ACTION: develop and implement an intentional strategy to diversify your staff, board of directors and volunteers. Seek to broaden this diversity at all levels of your organization.
Through meetings and interviews with 500 individuals, we learned that BC heritage sector strongly believes heritage must equitably represent all people and all stories. This pan-cultural view, unfortunately, is in contrast to the make-up of our sector’s workforce, which includes only 7.4% visible minorities (source).
In fact, diversity in “heritage collection and preservation occupations” is lower than any other cultural job segmentation and less than half of the national average.
The same survey offers a number of issues, trends and realities that could be contributing factors:
Interns, summer youth placements, new positions on boards of directors, and advisory committees have long been common ways to increase organizational diversity. Yet, as previously noted, the evidence suggests these efforts are not leading to permanence of diversity.
Perhaps this is because many of the structures are inherently impermanent. A recent document to guide diversification of the visual arts sector strongly proposes a moratorium on Indigenous advisory committees. In its place, it recommends to “integrate diverse Indigenous peoples and knowledges throughout corporate structures, on both the creative and business side of organizations, and not just in moments of increased fiscal attachment to monetized identity politics.”
While the issues related to diversity and equity can be challenging, we will offer some examples for your consideration:
There are many advocates for establishing structures such as advisory panels, including the Indigenous Corporate Training Inc., which says “advisory committees can be invaluable to the success of a business, organization, or social enterprise.”
On building successful Indigenous advisory committees, Collaborative NSW (Australia, link) says “Aboriginal Advisory/Consultative committees offer a proactive and collaborative method of facilitating genuine and meaningful participation in council decision-making by local Aboriginal communities. To operate successfully, they should be based on two key principles:
Dignity and Respect
It is critical to ensure that Aboriginal people are treated with dignity and respect. Tangible recognition of Aboriginal history, heritage, culture and protocols is paramount. The guidelines provide some baseline advice, but it is important for individual councils to have a good understanding of their communities at the local level. Respect also includes an acknowledgment of committee members’ time, which could otherwise be spent on other community initiatives.
Positive engagement requires mutual understanding and shared objectives. To make sure all participants are on the same page, it is recommended that all issues, including priorities, limitations and benefits to the community, are clearly articulated. Care needs to be taken to cross check that all participants have understood these issues. Similarly, any limitations and constraints on outcomes need to be clearly articulated. There may be legal, financial or policy restraints that will limit what is practically achievable.
Essential to these and other recommendations are intentional, longer-term strategies or activities to establish systems for success.
This action is not about eliminating advisory committees and grant-funded hires, but it is about framing these entities in longer-term strategies so that diversity and equity are no longer sidebar conveniences, but instead are entrenched organizational commitments.
Ultimately, we want safe and welcoming workplaces that understand, anticipate and welcome cultural differences. (And most people in the heritage sector will agree we need to improve the poor representation of visible minorities in our workforce.)
For this to happen, you need to turn your organization’s good intentions into strategic actions by formalizing organizational commitments to reconciliation, diversity and equity.
To support this work, there is an extensive range of materials that have been developed for the heritage sector:
Here is a set of questions to consider as you begin to develop the organizational strategies:
A final note: In order to successfully fulfill this standard for organizational diversity, we, as a sector, need to commit to training and education in order to expand the labour pool.