In 2015, Zaa Joseph, Indigenous Initiatives Advisor at the British Columbia Institute of Technology (BCIT), attended the CAUT Aboriginal Academic Staff Forum in Winnipeg, where he met Anishinaabe scholar, Andrew Judge, Assistant Professor of Anishinaabe Studies at Algoma University and Shingwauk Kinoomaage Gamig. Judge and Joseph discussed the Anishnaabe approach to inclusive decision-making and considered how it might influence some of the diversity work happening at BCIT, which is located on unceded Indigenous land belonging to the Coast Salish peoples, including the territories of the xʷməθkwəy̓əm (Musqueam), Skwxwú7mesh (Squamish), and Səl̓ílwətaʔ/Selilwitulh (Tsleil-Waututh) Nations.
The result is the Diversity Circles initiative, which received a $150,000 SSHRC grant in 2016-2018 as a partnership with the BCIT Faculty and Staff Association (BCITFSA), and has continued since then as part of the institute's equity office. According to the Diversity Circles framework, the goal was to establish an open forum for the various stakeholder constituencies within BCIT – including students, faculty, administration, support staff, the faculty union, other unions, and Indigenous partners.
While labour-management interactions tend to be adversarial in nature, observes Joseph, who serves as the Diversity Circles co-lead, “we wanted to take a more collaborative approach.” The idea, adds Shannon Kelly, BCIT FSA’s vice president and the other co-lead, was “bringing different groups together, creating connections, and flattening hierarchies.”
Six years on, BCIT’s Diversity Circles sponsors events on a range of equity, diversity, and inclusion themes, including racism, gender issues, and neurodiversity. The project has also spawned smaller focus groups – so-called “eight-by-eight sessions” – that deal with specific themes, such as sustainability or equitable hiring practices.
While the initiative isn’t directly linked to BCIT’s labour relations activities, Kelly points out that the Diversity Circles fall under BCIT’s Respect, Diversity, and Inclusion Office, which reports to the president’s office and both the HR and labour relations departments. “What we’re doing,” she says, “can directly influence [BCIT’s] Respect, Diversity, and Inclusion practices and policy.” Adds Joseph: “The Diversity Circles allow for inclusive discussions to begin.”