Augmenting the Impact of Municipal Services: Inclusifyy's Work Toward Diversity and Inclusion
by Amanda Fernandez
DEFINING A PROBLEM & OPPORTUNITY
Public libraries are a lot of things, including one of the last of the “free” spaces in our communities. You can access Wi-Fi without buying a coffee first. There’s no financial barrier to expanding your digital, health, financial, civic, tech and language literacy. Public libraries (PLs) function as a distinct space, the third space - not home, not work or school. This kind of space becomes particularly meaningful to those of us who are disenfranchised, under-housed and may have a combination of mental health and addiction issues.
A lot of public libraries have AEDs, Naloxone kits, sharps disposal containers (in every bathroom stall), and have representatives sit at the table at homeless coalitions and supervised consumption facilities discussions.
PLs are also communal spaces and community hubs where the stay-at-home dad brings his kids for toddler storytime, the new Canadian takes ESL classes with her sister, the senior citizen plays Minecraft with his granddaughter who is studying overseas, the single mom learns to code, and the university undergrad gets help balancing his budget.
Serving diverse populations with unique needs, PLs have a massive potential to augment social cohesion and wellbeing. But is the impact of PLs impeded by the fact our workforce is not representative of the communities we serve? Our workforce is not diverse. We tend to recruit and retain mainly white women who are usually well-educated, and come from and belong to middle- to upper-income families. This concerns me.
How can we meet the needs of our diverse communities effectively with a homogeneous staffing complement?
And if we want to move past simply meeting needs, how can we create and deliver innovative services?
the birth of inclusifyy
The end of last year was a tumultuous and exciting time. I was finishing up my MBA, which was a rich and rewarding learning experience, and at the time I was a director in a large urban public library system, where I was bored, underutilized, and exploring the important questions above. I was also preparing for my first conference presentation, and I would be speaking on diversity and inclusion at Canada’s largest library conference, the Ontario Library Association’s Super Conference.
My 75-minute talk was attended by 55 people (which was 55 more than I was expecting, so off to a great start!), and after those long 75 minutes, about 80% of the attendees stayed for an additional 40 minutes to ask questions and share their stories. Over the next week, I started getting phone calls and emails from attendees who were seeking guidance on implementing D&I practices in their workplace. Not long after the conference, an HR representative for a mid-sized city in Ontario reached out and said, “We heard from someone who attended your presentation and they loved it. Would you be interested in training our managers?” This signalled a moment of change for me, and got me thinking about the kind of impact I would like to have and the kind of experiences I have had thus far.
I believe that diversity of experience and plurality of thought are inextricably linked to innovation and creativity. The impact of homogeneity on community development and innovation concerns me. I also know that, too often, diversity, equity, and inclusion are side-of-the-desk commitments not only for PLs, but for many organizations. This is where Inclusifyy comes in - the result of my restless desire to leave my profession in a better place than I found it, and have an impact on how we do work and how we serve our communities.
The six months since my conference presentation have been filled with excitement, anxiety, ambiguity, nervousness, anticipation and enthusiasm! A rollercoaster ride of emotions. But nothing has ever felt this right. Nothing has ever felt this meaningful. Now that I am dedicating a 110% of my time to Inclusifyy, I wake up excited to start my workday, and yes, as an entrepreneur, there are days where the ambiguity and anxiety are crushingly painful. I must keep reminding myself that this isn’t about me.
The work that I am engaged with is larger than me and the impact it could have is significant. But it doesn’t happen in a vacuum: I wouldn’t have the mindset I do if it weren’t for my two coaches, Bernita Kiefte and Drew Soleyn, and Inclusifyy would not be where it is today without the generous support and love from numerous other connections, who have gone above and beyond to support me and spread the word.
No two days are alike and are full of “firsts.” I’m engaging with social media to market Inclusifyy’s services (in a non-market-y way). This is not only new for me but extremely uncomfortable, and I have to keep reminding myself of Susan A. David’s quote, “You don’t get a meaningful career or raise a family or leave the world a better place without stress and discomfort. Discomfort is the price of admission to a meaningful life.” Finding my social media voice and style, figuring out Inclusifyy’s voice, and creating meaningful content for LinkedIn has been interesting and a great learning opportunity filled with plenty of examples of failing forward.
As a hard introvert reaching out to people, building connections and networking has been interesting: with the help of my coaches, especially Drew, increasing self-awareness and learning how to be more mindful and present has been invaluable. I am stretching myself in ways that I never thought I would, and there is always a positive pay-off, which in turn reinforces my need to work with my discomfort to grow. Seeing the word 'Founder' on my business cards was a uniquely intense and exciting moment, and choosing to order a 1000 of these cards not only provided a discount in price (yay!), but made me realize how committed I am to Inclusifyy and its goals of changing how we do work in libraries and municipalities.
Inclusifyy exists to increase diverse representation in the library and municipal workforce by working with library and municipal leaders and library schools to address gaps in representation, build more inclusive cultures, address recruitment and promotion practices, introduce inclusion metrics and KPIs and eliminate systemic barriers.
For example, entry to the profession is prohibitively high for many populations. In order to call yourself a librarian, you need a Masters in Information or Masters in Library Science in addition to a four-year undergraduate degree… six years of education and roughly $60K in tuition. One way Inclusifyy can increase the diversity of librarianship is to provide scholarships for historically under-presented individuals.
the dawn of a journey
In the two months since I launched, Inclusifyy has served three clients, two of which are library associations in Canada. My commitment is to diversity and inclusion work, and I’ve been exploring what, exactly, that means for the context of my practice. For example, my work is necessarily informed by my personal experience as an immigrant, as a person of colour, as a woman… I’ve been mining my learnings from my MBA at Queen’s and my journey as a leader and have developed a leadership framework, which will see me fly to the City of Madison, Wisconsin where I will train city staff and managers, and members of the community at a now sold-out event. I couldn’t be more thrilled and grateful! Every time I find myself getting nervous and anxious about what the future holds for Inclusifyy, I reflect on all the loving people I have supporting me and Inclusifyy, and I remind myself of the privileges and success I have had so far, and set the intention to leverage those as launching points to create and augment impact.
I am excited for what the future will bring, and if your passion for diversity and inclusion in municipal and library services aligns with mine, reach out and join me on this journey.
FOUNDER, DIVERSITY & INCLUSION SPECIALIST
Amanda helps municipalities and library leaders build and strengthen cultures of inclusion and belonging. She guides her clients toward understanding and dismantling systemic barriers in order to leveraging the positive impact of a truly diverse workforce.
She goes further than just providing training, workshops, solutions and strategies: she helps her clients transform their effort and commitment to diversity and inclusion into a positive, long-lasting impact for workforces and communities.
Stay tuned! In the coming months we will be featuring more insights and reflections from Collaborative members.
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