Have you read about the backlash Pearson Education received regarding a section about cultural awareness in a recent nursing textbook?
Initially it started with a Facebook post outlining some crude cultural stereotypes, but the complaints soon grew large enough and loud enough for Pearson Education to take note.
This resulted in a very public apology and even a sombre video online from their global product development chief outlining why and how it all went so wrong.
Confusing Cultural Stereotypes for Cultural Awareness
In short, the small section about cultural awareness and cultural diversity typifies the approach to such complex and important topics within mainstream corporate society. We see this all the time - diversity is given a nod, but it is not given any real and meaningful attention.
For one, stakeholders within these corporate environments are rarely from diverse backgrounds. 'Diversity' is usually something that is part of a process, a tick on a sheet that demonstrates good corporate values. When this is your starting point, you have very little chance of really making any positive impact in terms of awareness or diversity.
Secondly, it is usually the case that the research, information gathering and writing of such sections on diversity is either a) given to someone with little understanding of its complexity or b) outsourced to a company such as ours who work in the whole space of diversity and culture.
When the content is taken care of in-house is is often reseached and the summarised by clever people. However, said clever people may not necessarily understand anything about culture, steretyping, bias, identity politics, etc. What they produce can be crude and unhelpful.
As to companies that specialise in cultural awareness and diversity, unfortunately, not all of them come with the same in-depth appreciation of how to teach about and write about other cultures, beliefs, etc.
The result is what we have with Pearson Education's Nursing: A Concept-Based Approach to Learning. In their section titled “Focus on Diversity: Cultural Differences in Response to Pain," the company have acknowledged the important role that cultural differences can have in a medical environment, yet their delivery of the information is way off target.
As you can see from some of the advice, it is pretty cringe worthy. Categorising all black people as one culture, for example, boggles the mind. On top of that then stating that all black people believe suffering and pain are inevitable adds no real knowledge or worth.
Simply put, they have confused cultural awareness with cultural stereotyping, or as Onyx Moore, the American 'wellness advocate', who posted the offending page on Facebook said, “This is an excellent example of how not to be even remotely culturally sensitive.”
Pearson’s global product development chief, Tim Bozik, explained in a YouTube video that “in an attempt to help nursing students think through the many facets of caring for patients, we’ve reinforced a number of stereotypes about ethnic and religious groups. It was wrong.”
The bad PR was clearly a wake-up call to Pearson Education who it seems will now re-assess their approach to such topics and how they handle them.
Let it also be a lesson to anyone else out there that when you put information out there about other cultures, you need to know what you are talking about.