that:
- 39 per cent have higher customer satisfaction
- 48 per cent have higher operating margins
- They all have much higher and more positive people engagement and retention.
Secondly, our young people tell us they are open to perspectives that are different from their own.
The majority of children have friends of a different gender at school and socialise with friends of a different race, faith or ethnicity to themselves.
They don’t think of another child as being from a different background; they think of them as a new person to be friends with.
However, they tell us there’s a frustrating generational gulf when it comes to tolerance and acceptance of differences.
They say, “Our generation is a lot more open to it, but the problem is our generation isn’t in power.”
That’s why it’s so inspiring to see the majority of our Scout Groups providing membership to girls and boys, young people with special needs, different identities and faiths, and to those who are disadvantaged, including financially.
As an adult leader in Scouting, why would you not want to run a Group that is fully inclusive?
So, what more can we do?
We need to make sure our Scouting environments are culturally, physically and emotionally safe.
It’s our role as adult leaders to hold ourselves accountable for welcoming diversity and being inclusive, ensuring our colleagues in Scouting feel respected and valued, especially for the differences they bring to our Scouting community.
Encourage your older youth members to watch out for any behaviour that makes the environment culturally unsafe, like bullying on the basis of someone’s beliefs or sexuality.
Check the old photos or murals on the walls of your Scout Hall to make sure they’re still appropriate and tolerant of all backgrounds and cultures.
There is such a wide range of activities, events and opportunities on offer across our State, which your youth members may be keen to join. Find out about the Agoonorees for special needs children, how we represent Scouts Australia in the Sydney Mardi Gras, our involvement in the various Children’s Festivals around New South Wales, JOTA/JOTI and Lones Scouts for our young people who are geographically challenged. We run all these initiatives on top of our already packed agenda of Scouting events and experiences across NSW.
Ask the young people in your Group if they think there’s more you can do to better understand different perspectives; then include them in your programming.
Scouts Australia is developing a National Diversity and Inclusion policy and Scouts NSW is taking an active part in this focus. We will also see diversity and inclusion better represented in our Organisation and Information Handbook (O&I) which is currently undergoing a refresh.
And finally, I’ll give the last word to our Founder, Lord Baden-Powell, “If you make listening and observation your occupation, you will gain much more than you can by talk.”
Yours in Scouting.
Neville Tomkins OAM JP
Scouts Australia (NSW Branch)