Late last month, AGNSW conservators Melanie Barrett and Grace Barrand attended the ICON Diversity and Inclusion Round Table. The purpose of the discussion was to inform the duties of the recently appointed Diversity and Inclusion Task and Finish Group (DITFG) , which functions similarly to a SIG or AICCM committee, and works towards achieving ICON’s strategic objective of ‘engagement’, which is:
Inspiring people from all backgrounds to value and engage with heritage, conservation and conservators, and diversifying those participating in conservation practice and the conservation profession.
The round table centred on three questions, discussed in small break-out rooms. The first question asked which definition of diversity ICON should adopt. A range of options were considered, and the majority seemed to land on the United Nations Strategy for Advancing Diversity and Inclusiveness, which seeks ‘to create a work environment welcoming to all, where everyone feels valued and can perform at their best regardless of age, gender, gender identity, disability, race, caste, ethnicity, nationality, religion, sexual orientation or any other status’. Using an established definition was preferred, with some participants suggesting the addition of cultural identity as a means of professional contextualisation.
The second question focused on the challenges faced by diverse people in accessing the field. Responses centered on educational pathways – the lack of visibility to conservation in early education, particularly for students from low socio-economic backgrounds, and the need for more visible role models. A great suggestion was made to create a platform for conservation professionals with diverse backgrounds to share their pathway into the field to encourage prospective students. The need for opportunities in the form of apprenticeships and financial support was also discussed, and the fostering of formal and informal mentors was reiterated. Clara Low, a member of the ICON DITFG, made an excellent point about the value of early career professionals as mentors, as the new generation is generally more diverse and has a better understanding of the current education environment having just been through the process, as well as the challenges of getting established. Perhaps this, as well as a suggestion that Lisa Mansfield made recently about creating targeted mentorship opportunities for more diverse students, could be an addition to the AICCM Mentorship Program.
Finally, the third question was about the challenges faced by diverse conservators throughout their career. One respondent commented that we need to be more aware of assumed knowledge and perspectives that can be severely isolating for people with diverse professional and personal backgrounds. Another good comment related to the lack of support offered to those professionals and groups operating outside of capital cities, which is heightened in the Australian context given the vastness and richness of our regional and rural communities – the term ‘geocentric’ was used.
Although an overwhelmingly complex issue, the discussion was encouraging. There are actions that we can be taking to demonstrate that we value and recognise the need for diversity in our profession – at an individual level, in our workplaces, through our professional body. After all, if we don’t centralise the inclusion of our communities and the people with whose culture we work, what’s the point?