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Advancing Equity in the Early Childhood Workforce

Natasha Byars, Raquel Munarriz Diaz, and Sandipan Paul

Abstract

This article explores how the early childhood field can support capacity building around equity in the current workforce and build a more diverse, representative workforce at all levels. The authors explore hiring practices, strategies for equipping a diverse workforce, and the actions necessary to realize equity and inclusion through organizational change using interviews with early childhood organizations across the US and data from a project in Tanzania. Affinity groups and Communities of Practice are highlighted as promising practices to promote equity and excellence within organizations and with external partners. The authors provide a diversity-informed framework to critically examine intentional strategies to ensure the field represents the communities being served and continues in the hard yet necessary work of equity in early childhood.

A well-prepared workforce is essential to delivering high-quality early childhood services. Committed, competent workers who engage young children through sensitive, positive, and stimulating interactions make a fundamental difference in children’s learning, mental health, and development. It is therefore crucial that early childhood workers—volunteers and professionals—are valued and supported within the early childhood field.

To further strengthen the workforce, early childhood organizations and partners are working internally and externally to understand equity and disrupt inequitable practices. For this article, we use the National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC) definition of equity as “the state that would be achieved if individuals fared the same way in society regardless of race, gender, class, language, disability, or any other social or cultural characteristic” (n.d.). In addition, we embrace the Center for Social Inclusion’s framework of racial equity as not only an ideal outcome, but also as the hard work necessary to achieve an equitable world: “As a process, we apply racial equity when those most impacted by structural racial inequity are meaningfully involved in the creation and implementation of the institutional policies and practices that impact their lives” (Center for Social Inclusion, n.d.).

Organizations, networks, and associations are boldly proclaiming their positions on equity, challenging the early childhood field and many others to do better. In 2012, the publication of the Diversity-Informed Tenets gave the infant and early childhood mental health (IECMH) field consistent language, awareness, and a call to deeper action toward diversity, equity, and inclusion (St. John, Thomas, & Noroña, 2012). Rightly so, IECMH was defined as social justice work. In 2019, NAEYC took a significant step by publishing their Advancing Equity in Early Childhood Education Position Statement and centered their 2019 Annual Conference on Equity in Early Childhood Education. A key message of their written statement is that all children and early childhood educators have the right to equitable learning opportunities that acknowledge and address historic injustices and marginalization (NAEYC, 2019). Similar to the Tenets Working Group and NAEYC, other organizations (e.g., University of Florida’s Lastinger Center and School Reform Initiative) have written similar position statements on the issue of racial equity and why it needs to be addressed at a structural level.

These statements serve as anchors for early childhood organizations and challenge the field to go beyond their words to the deep, messy, nonlinear, and vital work of advancing equity. This article will explore how all can lead from where they are to support capacity building of the current workforce around understanding and attending to issues of equity and bias. Using the voice of stakeholders in the field and a case example, we unpack the necessary steps to build a more diverse, representative, and inclusive workforce at all levels. Ultimately, we encourage readers to reflect on their own roles as leaders and the opportunities to advance equity in their own context. In doing so, the early childhood field can promote the well-being of all babies and toddlers.

Photo: Rawpixel.com/shutterstock

Committed, competent professionals who can create an engaging learning environment through sensitive, positive, and stimulating interactions with young children make a fundamental difference in children’s learning and development.

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