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December 1, 2021

Next Gen Leaders Discussion: Community Conversation Takeaways

Recently, we hosted a webinar with next generation leaders – those who see themselves in the zoo and aquarium world long-term but are not yet in C-suite positions. We had a vibrant conversation about the future our field, as well as reasons for hope. Our panelists – Shervin Hess, Marc Heinzman, Natali Rogers, Curtis Bennett, and Julia Klumb – come from a variety of departments, backgrounds, and areas of expertise, all of which provided a rich landscape for discussion.

Looking 30 years into the future…

  • We’ll be doing more in the conservation space, but it might look different. Advocacy will be much more prominent, and our focus will shift to community-centered approaches.

  • Our focus on animal welfare will expand and we’ll see new uses of technology and science infiltrate this space. The role of the animal keeper will shift, and our collections will be adjusted to account for the effects of climate change.

  • Guest engagement will include more complex visual storytelling and more immersive experiences.

  • We’ll need to be more flexible and adaptable as institutions, looking closely at the intersection of conservation and equity. This will mean listening to our communities, meeting people where they are, and making our institutions accessible to all.

  • Similarly, leaders will focus on the needs of their staff and think more critically about succession planning. We’ll look more deeply at the cultures we create and maintain within our institutions.

What would you say to those who are skeptical of the work that we do? What other issues do you think we should be cognizant of?

  • Julia talked about the need for a collective voice, sharing our successes, and bringing people into our work.

  • Natali built on this, saying that it wasn’t simply about what we do, but sharing the why behind our work – this will ultimately make our message more compelling.

  • Responding to comments in the chat about listening to our detractors, Shervin brought up the idea that these skeptics hold us accountable to our actions and keep us honest in our work.

  • In thinking about other issues, Marc spoke to the need for a universal standard for assessing animal welfare, and determining which animals are more and less successful in professional care.

  • Curtis brought up the need to focus on pay equity in our field, noting that meaningful work is no longer enough to retain staff.

What keeps you in the field?

  • Meaningful work was a central theme – working for mission-driven institutions that make us feel like our efforts matter in a broader context.

  • We get to live our love of nature – more than making conservation a hobby, we get to live our passions every day. We get to constantly learn and adapt; it’s a dynamic environment with an opportunity to make a difference and reach new audiences.

  • The zoo and aquarium community is tremendous – we’re supportive of one another, both in our personal and professional lives.

  • Plus, what we do is fun!

What makes you excited to be a leader this field?

  • The opportunity to be a mentor and engage in continual learning. We want to pay it forward – invest in others just like others invested in us. We’re excited to provide others with the resources and vision they need to do their best work.

  • Getting to contribute to positive change and innovation is compelling – zoos and aquariums have changed enormously over the past few decades, and we’re headed somewhere new, exciting, and impactful.

What can veterans in the field do to help emerging leaders?

  • We need our leaders to take a chance on us – especially in terms of working outside of the box and battling the “way we’ve always done things” mentality. We have skills and areas of expertise, but we also have more to contribute. We need leaders that can build and develop those skills and challenge us in the right ways.

  • We must continue to invest in the development of staff and recognize that there’s no one way to be a leader. Prioritizing the people who work in our institutions can help us increase diversity of thought and the creativity we’re capable of delivering.

Click here to view the full webinar recording.

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