Teaching Diversity & Inclusion Through Play
Ellen Lambert has 25 years of culture change, corporate responsibility, and community relations experience, positively influencing and branding global foundations and corporations in the healthcare, education, and energy arenas. In February 2018, Ms. Lambert left her role as Chief Diversity Officer at Public Service Enterprise Group (PSEG) where she placed a strong emphasis on inclusion and employee engagement focusing on both internal culture and external communities. At PSEG, she also served as President of the PSEG Foundation and Sr. Director, Corporate Citizenship, Responsibility and Culture. In addition to the Diversity and Inclusion council, employee business resource groups, and all diversity training, Ms. Lambert created, implemented, and led social investment strategies, and oversaw grant-making, employee engagement, corporate contributions, volunteering, sponsorships, and employee giving programs.
Prior to joining PSEG, Ms. Lambert directed the Merck Foundation and its Office of Corporate Giving. During her employment at Merck Foundation, Ms. Lambert was responsible for philanthropic, community and volunteer endeavors including the development of The Richard T. Clark Global Fellowship program (now the Merck Fellowship), and strategic health, education, and community-focused initiatives. She created corporate-wide employee engagement programs that allowed workers to “give back" and develop their professional skills by working with non-profits. Ms. Lambert was responsible for the group of Merck nonprofits: the Merck Institute for Science Education and the Merck Childhood Asthma Network.
Ms. Lambert served as Executive Director of the ROCHE Foundation and Director of Corporate Relations and Contributions for the company. She was Executive Director of the Healthcare Foundation of New Jersey, the Executive Director of the Newark Beth Israel Medical Center Foundation, and the Vice President of Development for the New York Special Olympics.
Ms. Lambert has earned many awards for the organizations in which she participated, including top Corporate Citizen (2017), Forbes 100 Responsible Citizens (2016), and 25 Top Corporate Diversity Leaders (2016). In 2016 Ellen was recognized by Diversity Journal as one of the 25 top diversity and inclusion officers in the nation. Ellen has extensive experience in developing relevant programs and social investment strategies that strengthen nonprofits and achieve business goals.
Ms. Lambert holds a J.D. from Seton Hall University School of Law, a Master of Arts in Teaching from Tulane University, and a Bachelor’s degree from Syracuse University. She was an adjunct professor at New York University. Until 2012, Ms. Lambert served as a member of the advisory boards of Every Woman Every Child (UN), the Global Water Coalition, and Women for Water.
Currently, Ellen is the principal at EWLambert LLC, working with non-profit organizations and corporations to build and enhance community relations, and lift employee engagement and satisfaction through workplace culture enrichment and change. She is interim executive director of The Toy Foundation and she serves on the Community Advisory board for the RWJ Barnabas System, volunteers as Humanitarian Officer for Mothers Monument, and is a Trustee on the Matheny School and Hospital board.
Infants: Use touch, song, and interactions with others to help them develop self-understanding.
Toddlers: discuss race, differences, and sameness in a positive way once they are playing with other children.
School-age children: Visit play environments where diversity is evident. Use books, games, and dolls to teach them about race. Engage in activities (museums, cooking, art) that teach them about different cultures.
Teenagers: Encourage critical thinking and questions about what is happening in the world right now. Talk about slavery and the history of black people. Use movies, plays, music, and museums to explore these issues.
With millions of people around the world protesting racism, many parents are looking for ways to engage their children in discussions about race. We sat down with Ellen Lambert – an expert with 25 years of culture change experience who was recognized by Diversity Journal as one of the top diversity and inclusion officers in the nation – to talk about how parents can use play, whether it be with toys, through art, with music, or with other activities, to teach kids of all ages about race.
Q. What is the right age to start talking to your child about race? How can parents approach the subject with younger kids?
EL: Children begin learning at birth. They learn from touch, song, watching, interaction with parents and siblings, and soon develop self-understanding. Before they learn about the race of others, they learn about themselves – how do others perceive me and how do I identify myself and my family, my caregivers, and what they look like. Once they are playing with other children and notice sameness and different-ness, talking about race and differences can easily start. Positive conversations about differences in their friends or playmates, and people in their lives and neighborhood, helps move into direct discussions about race as a child grows.
Q. Beyond conversations, what are some proactive steps parents and caregivers can take to have a real impact on their local communities – and along the way, further teach their children about tolerance, racial bias, and the importance of diversity & inclusion?
EL: Ensure that children play with kids who are different races, follow different religions, and have different abilities. Visit their play environments, like the park, their preschool, and the local Y. Participate with them or enroll them in sports, art, and music activities for young children where diversity is evident, easy, and the norm. Teach them about the totality of their communities and the differences they see there.
Q. What are some of the tools parents can use to teach their children about diversity? Is play an effective way to approach the subject?
EL: Talk about children's experiences in the community with friends who are different. Talk to them about their own race and its history, then talk about the children who are different and about the history of their differences, race, physical ability, gender, etc. Use books, games, handheld animals, and dolls. Read and act out the stories of children and animals who are different. Emphasize values that create equity, not competition, nor make any one difference higher or lower, nor better or worse. Play is universal, so make your child's play universal. You can also look at your child's teacher to explore diversity. Ask her or him how he or she includes diversity in the curriculum and in everyday activities.
Q. Can you share examples of play activities parents can do with their kids to help them build respect and tolerance for people of different genders, races, cultures, abilities, etc.?
EL: Read books about diverse children and act out the stories, role-playing and posing questions about your child's life and the life of the characters you are focusing upon. Do art, music, cooking, and other activities together that are from different cultures, then go to museums to learn more about the arts of those cultures. Talk about race on those visits and enjoy the wonderful things created by different cultures. Bring home and use some of those playful learnings and games. Learn what games children from other countries play and what toys they play with. Then learn about the toys and games that all children play with. These activities have a positive impact on adults as well, so be sure to include aunts, uncles, and anyone else who would enjoy and/or benefit from a positive exploration of diversity and culture.
Q. Does play have a place in conversations about diversity and racism with older kids, e.g. pre-teens and teens? How can play make these conversations more productive?
EL: Most definitely, and because of the protests going on across the country, these discussions are important to have. Learn what is being discussed in the classroom about racism and oppression. Build off those conversations, intentionally, not casually. Talk about slavery and the history of black people in this country. Get reading materials, and use movies, plays, music, museums, and community organizations to experience what is happening now.
Ask your children to solve the problem in a way that resonates with them. Role play and find games, books, and experiences that tell the story of racism and encourage questions and use experiences to answer those questions. Remind older children that we are all the human race. Racism was a created construct to put some people higher up and keep some people lower down. Use history to illustrate that point, and find examples from your own racial history, as well.