Great Pacific Media
Credit: Great Pacific Media. David Way leads TV and film producer Great Pacific Media, which brings under-represented voices and communities into the mainstream

Winner

Great Pacific Media

At first glance, Highway Thru Hell looks like a man’s world. The long-running documentary series, created by Great Pacific Media (GPM) for Discovery Channel, follows the male employees of a heavy vehicle rescue company as they toil to keep B.C. highways open.

But the producer is a woman: Nicole Tomlinson, who worked her way up to the top job after joining the show on day one. “She’s breaking down the barriers as a female showrunner along with others in a very male-dominated part of the factual industry,” says GPM president David Way, who has supported Tomlinson. 

GPM is the factual division of Vancouver-based content production studio Thunderbird Entertainment Group, our Diversity and Inclusion winner last year. Way, who was named president in 2020, shares the parent company’s commitment to bringing under-represented voices and communities into the mainstream.

“We try to look for people that have a strong voice they want to get across, help them find that platform,” says the veteran of unscripted television, whose four-decade career spans producing, directing, writing and hosting. “And then what’s really important is, within the creative process, the team around them understands where they’re coming from.”

Way points to former BC Lion Sebastian Clovis, host of HGTV’s Gut Job, one of three GPM series with culturally diverse leads that Corus Entertainment picked up in 2021. “In so many different ways, he breaks down boundaries of what it is to be on HGTV.”

Creating opportunities for the Indigenous community is a priority for GPM, which last year launched a partnership with Wapanatahk Media. Led by Tania Koenig-Gauchier and Shirley McLean, the production company specializes in authentic Indigenous stories. Its first series, Dr. Savannah: Wild Rose Vet, premieres this year. 

Over the past few years, GPM has helped to advance and support the careers of more than five women through mentorship and promotions, Way says. The company has also worked with several Indigenous filmmakers on various productions; for example, Dr. Savannah employed about half a dozen. GPM runs a twinning program for aspiring series producers, too, Way explains. “We’ll literally build it into the budget and make sure that we’re putting the money into it so somebody gets a mentor along the way.”

Meanwhile, female members of the leadership team include Dana Johl, vice-president of production, Lindsay MacAdam, senior VP, content and business development; and Wendy McKernan, vice-president, programming and partnerships. Of GPM’s roughly 300 employees, 45 percent identify as female and 28 percent as BIPOC. 

GPM, which regularly hosts in-house diversity and inclusion workshops and joins industry panels on the topic, now has nine shows in play after doubling its production volume in 2021. The company has always focused on diverse characters, but times have changed for the better lately, Way observes. “There’s many more platforms for it to get out there,” he says of GPM’s work. “So we’re able to shift the needle because there’s more opportunities.”

Alderhill Planning
Credit: Ryan Oliverius. Alderhill, which does planning for Indigenous communities, assigns team members to parts of projects that play to their strengths

Runner-up

Alderhill Planning

When Elaine Alec, Chris Derickson and Jessie Hemphill launched Alderhill Planning in 2016, the tagline for their three-person business was “Indigenous planning by Indigenous planners.” That would change. “As we started to grow, we started having these conversations, bringing in different people,” recalls Alec, whose community planning firm is also our Indigenous Prosperity winner. The idea behind opening things up: “This person isn’t Indigenous, but they can contribute in a really meaningful way, based on their gifts and their experience.”

At a strategic planning session, a team member said that the company’s tagline made them uncomfortable, Alec explains. “They felt like we weren’t being totally honest because they thought maybe our clients were expecting an Indigenous face to pop up in a meeting.” So Alderhill adopted a new, more inclusive slogan: “an Indigenous-owned planning firm of diverse facilitators, planners, artists and systems thinkers.” 

Today, the company’s 11 employees and its team of 12 to 20 subcontractors include Indigenous and non-Indigenous people from a variety of age groups who identify across the gender spectrum, Alec says. But for Alderhill, diversity and inclusion go beyond race, age and gender.

Rather than use job descriptions, Alec notes, the company assigns people to parts of projects that play to their strengths. That approach prompts questions about how everyone can best contribute to the work. “Are you an action thinker?” Alec asks. “Are you an innovative person, a systems thinker who needs a lot of time to process and contribute? Or are you a storyteller?”

Alderhill, which has a four-day workweek that sees staff devote 65 percent of their time to billable hours and 35 percent to well-being, also does a mental health check-in every Monday. “We adjust schedules and tasks for people for that week based on where they’re at for capacity, based on how they’re able to contribute, based on life circumstances,” Alec says.