Inclusion at the top: AMSSA’s community work pushes back against the status quo

March 21 is the UN-designated International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination. For Katie Crocker, CEO at the Affiliation of Multicultural Societies and Service Agencies of BC (AMSSA), the work to make Vancouver’s institutions, particularly its workplaces, more inclusive requires inviting diversity to the table not just as guests, but as leaders.

“Our systems, including workplaces and institutions, are designed to keep the people in power at the decision-making level,” says Crocker. “Organizations will congratulate themselves on having a diverse workforce, but when you look at the roles and who is making decisions, it is still white men.”

Having been at AMSSA for 10 years, Crocker has seen the organization grow from a staff of nine to 35 and face new challenges, including restrictions placed on client services according to one’s immigration status – all the while remaining strong advocates for the benefits of diversity.

Workshopping inclusion

Since its inception in 1977, AMSSA has looked to establish a society based on the principle of justice and equity for all. In addition to serving its community and government stakeholders, it also functions as a province-wide network of support and resources for its more than 80 member organizations. A key aspect of its anti-racism work lies in its two workshops – Safe Harbour: Respect for All and Cultural Safety. For Crocker, an insightful workshop is one that facilitates participant engagement with both the material and each other.

“We often find that within one group there are a few folks who have a lot of knowledge in their justice, equity, diversity and inclusion journeys while others are just starting to learn about diversity and inclusion,” she Crocker. “In these dynamics, those who have more advanced knowledge support their colleagues in the understanding.”

Examining topics such as biases, stereotypes and discrimination, Safe Harbour introduces students to diversity and inclusion principles, encouraging them to recognize the value of an inclusive work environment while learning how to apply these principles to their workplaces. Similarly, the Cultural Safety workshop explores intersectionality, respectful communication and cultural humility, as instructors lead participants into a deeper understanding of relationship power dynamics in their workplaces.

“Having a knowledgeable and dynamic presenter is always great, especially with live workshops. Sometimes the interaction within the group may be emotional, curiosity or even tension and hostility,” says Crocker. “A good facilitator and presenter will often give space to ensure all participants feel included, but also be able to move the workshop along.”

Other useful tips, according to Crocker, include establishing rules around participant engagement at the beginning of the workshop and customizing materials as well as activities to each of their clients. Despite these strategies, there remain challenges in ensuring that DEI workshops are fulfilling their goals.

Difficult conversations

While some participants have sought out and requested workshops for their own development, Crocker notes that people usually hear about these workshops from their employers who have a working relationship with AMSSA. Crocker further considers how mandated DEI training in the workplace may lead to participant disengagement.

AMSSA CEO Katie Crocker says that in order to truly prioritize inclusion, diversity in leadership is key. | Photo courtesy of AMSSA BC.

“They may feel forced into training and are there just because they must be, which can be a hindrance to learning as they may not understand the importance of the training to their work,” she says.

For Crocker, challenges with applying DEI principles also exist beyond their workshops. One of these challenges is the adoption of a mentality that pits an “us,” the historically disenfranchised group, against a “them,” the historically empowered group composed of white men. In response to such binary perspectives, Crocker, who identifies as a white, settler woman but also someone who has experienced mental illness, advocates for an intersectional approach that examines how discrimination may even exist inside the “us” category.

“This is a very hard topic to address, but it has to be talked about,” says Crocker. “Sometimes we do not understand or support each other within [the] scope of the spectrum of people identified in DEI politics or practices.”

A multifaceted approach to DEI is indeed a foundation of AMSSA’s community work, as they support many settlement program providers around B.C. Some notable members include Immigrant Services of BC, MOSAIC, and Shuswap Immigrant Services Society. With a focus on newcomer settlement in B.C., Crocker highlights how important it is to recognize Indigenous leadership and understand what it means to be living on this unceded and stolen land.

“Many newcomers have their own experiences with colonization, and we have had impactful dialogue circles about how they can leverage their own medicines and cultural practices to connect with and show respect to Indigenous people here,” says Crocker.

To this end, AMSSA has collaborated with Indigenous leaders to form an Indigenous Advisory Council, aiming to teach new immigrants the lasting impacts of colonialism and ways of living that recognize Indigenous rights. For Crocker, institutions can only become more inclusive when those at the top reflect the diversity of Vancouver’s communities.

“Women, Indigenous people, Black people, people of colour, people with disabilities, neurodiverse people, gender diverse people, 2SLGBTQIA folks must all have a place in boardrooms – but that place is not just around the table, it is at the head of the table,” says Crocker.

For more information about AMSSA, visit