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Today marks the start of day two of the 2017 edition of GCUC Canada. As the conference takes place in our hometown of Vancouver this year, just a few blocks walk away from the coworking space where our team works, it’s been wonderful to see our city play host to a colorful group of coworking enthusiasts.
We’ve attended talks, engaged in face-to-face conversations with members of the coworking community we’ve connected with in a digital capacity, and generally soaked up the inspiring atmosphere that naturally occurs when you get a room full of inspiring, coworking-minded leaders together under one roof.
This year, I had the honor of moderating one of the panels on the topic of diversity. I spoke with three individuals who are each focused on attracting and engaging a diverse, inclusive coworking community using their own methods. Let’s meet the panelists.
Pat Christie founded SPACE, a community hub with a mission to nurture Vancouver’s emerging designers and creatives.
Nigel Mojica is the Operations and Communications Coordinator for RADIUS, a social innovation hub and ventures incubator offshoot of local university SFU’s Beedie School of Business.
Denise Brennan (often known simply as “D”) founded Creative Coworkers, a non-profit collective nestled into Vancouver’s Railtown neighborhood which fosters a sense of community for creatives in the city.
With such a broad topic as “diversity,” I was curious to see where our conversation unfolded. We began by discussing what this abstract term “diversity” truly means. Ultimately, all of the panelists came to the same conclusion–true diversity is reached when individuals of different perspectives, backgrounds, and opinions all feel a sense of collective inclusion. At its core, this cultivation of belonging is closely aligned with many of the core values of coworking.
But of course, creating a diverse coworking community is easier said than done. Saying your space promotes diversity and actually working to gain and retain that diverse community aren’t necessarily synonymous.
Each of our panelists and their coworking space had their own approach to work towards breaking down barriers and fostering a welcoming environment for all individuals.
Nigel shared an initiative RADIUS is involved in called The Binner’s Project, a program designed to foster social and economic inclusion for an often marginalized group of the city’s downtown core. The program employs and supports binners, or individuals who collect redeemable containers and other objects from bins. The project aims to improve the economic opportunities for these individuals while working to reduce the stigma carried by these informal recyclable collectors who ultimately help the city keep recyclable containers out of landfill.
D recalled a favorite tradition around the Creative Coworkers office, where everyone breaks from their day at 2pm, drops whatever they’re doing, and does 10 pushups. She’s found it to be a wonderful way to bring the community together around a common goal, one that takes virtually no time out of their day so it’s a very small ask. They end in a big round of high-fives to celebrate. It’s become a great way to break up the workday (while breaking down barriers) and brings everyone from freelancers to small teams of people together as one collective group, if only for a moment.
Pat spoke of the “happy accident” in SPACE, the combination of their ground level access and windows that are always full of eye-catching artwork. People who are walking by SPACE for any number of reasons sometimes see something in the window that catches their eye and stops them in their tracks, on their way from Point A to Point B. Maybe they take pause. Perhaps their curiosity gets the best of them and they make their way through the front door to learn more about the space behind this storefront. Pat and his team have found that this foot traffic serves as a wonderful litmus test to find individuals of all types who are united around the common values of curiosity and creativity. When someone wanders through the front door, they’re all greeted the same: “Hello human! Welcome to SPACE.” It’s equal parts quirky and unassuming, making no judgements about who this person is or what they’re about. And it serves as the foundation of their “marketing” strategy.
Ultimately, through our panelists’ musings, there was a common thread–diversity is achieved through whatever methods will allow the widest network of people to feel a sense of authentic belonging within the community. Welcoming everyone with open arms, finding ways to break down barriers and empower different subsets of communities to come together collectively under one roof, is a powerful notion indeed.