Running from March to August 2022, Europeana’s Diversity and Inclusion Task Force aimed to manage the development of an approach to Diversity and Inclusion at Europeana, through consultation with professionals and peers from across the cultural heritage sector. One of the many valuable outcomes of the brilliant work developed by the Task Force was a roadmap and path to address key questions related to these issues in a clear, practical and efficient way.
However, before we could produce this, it was necessary to do a brave and honest exercise of self-awareness. As Task Force members, we considered ‘obvious’ aspects such as our privileged position, the certainty that we were missing important views and acknowledging our limitations to address all the issues raised by the community in the report, or the importance to define clearly what we mean when we use words as 'social equity', 'intersectionality' or 'empathy' and 'listening'.
This challenging but much-needed work was the foundation for subsequent tasks and discussions. It was a demonstration of how to tackle complex questions while avoiding simplification, easy cliches, and inertia in ways to think about. Stop and think collectively about what seems natural and logical, before acting. This foundational work was pivotal to taking on a set of powerful regenerative actions planned for the future.
As a ripple of this work, the organisation I work for, Cultural Inquiry initiated by Happening Studio, would like to continue the conversation by sharing some practical takeaways excerpted from our everyday practice on diversity and inclusion with different cultural institutions around the world. We use to start with (our or their) questions like:
Reframe the frame: be aware of your ‘own diversity and inclusion glasses’. That doesn’t mean changing them, but considering that your own position is never neutral or unbiased. Be aware of your position in relation to the ‘standard’ dictionary definitions of Diversity and Inclusion. Ask yourself: ‘Who created this definition I am using? With what purpose? What do diversity and inclusion mean to me/to them? Is it the same to talk about Diversity and Inclusion with a Canadian curator as an Indonesian librarian?’ Everything starts with a question. Maybe you need to change the words to talk about the same concept, but it is important to build a basic shared understanding. We have learned a lot of our own biases and misconceptions working with children in our ‘Children's Board’ Project’. They help you to become aware of your point of view and be open to reshaping it.
Fair Play: Unconsciously, all of us have preconceptions. Diversity and Inclusion are no exception. Be aware and look inside yourself before identifying and labeling them. Explain to others what Diversity and Inclusion mean for you and why they are important. Spend time and energy to demonstrate the advantages of working from a Diversity and Inclusion perspective. Don’t take anything for granted.
Language, the big deal: a good example of this, connected with empathy, is the common phrase for ‘I am hungry’. In Japanese, the expression for this is ‘Stomach is getting empty’. It doesn't specify whose stomach, nor does it signify the singular or plural of a stomach. Ultimately, this phrase in Japanese reaches people’s collective memory (heritage) of what it means to be hungry together since we all have felt hungry before. Words create realities. We need to perceive these subtle universes inside language. If we don't, we miss important nuances. Diversity and Inclusion can be implemented if the use of language is more aware and empathetic of others.
Long-term diversity and inclusion: be ready to, ‘Put on everybody's shoes’ (but first, you need to be barefooted). The best Diversity and Inclusion training is to practice deep listening and empathy to see others as they really are. That’s not easy and immediate. It implies being part of the other one's life in some meaningful way. Think about the story that they are sharing with you, and try to be part of it contributing with something positive: an idea, a different approach, a question, a solution, a skill, a connection. Storytelling (personal stories but also object stories) is an optimal way to work in diversity and inclusion in the long term.
Zoom in/Zoom out: there is no Diversity and Inclusion specific area so don’t seek it. Diversity and Inclusion is everywhere, it permeates the cultural heritage we rummage through; from words to graphic representations, from the fabrication techniques and materials involved in the material production to heritage 'preservation' and communication. Be alert and trained to widen the angle and connect the (apparently) disconnected dots.
Diversity and Inclusion or Inclusion and Diversity? What’s the 'correct' order? Is there a 'correct' order? Maybe there is no single answer for this because it is contextual and situational. Some realities demand to focus on Inclusion as a condition to reach Diversity creating for example a place where everyone can feel psychologically safe to become themselves. Or just the contrary considering all the identities possible to implement suitable inclusive measures with their own reinforcements. We need to consider social equity as a bridge between both, as the active commitment to justice, fairness, and equality. And we need also to think that social categories are interconnected. Be flexible and be available to work with different scenarios and frames. Focus on the 'How' more than on the 'Why'. Diversity and Inclusion is always a long ongoing journey, not a destination.
Last but not least, no slogans please but reality. Diversity and Inclusion are moving fast towards an expanded longer acronym adding terms such as 'Equity', 'Accountability' etc. Capital letters should not skew your perception of reality. Don’t force reality to fit into the schemes and comfort zones. Just connect and flow.
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To find out more about Cultural Inquiry, please visit our website or email firstname.lastname@example.org.