Our organisation has historically had a fairly white workforce, consisting predominantly of volunteers. In recent years, we have aimed to shift this, with a focus on showcasing underrepresented artists and creators through our work. Despite our programming and promotion of the work of these underrepresented artists and communities, we have faced challenges in building a more representative volunteer base within our organisation.
In 2017, staff and management began having conversations about ‘diversity and inclusion’ within the organisation. In recent years, these conversations have shifted towards a discussion of structural racism and the organisation’s commitment to anti-racism. In 2020, it became clear that the organisation lacked the knowledge and expertise to address these issues on its own. For that reason, we approached an independent, First Nations-led education and consulting firm seeking support.
We engaged this consulting firm to conduct a survey and review into racism and other forms of discrimination at the organisation. The consulting firm performed a review of our policies and programming initiatives, and carried out an anonymous survey. The survey asked staff and volunteers about personal experiences of interpersonal and structural racism at the organisation, and what changes were needed.
The research revealed that there is a significant difference between the experiences of white staff and volunteers, and staff and volunteers of colour at our organisation. While acknowledging that racism is not the only kind of discrimination experienced by staff and volunteers, the review demonstrated that staff and volunteers of colour have borne the brunt of structural inequities and racism throughout the organisation’s history. Working with an independent body facilitated an open and honest conversation that would not have been possible within the organisation’s own structure. It also ensured that the process was led by those with lived experience of racism and expertise in policy design and implementation.
Following the report, management redoubled its commitment to addressing the issues raised and implementing changes to make our organisation a safe and supportive place for all staff and volunteers. Importantly, senior management has made a commitment to undertake the ongoing work required to dismantle structural racism and anti-Bla(c)kness. Among other things, this includes a commitment to engage staff and board members in ongoing training from a First Nations-led organisation. It also includes a review of the organisation’s grievance processes to ensure appropriate support and redress is provided for those who experience racism within the organisation.