International schools are complex ecosystems. They are interconnected, multi-layered, multi-faceted moving parts and as we have committed ourselves to further our Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Social Justice work, we have found ourselves relying on two core guiding principles: the first is to make sure our diversity, equity, inclusion, and justice (DEIJ) work is connected and embedded to the aforementioned ecosystem, and the second is “festina lente” (make haste, slowly) - to be sure that we are treating this work with the appropriate balance of urgency and diligence.
An important piece of contextual information is that our school ended the 2020/21 school year in distance learning, and, as of December 2021 students are yet to return to campus. So, in interrogating our school’s ecosystem and also understanding our current context and capacity, we had to make the conscious choice to tackle a few things, but really do them well. And in international schools, two of the most complex and deeply ingrained systems are curriculum and recruitment.
The truth is, in response to (the much needed) collective increased consciousness around DEIJ, we were challenged by our faculty about the homogeneity of our recruits over the past few years. And rightfully so - while we do have diversity in our leadership ranks, with representation from Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC) leaders, members of the LGBTQ+ community, gender - our faculty doesn’t always reflect the broader diversity that we are striving for as a community. So, our question was, “how might we enhance our current systems and establish new protocols that help us achieve our aspirational goal of having better representation within our teaching teams?”
We understand that we are better when we’re more diverse, but this quote from Mejias & Jana (2018) really sums up our purpose:
“….a necessary step in building an inclusive culture and eradicating institutional bias ought to be building a more heterogeneous culture. That means diversifying the team - at all levels - to ensure more heterogeneous perspective and experiences can show up in the everyday interactions that create culture, and can add value to solving problems and seizing opportunities that create great organizations.” (Mejias & Jana, 2018).
Initial Intentional Actions
Heading into the 2021 recruitment season, the leadership team at UNIS Hanoi took time to recalibrate its hiring processes against some of their new school values (integrity, diversity, community) and its strategic directions around diversity, equity, inclusion, and justice. Rather than relying on existing processes, a number of steps were taken to ensure that the recruiting team were metaphorically and literally on the same page when it came to anti-biased and anti-racist hiring practices.
Our team was fully ready to challenge and overhaul a system that was inherently flawed and built upon systems of bias and required us to do a significant amount of introspective work. Relying once more on the wisdom of Mejias and Jana: “Working against institutional bias...involves more than just increasing simple numbers. It includes the hard and often vulnerable work of making room at the table, on the board, and in the c-suite for those who have not historically been represented” (Mejias & Jana, 2018).
- Living Our Values
Before posting vacant positions, the school’s new diversity statement was posted on the employment section of our school’s website. In alignment with our values as a UN school, this statement was our public commitment to living our values and hiring for diversity. “We believe that our students reach personal and academic excellence when they are part of a supportive community that values and champions diversity, equity, and inclusion and advocates for social justice as a core value. This commitment is anchored by having a faculty and staff who reflect the beauty of our diverse world. As such, we encourage applications from all educators with the relevant certification and experience, including those who identify as BIPOC, educators with (dis)abilities, LGBTQ+ educators, and others of diverse backgrounds to apply to join our UNIS Hanoi community” (Why Choose UNIS Hanoi?, n.d.).
We are proud of this statement, and we also don’t want to simply leave these words on a website, without making sure we act on it. In order to both showcase our values as an institution and also ensure our candidates understood our goals and values, we tweaked our interview process so that every candidate was asked to reflect on this statement and explain how this impacts their work as an educator (and not just educators, we’ve put this question in front of our Director of Finance and Operations candidates as well). This was a rich and eye opening experience - so many candidates spoke to being “seen” by this statement and a few commented that it was what drew them in and inspired them to apply.
All of this surfaces the question - how would we know if we were successful? What do we actually measure against to know that progress has been made?
- Knowing Ourselves: Demographic Survey
We realized that previous methods of analyzing staffing demographics were insufficient at best. A survey asking faculty to self-identify across a range of demographics including race, ethnicity, gender identity, and sexual orientation was a first step in collecting more accurate identity data. This allowed us to see areas where some intentional hiring for diversity could help us to achieve greater representation and allow our student population to see themselves in the teaching staff.
Undertaking a process of demographic data gathering was messy, insightful, complex, and highly worthwhile in and of itself. A fairly revelationary insight was that our school did not actually have any accurate data on white/non-white faculty/staff on record. In our NESA DEIJ workshop, “Advancing the Work of Anti-Racism, Equity, Inclusion, Belonging and Social Justice in International Schools' facilitator Dr. Jennifer Beckwith affirmed what we had come to discover for ourselves, which is that “to let us tell you who we are” will be the most useful data for us to understand who we are as an organization.
With some excellent feedback from our faculty, consulting additional sources including Dr. Alan Phan (Founder and Director of the Diversity Collective), and the Diversity Collective/ISS report, “Determining the Diversity Baseline in International Schools” we created a survey that we felt was robust enough to gather accurate information about who we are as the United Nations International School of Hanoi.
Some key findings that the 2021/2022 demographic survey revealed included:
Board of Directors
Senior Leadership Team
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The aforementioned data from ISS shows that in some regards, we exceed what the data tells us about representation. And that’s great. However, while we do exceed demographics in some areas, we also have to acknowledge that even amongst our BIPOC leadership and educators, we’re not always diverse in terms of where we were trained as educators. We still skew largely European, Australian/NZ, and North American - so moving forward, we know that this is the next area to tackle.
- Committing to Better Practice: Unconscious Bias Training
There’s some excellent research from Harvard Business Review about diversity in hiring, and Kessler and Low (2021) in their 2021 article wrote a rather simple, but powerful statement:
“A large body of academic research has found that hiring managers display bias against underrepresented minorities.” (Kessler and Low, 2021)
What we know is that we didn’t want to be those hiring managers. So how did we do it?
One of the few silver-linings to Covid has been the abundance of incredible and robust professional development that has been offered virtually. Some of the conferences over the last 20 months have tackled DEIJ work, and it’s been both affirming and inspirational to be able to connect with like-minded educators who are striving to make our world a better place. In October, a handful of UNIS Educators attended the “Seoul of a Leader' conference and there were some incredibly rich presentations. One that stood out was Alan Phan’s session on recruitment, specifically tackling bias in the process. After that session, we brought Alan in to work with our leadership team and we found his two-part session (the first one examining biases; the second one around recruitment) truly transformative in how we engaged with our process this year. He had us reflect on our own recruitment journey - where might we have benefited from bias? Where might bias have worked against us? What are some things we tend to look for and more importantly, overlook when we review resumes that come our way? Amongst our leadership, this generated some really interesting conversations and some powerful personal reflections.
- Actively Seeking Diversity
As a result of the implicit bias training, the team intentionally prioritized ethnic/racial diversity along with other desirable traits such as mission and values alignment, excellent pedagogy, and relevant experiences. As a result of these new lenses to help guide how we evaluated the many resumes we received for our positions, the team conducted many more first round interviews with BIPOC educators whose CVs/resumes might have been passed over in previous years due to the screening/filtering processes that were in place. Simply put, we understood our previous mechanisms for screening candidates were causing us to overlook excellent candidates who we would be proud and excited to welcome into our UNIS community. To that end, joining The Diversity Collective, an organization “committed to helping educators from underrepresented backgrounds to find jobs in international schools” really gave us a more diverse pool of candidates to draw from and we met some incredible people along the way!
What was the result?
A recruitment process aligned with our core values of integrity, diversity, and community and a public commitment to diversity in hiring published on our website has resulted in significant change and improvement. Last year, our hiring data told us that the number of educators who identify outside of dominant groups hired in the 21/22 school year was 30%. With strategic directions and an intentional focus on dismantling old recruitment systems and rebuilding them with a strong commitment to diversity, equity, and inclusion, to date the hiring statistics for diverse recruits sits at 68% - an increase of 38% from the previous year.
As Groysber and Bell (2014) assert, “diversity is counting the numbers; inclusiveness is making the numbers count.” Our commitment to diversifying our workforce has been a strategic and values-based set of actions to ensure that we are living our values as a United Nations school.
So where do we go from here? Most of our leadership is currently in the aforementioned NESA course and Dr. Beckwith’s comment about “don’t bring people into a burning house” (Beckwith, NESA, 2021) really resonated with us. So, as we move forward into 2022, we will review our onboarding process, ensuring that we bring an anti-biased, anti-racist lens to it. The other big factor is that all of this work we plan on including into our School Operating Regulations so that as we deepen our commitment to anti-bias anti-racism work, we have deeply ingrained all of this good work into our existing systems.
One area that we absolutely know will continue to be an area of growth is getting members of our local Vietnamese community to apply for our full faculty positions. In reflecting on the immediate data, we had hardly any local applicants - why? Have we siloed ourselves in such a way that applicants feel that they wouldn’t be considered? Have we not made enough inroads with local systems to further our connections to our local communities? What we do know is that this is an area we need to address, and plans are underway to think about how we can leverage a partnership with local organizations and education programs here in Hanoi to deepen our connections and ensure that we have more representation from our local educators amongst our teaching ranks.
Beckwith, J. (2021, December 8). “Examining DEIJ in Hiring Practices.” DEIJ in International Schools - Near East South Asia Council of Overseas. Near East South Asia - Council of Overseas Schools, www.nesacenter.org/events/2021-2022-nesa-program/nesa-networked-learning-series-2021-2022/deij
Bell, D. & Groysber, B. ``Dysfunction in the Boardroom.” Harvard Business Review, 1 Aug. 2014, hbr.org/2013/06/dysfunction-in-the-boardroom.
“Diversity, Equity & Inclusion (DEI) Resource Center.” (January 4, 2022) McLean & Company, hr.mcleanco.com/diversity-equity-and-inclusion-center.
Hilbert, A. & Neyra, A. (2021). Determining the Diversity Baseline in International Schools
[PowerPoint Slides]. International School Services. https://www.iss.edu/wp-content/uploads/DC-Baseline-Analysis-2021.pdf
Jana, T. & Mejias, A.D.. Erasing Institutional Bias: How to Create Systemic Change for Organizational Inclusion. Berrett-Koehler Publishers, 2018.
Kessler, J. & Low, C. “Research: How Companies Committed to Diverse Hiring Still Fail.”
Harvard Business Review, February 11, 2021,
Phan, A. (January 4, 2022). Welcome to the diversity collective. The Diversity Collective. thediversityfair.org/signup.
Why Choose UNIS Hanoi? (January 4, 2022). United Nations International School of Hanoi. www.unishanoi.org/employment/why-choose-unis-hanoi.
An Indian-Canadian TCK, Tanay attended international schools in Southeast Asia for all of his schooling. Professionally, Tanay has served in a variety of teaching and administrative roles at independent schools across Toronto, including Vice-Principal, Director of Curriculum, and the Director of the Forum for Change, an experiential learning hub anchored by a commitment to social justice and equity work. Presently, Tanay is the Secondary School Deputy Principal for Teaching and Learning at UNIS Hanoi. He is committed to ensuring that our international schools bring issues of DEIJ to the forefront and engage in action plans to bring this work to life.
Megan Brazil has worked across international schools in Colombia, the UAE, India, and Vietnam in a range of leadership roles since 2002. Currently, Megan is the Elementary Principal at the UNIS Hanoi. Her areas of professional expertise include organizational health, building leadership capacity, school culture and climate, and data informed practices that improve student learning.