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Anti-Discrimination Umbrella

By Leo Thompson
Anti-Discrimination Umbrella

WHO is the model for?

Anyone who can access it. It is designed to be applicable to all schools and universities but also to all organizations, as these issues are found in every society to varying degrees. There are major conversations going on in our workplaces and on social media about all categories highlighted above in the umbrella and I wanted to find a way to connect them. Though the umbrella begins with the critical issue of race, all categories are important, with some potentially more significant than others, whether that be gender, age, language, or neurodiversity. The significance of these issues largely depends on where you are living and working. This is a big contextual conversation.

I am hopeful people can use the model as a discussion and reflection tool and apply and adapt it to their context. I hope that it can be translated into other languages to increase access and am open to collaboration.  

WHY I designed the model?

After a lot of reading and discussion, I felt there was a need to magnify an important principle as we are presently wandering through an increasingly complex maze of language and frameworks. To illustrate, I-DEA, DEIJ, JEDI, DI, DIB, DEIB, and many other emerging, well-intentioned, jargon filled acronyms, all point to one maxim (rule of conduct):

Treat people who may be different to you in a way that you personally would like to be treated.

This maxim basically translates to treating ‘all’ people fairly, appreciating their identity, giving them a voice, helping them to belong. To do so we must live and practice the universal values of empathy, respect, and responsibility.

Of course, this is nothing new. It is an ancient principle, albeit golden rule, strongly present in all world religions and quite a number of philosophies (e.g. Kant’s Categorical Imperative), underpinning the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the UNCRC. Perhaps the principle above should be displayed prominently in every classroom and staff room to remind us of how to act. We know that many schools do display accessible behaviour protocols and codes of conduct and leverage them to create positive, inclusive, respectful learning communities.

WHAT is the most important message in the model?

There are a number of helpful behaviours it could encourage, but I eventually settled on:

  • Taking action to protect others
  • Listening to those who feel marginalised or treated unfairly, giving them a voice
  • Challenging unfairness whenever you see it
  • Making ethical decisions whenever you hold power or influence

The umbrella model claims that:

  • We can protect others through our actions and decisions
  • There are many forms of discrimination
  • Some categories of discrimination are closely related to others
  • We should do our best to address all forms as good human beings and employers
  • Our organizations, may exhibit excellent practice in some areas, but have room for improvement in others

HOW is the model flawed?

“All models are flawed but some are helpful!”  Statistician, George Box.

  • The umbrella does not capture the intersectionality of discrimination, and how these issues can be magnified when they are in combination. This issue depends upon where you live and your perceived identity. For instance, in some societies you are even more disadvantaged if you are from an ethnic minority and female. In other societies, you are disadvantaged if you are neuro-diverse and your mother tongue does not reflect where you live. The odds can really be stacked against you, and we can use our collective influence to break down these barriers.  
  • Of course, the umbrella does not capture the millions of painful experiences and stories people have. It is reductionist and the very act of simplifying, though sometimes useful, does not indicate any form of context or detail.
  • Finally, rain is ultimately a wonderful gift and we all need it! The metaphor does not work for all locations and could be converted into other forms such as a sunshade in scorching heat. Choose your own metaphor if you’d prefer.

WHAT is the goal here?

Despite its flaws, this model is shared to be a stimulus for further conversations and action, and people can add to it if they feel it is incomplete. It is invitational and people are welcome to add their own categories and language.

Wherever there is a discriminatory issue, there is an opportunity to resolve it or at least make improvements. My hope is that we use the tools and resources at our disposal to do more, be better, and act at whatever level we can in our schools and societies. To be realistic, it will take billions of interactions, reflections, and actions to achieve this goal but if we do all we can in our part of the globe, our societies will be far better off as humans. I hope that this humble little model, alongside others, will make some sort of contribution to a better world.

For the well-being of ourselves and others,

For the sustainability of our societies,

Let’s work to get a grip on discrimination together.

To the many people who helped me refine and improve the A.D. Umbrella, thank you.


Leo Thompson MA, MeD is an independent Education Consultant based in Vienna, Austria and a School Support and Evaluation Officer for the Council of International Schools.

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