Changing perspectives in organizational culture is a long-term commitment, and Shannon Loutitt, the founder of the International Indigenous Speakers Bureau (IISB), is an expert in this process. IISB, a long-time partner of SAY Magazine, aims to create opportunities for Indigenous and non-Indigenous communities to connect and build bridges by providing access to a wealth of Indigenous speakers from around the world. So what does business reconciliation look like, and how can the relationships between non-Indigenous and Indigenous communities be improved? Loutitt offers her perspective and advice on how corporations can get started on a journey of incorporating an Indigenous perspective into their company culture.
“A way to start is to familiarize yourself with the Calls to Action from the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC)1 and the United Nations Declaration of the Rights of Indigenous People (UNDRIP)2. This is the first step in rebuilding relations with Indigenous people,” said Loutitt. “Then start a process within your organization to honour and implement several TRC Calls to Action. It is important to realize that Indigenous people represent perspectives and knowledge that have not been available to the world until now. From environmental sciences to genetics, Indigenous people bring valuable solutions to global industry issues. If companies want to be innovative and successful in the future, they need to make educating staff about Indigenous perspectives a priority.”
IISB empowers organizations to assess where they are in the multi-stage process of successful Indigenous engagement and how they can continue to improve. Loutitt often works with organizations that have never met or worked with Indigenous Peoples, and also with those that have thoughtfully implemented policies regarding Indigenous engagement. Some clients are already members of Indigenous networking organizations, such as the Canadian Council for Aboriginal Business (CCAB), but for those that are considering connecting with the Indigenous community in any number of ways, IISB can provide a pathway. Through its speakers, who are knowledge-keepers and/or industry experts, IISB is able to provide the education and perspectives needed to progress an organization toward success.
Through her work, Loutitt has seen organizations at all levels of development; however, when she sees outstanding effort and success, she is quick to recognize excellence in leadership. One company that shines in this area of education and diversity training, according to Loutitt, is the International Business Machines Corporation (IBM) because of the depth and breadth of their commitment to Native/Indigenous diversity and development initiatives.
Recognized by Mediacorp Canada Inc. as one of Canada’s Best Diversity Employers for 2021, IBM is proving it is one of the leaders in diversity, inclusion and Indigenous reconciliation in the corporate world. For over three decades, Indigenous Peoples and Native Americans have been contributing to a business culture of inclusivity that promotes equality and encourages diversity, driving systemic change and sustainable development on a global scale.
“At IBM, we are seeking to educate everyone in our organization to shift, shape and broaden the way decisions are made across the board,” said Sophia Dozier, diversity and inclusion leader at IBM. “We have diversity training, sure, but our approach goes much deeper than that by exposing IBMers to different cultural perspectives on a regular basis from many angles.”
Loutitt is optimistic about her work with IBM. “From the very first meeting, I could feel the intention and passion in alignment with what the TRC and UNDRIP are trying to achieve. In our initial conversation, Dozier came to the table vulnerable and willing to share IBM’s need for Indigenous education and their struggle with connecting with First Nations people. Her honesty and genuine desire to rectify this is what started our journey off right. This all led to the development of IBM’s first speaker series.”
IISB speakers, Jolene Stockman, Jack Saddleback and Dr. Keolu Fox illuminated IBM staff on topics such as the benefits of neurodiversity, Two-Spirit perspectives, and what it means to see with an Indigenous lens. The unprecedented success of the series has led to developing an ongoing speaker series and other Indigenous engagement opportunities with IISB.
IBM is an organization of over 300,000 employees globally, and Loutitt feels they are committed to ongoing learning. “I think a lot of organizations have the misconception that learning, in particular about Indigenous perspectives, is a box to check or a one-off requirement. Unfortunately, those organizations will miss the incredible opportunity to level-up their businesses in a new way. IBM knows this. One of the things that is so impressive about IBM is this is not the beginning of the journey for them. Their policies, procedures, and initiatives on diversity and inclusion are beyond anything I have seen to date, and they continue to keep trying to do better.”
Recently, IBM implemented a global allyship certification for their employees. This certification is a badge the employee receives to let others know they are a culturally sensitive person with whom they can connect. The program requires the employee to complete education on a number of diversity topics and ask for community recommendations in order to be certified as an ally. The program also asks participants to continue to train and apply for regular recertification.
Loutitt has a very clear plan of action for the organizations she works with. She counsels, “Invest in education because it will scale your business more than you know.” She also encourages other businesses to follow or create partnerships with allies like IBM. “Don’t try to do it alone. Engage with organizations like IISB or CCAB to help move you on your path to impactful engagement. You won’t regret it,” said Loutitt. “Indigenous people come from a world of storytellers, and we understand the power of the spoken word. Stories can heal, inspire and transform lives.”
For more information about the International Indigenous Speakers Bureau, visit iisb.ca.