Dominique Riviere on the importance of developing a DEI practice

Despite earning a PhD, Dominique Riviere always knew she wanted to put her academic knowledge in the service of equity and social justice work.

Dominique Riviere on the importance of developing a DEI practice
Dominique Riviere, PhD, Principal at Fictive Kin Equity Lab

Have you heard? Moms at Work recently launched The Collective, Canada's first professional association for working moms and a private, safe space to develop leadership skills and create positive changes in your workplace and beyond. Here, we'll be featuring some of our members. Next up, DEI expert Dominique Riviere.

Despite earning her PhD in Education, Dominique Riviere always knew she wanted to put her academic knowledge in the service of equity and social justice work. We connected with Dominique over email this week to learn more about her company, Fictive Kin Equity Lab and her creative approach to diversity, equity and inclusion.

You’re the founder and principal at Fictive Kin Equity Lab. Tell me about your work?

Fictive Kin is an inquiry-based consulting firm on a mission to help transform companies in ways that are more inclusive, humane, and just.

I founded it because I know first-hand how incredibly difficult it is to create sustainable, equitable change in an organization.

A couple of years ago, I realized that the best way to create lasting change is for companies to rewrite what I call “institutional narratives”. Those are the deep, invisible stories that are rarely thought about or paid attention to, but which are fundamental to defining an organization and what it values.

So, I work with clients to analyze how their company’s narratives - i.e. their “stories” - are embedded in their policies, culture, and approaches to diversity leadership.

Then, I help them to place diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) at the centre of those stories, so that their efforts are sustained, their teams are energized, and their impact is magnified.

Where does the name Fictive Kin come from?

The name “Fictive Kin” is inspired by the original meaning of “fictive kinship”: the strong social / emotional bonds that can exist among groups of people who are not biologically or legally related to each other. On a grand scale, this is true of all human beings.  We are all kin.

I also use “fictive” as an adjective to describe the shared human trait of using stories – i.e. “fictions” – to define our reality and give meaning to our lives.

You have your PhD in Education. Why did you decide to leave academia and start your own firm?

Ooh, that question has a very long answer!  The short(ish) version is that I’d never intended to stay in academia.  I’m a relatively impatient person who wants to do ALL THE THINGS. So while I loved doing deep, scholarly work, I knew that love wasn’t going to be enough to sustain me throughout a career as a professor.

Instead, I looked for positions that allowed me to put my academic knowledge in the service of equity and social justice.  This led me on a very circuitous path until I got to a point–the summer of 2020, to be exact–when I realized that I could be of even greater service by going out on my own.

That being said… starting a business in the middle of a global health pandemic was maayyybe not the best decision I’ve ever made, but I’m happy to say that it’s all working out!

What types of organizations can benefit from your work?

One of the benefits of my circuitous career path is that I have experience in more than one industry.  It’s for this reason that Fictive Kin is “sector agnostic”.

In addition, I work with clients on a really fundamental level, the idea being that if you properly embed DEI at this level, it will flow-up throughout the rest of your organization.

The only criterion I have for the companies who work with me is that they are not at the beginning of their DEI journey. They should have at least three years of working, (un)learning, trying, and failing under their belts before they come to me.

You also offer a weekly DEI practice program. Can you tell me about that?

Yes!  The program is called PRIMED, and it’s the distillation of my 20+ years of experience in equity work into four short modules (over four weeks) that will help people move forward on their DEI journey.

I designed it to be a practice in progressive personal inquiry that prepares people to see DEI in a new light, because the way our society is structured often makes the connections among the “D”, “E” and “I” difficult to recognize.

The content is delivered straight to your email inbox, twice a week.  Tuesdays are for learning and doing; Fridays are for thinking and reflecting.  Each set of questions / activities can be done in 20 minutes or less.

That’s it!  PRIMED is meant to be simple. There’s no quiz, or checklist, or hilariously cheesy video to watch. (Okay, there may be one. Quite possibly two. 😉)

And, you can complete the program however you wish: writing in a notebook, typing at a keyboard, or recording your thoughts on your phone.

Who is PRIMED for?

PRIMED is for anyone interested in learning about the basic principles of equity and social justice, or has interest in DEI for their organization. No previous experience required!

The program works best if you’re an intrinsically motivated, self-directed learner who is open to:
● getting comfortable with discomfort;
● giving yourself the time to sit with the complexity of equity work; and
● shifting your focus away from individualistic behavioural change towards meaningful systemic change.

Why is developing a DEI practice important?

Inequities are deeply embedded in all aspects of human society, and have been so for hundreds–if not thousands–of years.  This isn’t to say that we haven’t made progress towards a more just and equitable world: we absolutely have.

The point is, that “progress” is not linear, nor is it guaranteed.  So, we need to commit to practicing the principles of equity and social justice–of which DEI is one example–in order to build up our resilience, confidence, and energy when doing this work.

What can people expect to get out of the program?

I’ll let some of the former participants answer this question:

“PRIMED is a fantastic introduction for those who are looking to grow in their knowledge of what equity, diversity, and inclusion really mean. In addition to providing valuable information, the program asks us to do the work of looking inside, which is where transformation starts.”

“PRIMED is deep work and the weekly emails were kept at a length that seemed doable. They were very rich in information, but it was distilled down to its essence in a really beautiful way.”

Where can we learn more about Fictive Kin Equity Lab's programs and services?

Registration for Module 1 of PRIMED is still open!  Registration closes on March 15, 2022. Click here to join.

You can also follow Fictive Kin Equity lab on Twitter, and/or subscribe to lab notes, our monthly communication for news, updates, promos, and more.

And, if you want to learn more about DISCOVEREI, my flagship service package, you can book a 15-minute call with me.

Dr. Dominique Riviere earned her Ph.D. from the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education, at the University of Toronto.  Since then, she has developed over fifteen years of deeply embedded experience in equity and social justice, across multiple sectors, including post-secondary education and technology / innovation.

Her academic training in ethnography and narrative inquiry also helped to show her the importance of storytelling in defining who an organization is, how it operates, and what it values. As such, in 2020, Dr. Riviere created Fictive Kin Equity Lab, an inquiry-based consultancy for organizations who want to become inclusive, humane, and just by placing DEI at the centre of their stories.

Dr. Riviere is also an avid reader, an unabashed chocoholic, mother to the world’s most energetic 4-year-old, and newly determined to someday live in a country where winter does not exist.