|Common Misconceptions||Change Agency||Self-Care|
Ontario is an incredibly diverse province, and our population is growing and changing daily. Approaching museum work through an equity and inclusion lens will help institutions make the diverse mix of communities, groups and organizations work.
The demographics of the Ontario population are changing, and therefore the needs that must be taken into account when planning for inclusion changes as well.
According to the Statistics Canada (2016):
- The proportion of Ontarians that identify as a visible minority is on the rise. It is projected that by 2031 forty percent of Ontarians will identify as a visible minority.
- Age demographics are shifting as the population steadily ages. One in four Ontarians will be 65 or over by 2031.
- One in seven Ontarians identify as having a disability. This number is projected to grow.
With these changes in our communities, museums are feeling the impact.
- As “traditional” audiences leave they are not being sufficiently replaced. As a result, a majority of organizations are reporting flat or declining attendance relative to population growth. (NAAU Study, 2014)
- Competition for leisure hours has grown, leading to an overall decrease in visitation. Even amongst audiences who describe themselves as “interested” in museums. (NAAU Study, 2014)
- Popular media has begun to challenge cultural institutions on topics of diversity and inclusionary practice, while also holding them accountable for their positions in larger societal discourses.
There is a clear need for cultural institutions to grow alongside Ontario’s communities, but what does that mean? And how do we do so in a way that is authentic, equitable and long-lasting?
Museums are meaning-making institutions. They play a crucial role in shaping our understanding of the world, our communities and our relationships through the knowledges they share and stories they tell. While best efforts are made to engage diverse audiences, the stories told and how they are shared are heavily influenced by an institution’s ‘status quo’. These explicit and implicit standards of practice are often rooted in legacies of power and oppression that persist within our institutions. These legacies tend to privilege the white male experience and ultimately reinforce Euro-centric ableist narratives of patriarchy, exploitation, colonization and heteronormativity. Unconscious bias and a lack of cultural competence further perpetuate these narratives within our institutions.
Museums need to look inward in order to understand how the internal practices and legacies of power impact who museums are for and how they may be failing to reflect diverse audiences. That is, by addressing how and by whom cultural institutions are designed, museums can begin to critically reflect on whose experiences are acknowledged, whose are not, and how this may impact audience and community engagement.
Ultimately, institutions need to acknowledge the power structures that exist throughout their organizations. Acknowledgement is a difficult but necessary step towards making the changes that will help to dismantle exclusionary practices and power structures. By reckoning with their own legacies of oppression, museums have the potential to positively disrupt dominant social narratives and spark discussion on issues of access, diversity, inclusion and equity – extending their impact far beyond their physical space. As institutions realize their potential reach, the moral imperative of embodying diversity and inclusion becomes all the more clear. That is, as leaders making a positive impact on the lives of communities and individuals, museums have the power to create empathy, foster dialogue and cross-cultural learning, reduce social and economic barriers that negatively affect well-being, promote understanding and respect, and meet local needs in a way that builds stronger communities.
Beyond the moral imperative, we would be remiss to not also acknowledge the organizational benefits of prioritizing diversity and inclusion within museums. Research makes it clear that organizations that care about diversity and inclusion perform better financially. According to a 2017 report about the “Diversity Dividend”, produced by the Centre for International Governance Innovation and the Pierre Elliott Trudeau Foundation, a one percent (1%) increase in workforce diversity is associated with a six percent (6%) increase in revenue in cultural institutions. Additionally, more diverse and inclusive organizations are better able to win and retain top talent, reach new markets, and improve customer orientation, employee satisfaction, and decision making. In brief, diversity and inclusion are not only good, they are also good sense.
An understanding of bias and cultural competence is essential to discussions of access, diversity, inclusion and equity. According to the Canadian Centre for Diversity and Inclusion:
Types of Bias:
- Decision-making, belief and behaviour biases
- Social biases or attributional biases
- Memory errors and memory biases
- Public – biases that we are aware of and openly express to others
- Private – biases that we are aware of, but don’t express in public
Unconscious Bias: bias that we are unaware of, but which affect our behaviour and judgements
Bias within an institution can have far-reaching implications. More explicit bias can manifest in the form of discrimination, harassment, grievances and human rights complaints, while implicit or unconscious bias can lead to ineffective programs and services, disengaged employees and audiences, flaws in decision-making and collaboration, and a toxic institutional culture.
Cultural Competence is the ability to discern and take into account one’s own and others’ worldviews to be able to:
- Communicate effectively
- Solve problems
- Make decisions
- Resolve conflicts
…in ways that optimize cultural differences for better, longer-lasting, and more creative solutions
The four (4) components of individual Cultural Competence:
- Awareness of one’s own cultural worldview
- Attitude towards cultural differences
- Knowledge of difference in cultural practices and worldviews
- Cross-cultural skills
The five (5) Essential Components of Organizational Cultural Competence:
- Value diversity
- Having the capacity for cultural self-assessment
- Being conscious of the dynamics inherent when cultures interact
- Having institutionalized cultural knowledge
- Having developed adaptations to service delivery reflecting an understanding of cultural diversity.
Despite the case for prioritizing diversity and inclusion, misconceptions can often derail initiatives substantially. We’ve debunked some of the common ones below:
- Diversity and Inclusion are pointless, doesn’t matter to me, doesn’t apply to my community, only benefits certain groups, etc.
Despite claims to the contrary, diversity and inclusion benefit and are relevant to everyone. Enabling all Ontarians to participate and engage with our cultural institutions helps us engage new audiences in meaningful and authentic ways and contribute to community well-being. Additionally, prioritizing diversity and inclusion creates vibrant, strong, collaborative and relevant cultural institutions that are poised for success in the 21st century.
- Diversity and Inclusion are divisive.
This misconception is often driven by the correct assumption that diversity and inclusion work can be uncomfortable. Disagreement and tension are common growing pains that can arise when discussing these topics. Additionally, challenging well-established systems of power can be difficult on an individual and institutional level.
However, inaction only serves to reinforce the established status quo. Beyond a growth in understanding and empathy, an organization that makes diversity and inclusion a priority creates a culture of respect that allows for differences in opinion to be shared in a constructive manner. This cultural shift leads to happier, more engaged employees, and reduces instances of harassment and discrimination
- Diversity and inclusion means “lowering the bar.”
Such a statement as the one above ignores the human propensity for unconscious bias, which can often shape our views of who is the “best fit” for our organizations. In doing so, we mistake homogeneity for quality, incorrectly assuming that people who look, talk and act like us will be most capable of meeting the organization’s needs.
However, the research is clear that a diversity of perspectives, lived experiences and areas of expertise drive success. Organizations that prioritize diversity and inclusion see gains in their ability to attract and retain top talent, an increase in revenues, and greater innovation - hardly “lowering the bar”.
- Diversity and Inclusion can be achieved through a series of Human Resources initiatives and checklists.
Diversity and inclusion is a complex topic that requires a collective effort to manage appropriately. A shared organizational agenda, consistently measured results, and ongoing communication internally, and with our communities, is essential if we wish to see positive outcomes. Without these elements diversity and inclusion initiatives can lack clarity in a way that can lead to tokenism, inequity and/or marginalization.
A Change Agent is an individual who uses their expertise and influence to responsibly advance access, diversity, inclusion and equity within their institution and their community.
Change Agents advocate with, and on behalf of, community while working towards positive change that improves programs, institutions and society. Practitioners work for population and community change in funding, management, policy and other practices that impact engagement and participation with culture. Change Agents collaborate with those inside and outside the sector, and draw on strategies to enable the empowerment of all audiences within their cultural institutions.
Common practices of a Change Agent include:
- Communicate the role and benefits, both moral and organizational, of access, diversity, inclusion and equity.
- Assist the organization in obtaining funding and services, as necessary and appropriate, so as to achieve access, diversity, inclusion and equity outcomes.
- Identify barriers to access and equity across organizational services, policies and practices.
- Identify vulnerable, marginalized or excluded community groups.
- Advocate appropriately for the vulnerable, marginalized or excluded communities to enable engagement and empowerment through participation.
- Balance the ethical and professional issues inherent in community advocacy, including altruism, autonomy, integrity, social justice, and idealism.
- Manage the conflict inherent between the advocacy role for a community group and the manager of finite services and resources.
Being a Change Agent and resisting museum practices which undermine equity, diversity and inclusion is challenging work, particularly in institutions with well-established systems of power. It is often equal parts interesting, stressful and frustrating, a combination of emotions that place people at an increased risk of burnout. For example, see this study by Yale University about highly engaged but burned out individuals in the US workforce.
In addition, this type of work can occasionally feel all consuming. We encourage you as a practitioner to personally reflect on your motivations for engaging in equity, diversity and inclusion work. By understanding our own position within these discourses, we can better grasp how it might affect us as individuals. Reflection can also provide greater clarity for when we need to create distance between ourselves and the work.
Burnout is often considered to have a wide range of indicators, however, the collective definition proposes that it is caused by high levels of stress, whether work-related or otherwise. Some indicators that you or a colleague are at risk of burnout include:
- Exhaustion: Burned out people often feel drained physically and emotionally. Individuals may experience increased irritability, sadness or anxiety. Physically they may feel constantly tired, or struggle to sleep at night. A loss of appetite, increase in illness or challenges with focusing can also indicate burnout.
- Detachment: People who have burnout may become increasingly cynical about their work and their colleagues. At the same time, they may increasingly distance themselves emotionally, and/or physically by isolating themselves in their office, frequently calling in sick or constantly coming in late.
- Reduced performance: Burnout mainly affects everyday tasks at work. Despite long hours, chronic stress prevents people from being as effective as they once were. This can lead to feelings of irritability and apathy, and can make you wonder: what’s the point?
Self-care is the personal process of making sure that you don’t burn out. It is about engaging in activities that centre and prepare you for whatever may come your way. Self-care is not an indulgence, but crucial to sustaining one’s capacity to do the work. Listed below are a few examples of self-care drawn from our own experiences, take them as you need.
- Get outside. A 2010 study in Environmental Health and Preventative Medicine found that spending time in nature leads to lower levels of the stress hormone cortisol, lower blood pressure and a lower pulse rate than spending time in urban settings.
- Write it out. Jotting down your thoughts and impressions about stressful, emotional or even traumatic experiences can help you overcome those events, according to a 2005 study published in Advances in Psychiatric Treatment.
- Take a deep breath. A few deep breaths can help to lower heart rate and blood pressure, relieving some of the physical symptoms of stress.
It is important to acknowledge that while self-care is important for self-preservation, stepping back from stressful situations may be perceived by some communities as inaccessible, a privilege and a luxury. This is especially true for individuals from marginalized communities who are constantly in conflict with overlapping systems of power that are meant to exclude and disappear them.
It is also important to recognize that while practicing and promoting self-care is beneficial, that too often the onus ultimately falls to the individual. The employer's role is to be conscious and supportive of their employees’ potential need for self-care. More importantly employers need to better recognize the potential underlying issues within their workplace culture that contributes to employee need to engage in self-care practices. Moreover, employers need to be responsive in a way that better addresses the issues at hand.
Read more about self-care here!