Inclusive design: Indigenous ties inspire new Toronto workplace

We proudly hosted Indigenous community members to hold a blessing ceremony at our newly-opened Canadian headquarters in downtown Toronto. Site leadership worked with Indigenous leaders and organizations throughout the design process to respectfully integrate the culture into the physical space.

An Indigenous woman performs a blessing ceremony to employees in an office.
An Indigenous woman performs a blessing ceremony to employees in an office.

Diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) leaders all have something in common: inclusion is part of their operational DNA and central to the behaviors they model across the organization. The responsibility to create a more equitable and inclusive world belongs to everyone. 

DEI is foundational to our company and explicit in our values. It’s a sustained effort, and exemplified through everything we do – not just when the calendar or trending topics remind us of this commitment. It’s also something that is taken into account at every step in the employee journey – including how we design our physical spaces – to ensure employees can bring their best whole selves to work, where everyone benefits from diverse perspectives and talents. 

In late 2022, we welcomed Indigenous knowledge keeper Chrystal Tabobandung – the owner of RAISE – to our Canadian headquarters in downtown Toronto to offer a blessing of the new site. This new location is on the traditional territory of many nations, including the Mississaugas of the Credit, the Anishnabeg, the Chippewa, the Haudenosaunee, and the Wendat peoples, and now home to many diverse First Nations, Inuit, and Metis peoples. 

Originating from Wasauksing First Nation in Ontario, Canada, Chrystal is a proud Anishnabekwe of the Ojibway tribe. She has a degree in First Nations Studies and an Associate Arts Degree in Indigenous Government Studies. Leveraging Chrystal’s deep connection to and understanding of the Indigenous culture, the blessing ceremony – a first of its kind for Intuit – indicated that our new site was approved of and blessed by the Indigenous community. 

But this partnership with the local Indigenous community went beyond the ceremony itself, with Toronto site leadership working with Tabobandung and RAISE throughout the design process to integrate the Indigenous culture into the physical space.

“No words can express the gratitude for the incorporation of the indigeneity to your office space,” said Tabobandung at the ceremony. “I feel as an Indigenous person, I’m being seen and finally being acknowledged and consulted on projects like this one to make sure that they are culturally sensitive and done in the right way.”

It was a special and sacred moment, and one long in the making. 

At the outset of the Toronto site design, which began in 2021, Intuit put out a call out to Toronto employees to name the meeting rooms in the new space. Along with a number of other fun and localized ideas, one that stood out to leadership was an Indigenous theme.

“As soon as we saw the theme we immediately liked it and recognized its importance to our culture and place here in Canada and beyond,” says Toronto site leader and Head of Finance Chris Kallinis. “However, through the ideation process, the first thing we discovered was how much we didn’t know about the culture we intended to celebrate. Frankly that was a problem and a wake up call for us.”

The team decided that if they were to pursue an Indigenous theme, they needed to engage the right people from Indigenous backgrounds at the outset. Kallinis, along with Intuit Indigenous Peoples Network leaders, took it upon themselves to track down organizations that could educate the team on the culture and ensure true representation.

This journey eventually led the team to Chrystal and her culture awareness and competency training business. The team met with Chrystal to explain their vision, and seek advice on how to go about honouring the culture in the right way. A few weeks later, Chrystal came back to Intuit to educate them on a number of culture touchstones, including the seven grandfather teachings. For the Intuit Canada team, this was an epiphany moment, given the deep alignment to Intuit’s identity and culture. 

“Wisdom, bravery, respect, honesty, truth, love, and humility. When I presented those to the Intuit team, we all had goosebumps, because when you look at the teachings and you look at Intuit’s values, it really resonates,” said Tabobandung.  

Chrystal’s knowledge and lived experience ensured the designers properly integrated and honoured the culture, from the nomenclature to the physical design attributes, ensuring the proper Indigenous names, symbols, and pronunciations were represented. The team also engaged the local Indigenous community to curate Indigenous artwork, and even had an artist dissemble then rebuild a canoe that was previously featured at the former Canadian headquarters in Mississauga, Ontario.

“This approach was about purposefully building an environment that embraces and celebrates our diverse culture by truly integrating and learning from those we’re hoping to represent,” said Kallinis. “We’re very grateful to Chrystal and of course Intuit’s Indigenous Peoples Network, who have driven this effort to help the organization cultivate awareness of, and ultimately enrich opportunities for Indigenous Peoples.”

This process of reflection and education is one example of Intuit’s commitment to building a truly inclusive culture, and represents a milestone in our journey to be inclusive by design –  not only through equitable talent practices, policies, and resources, but by designing our physical spaces in consultation with groups we aim to represent. 

“We wanted to marry design with culture and that’s what we’ve done here,” added Kallinis. “The energy that exudes from people when they’re in this building and when they come down to this floor and they see the care and the thoughtfulness that’s gone into this. It’s really powerful.”

The Toronto site design process and ceremony is an example of how organizations can develop meaningful partnerships with underrepresented groups, and ultimately accelerate prosperity and representation for the diverse communities where we live and work. And according to Kallinis, there’s no greater mission than that.  

“This is really only the beginning of many efforts to foster inclusivity and promote diversity, not only within our site but within the community here in Toronto and Canada broadly.” 

At Intuit, we’re an equal opportunity employer committed to recruiting top diverse talent in order to increase representation to foster a truly inclusive work environment. Explore our career opportunities here.