As an organisation, we felt that it was important to reflect on the role we play in building and supporting equitable communities, and the actions that we need to take to become more diverse, inclusive and equitable. We are a small non-profit organisation who is made up of an entirely white, cis gender staff and board. Many of us come from the similar educational backgrounds, and while this was in some ways intentional as a way to give students meaningful work experience and to build our organization, we’re reflecting on the ways that we can do better. Over the last few months we have been having conversations acknowledging our lack of diversity, and discussing how we can be better moving forward. We did not think that the best approach would be to simply hire a person of colour to be able to call our organisation “diverse”. Instead, we have discussed how we can become more diverse through strengthening our relationships with community groups, reforming our hiring process to make it more inclusive, changing the language we use, actively acknowledging the land that we place our projects on, and continuing to do research to better understand our past and how we can be better in the future. We feel that this is a more meaningful approach to becoming a more diverse and inclusive organisation. While we recognize that we are not the experts, we wanted to share our thoughts on these topics with a summary of our plan to give insights to individuals and organisations who are also hoping to make changes towards being more equitable and diverse as well.
As a placemaking organisation, we see partnerships as a way to strengthen our role as allies. We understand that we do not always have the answer for how to best improve a community, but rather those with lived experiences know what’s best for their community, and we can support that work with complementary skills Listening, learning, unlearning, and relearning where we come from, what we do, and how we do it is critical. Being an equity ally means recognizing and responding to the inequality that exists in opportunities and doing what we can as individuals and as an organization to fix this, by making changes and advocating for change. Allyship also means spreading important messages voiced by individuals in underrepresented groups, so that we may help amplify their voices. The first step for us to become equity allies will be to build partnerships with historically underinvested communities, and to co-create placemaking and urban planning initiatives.
We recognize that our hiring in the past has not been diverse, and we acknowledge that our advertising of positions has been primarily focused on planning students, a white-dominated field, which we have been reflecting on our implicit bias within. To do better, we are reflecting on how we advertise our positions more widely, how our hiring process can become more inclusive, and the role of new hires beyond diversification. We recognize that the lack of diversity in our hiring has not been improved with our employment equity policy, and we will be continuing to evolve the policy in order to make it more intentional. As an organization focused on placemaking, we want our staff to reflect the community we are serving. This means that we must change our hiring intentions and move beyond providing work experience only to planning students and instead, identify skills and perspectives that are valuable to our work that come from people of all educational backgrounds and experiences.
The language that people use can have massive repercussions on how stereotypes are perpetuated. That is why it is important to reflect on the language we use and make conscious decisions on how to appropriately label groups of people, theories, and terms. One example of this is using the term ‘low-income neighbourhood’. The term ‘low-income’ can imply that they are low income by choice, whereas the term ‘historically underinvested’ demonstrates that their income is the result of historical systematic inequalities. In order to become better allies, we must be careful with our word choice in all communications to ensure that we are working to build a community that acknowledges the systematic nature of inequalities. By changing our language internally, we hope that we will start to eliminate some of our own unconscious biases.
Land acknowledgements are a first step toward honouring the original occupants of the land on which we put our projects. When PBJ Design is building projects and holding events, we are doing so on stolen land. A land acknowledgement is a small gesture to recognize the unfair and illegal theft of land from the Mi’kmaq peoples but is a first and necessary step toward reconciliation for the injustices that have been carried out against the Mi’kmaq. That is why we will start placing land acknowledgements on our projects page and allowing time to properly reflect on what that means. To read some more of our thoughts on land acknowledgements, click here.
There is no endpoint to learning about inequalities and injustices that occur in our province, country and world. In order to be an organization that is a strong ally to persons of colour, we must continue to listen, learn, unlearn and relearn. Knowledge is the best tool that we have to help mitigate the potential negative effects of our work. That is why it is important for PBJ Design to continue to research equity, including (but not limited to) topics such as: how to be a better ally, historical moments of inequality, possible harm that can be created in our field of work, the importance of lived experience in community-based work, creating equitable work environments, the power of language, and more. We will continue to set aside time for staff to research, reflect and share on these and other important topics.
We believe that the sections outlined above are the first steps that we must take as an organization towards becoming more diverse and inclusive, however, we still acknowledge that there is still much work that needs to be done. We hope that we will continue to evolve to become better stewards of diversity for our community. We must continually acknowledge and unlearn our personal and organizational biases so that we can become better allies. This will not be an easy process, however, we believe that it is the necessary part we must play to create a better and more equitable world.