Diversity as a Critical Component of Renewal

For more than 40 years, the Association of Canadian Archivists (ACA) has served archives and records professionals across the country through its programs and services. Members have opportunities to participate in national and international advocacy initiatives, take part in mentoring and networking activities, and gain new skills and expertise through continuing education programs. Recently, the ACA has entered an intensive period of organizational renewal in response to changing needs of the workforce and to anticipate the future state of the profession.

In 2018, the ACA board worked closely with members to develop a series of strategic objectives that would drive renewal initiatives over the next five years. Throughout this process, members called on the ACA to address what they perceived as overt homogeneity present in the association. While there is a tendency for people to have greater social ties with those who are similar to themselves – birds of a feather flock together – in organizations, this often presents as socio-demographic divisions along race, ethnicity, and age. This can reinforce stereotypes and other implicit biases, resulting in homogenous cultures that are welcoming to some while excluding others.

Members expressed concern that the absence of Indigenous people and other visible minorities within the association did not adequately represent the enriching socio-cultural landscape of Canada. In addition, members noted that the ACA needed to better address the needs of emerging professionals, many of whom work in precarious employment or within the broader information management profession where they do not self-identify as archivists. The feedback was loud and clear: The ACA has a diversity problem.

The ACA recognizes that diversity is a critical component of its sustainability and necessary to deliver on its mandate to serve archives and records professionals. The association also understands that building a more diverse culture is neither easy nor immediately achievable. For this reason, the ACA has engaged the Canadian Centre for Diversity and Inclusion (CCDI) to support the association as it begins the process of developing a long-term diversity strategy. Work started in March this year, when the board and committee chairs met with a CCDI facilitator to take part in a D&I Bootcamp. The goal was to level-set on our objectives and start moving forward with designing a strategy to address our members’ concerns and discover appropriate mechanisms for change. In June this year, the board will report back to members on its progress and open up new channels for member feedback on issues of diversity.

Organizational renewal is a long road and the ACA recognizes that this must be done in parallel with a diversity strategy. For archives and records professionals, this road is particularly fraught. By their very nature, archives can both represent and reinforce the very systems of power that a diversity strategy might identify as barriers to participation. The ACA must therefore work thoughtfully to ensure that its renewal is ethical, responsive, and transformative. This will require a willingness to be humble and a commitment to enter into difficult conversations. The ACA is ready.

By Rebecka Sheffield ACA Vice-President, 2018-2019, Chair, Strategic Planning Task Force, 2017-2018