February 17, 2021

Moving Ahead on the DEAI Journey: Learning by Listening to Lived Experiences

Last week over 140 people listened to the lived experiences around diversity, equity, and inclusion from leaders throughout our community in the second of our Community Conversations webinar series focused on social justice. The stories they shared were from the heart, honest, and thought-provoking. They were perspectives that needed to be heard. We left these conversations wanting to hear more and thinking about what we can do to make greater and faster progress. By listening to these stories, we learned:

  • Understand intent vs. impact. We can think we know how to proceed but our methods may have unintended consequences. That’s okay, we just have to tend to those impacts.

  • It’s a journey with no end point. It’s not about getting somewhere, it’s about progress.

  • It helps to have trusted colleagues and friends to help you along this journey but be careful not to rely on any one person to do the emotional labor for you.

  • All voices are valid. We can do this if we move forward together.

  • We need to “de-center whiteness” and learn allyship.

  • DEAI shouldn’t be just a committee or a department but an integrated practice and value. “If you need a committee, you’re in trouble.” This can’t be just a fad.

  • Pull back the “curtain of culture” to seek, help, and support others.

  • “Be in a place to make change.” We need to create opportunities and be intentional.

  • Explore “catalyst circles.” Those who have done them feel they’re effective.

  • Ensure the next generation of leaders is more diverse. A lack of different perspectives would be crippling. “We’ve created a system we live in where old white guys have written the job descriptions, set the rules, then tell (diverse) people they don’t qualify.”

  • Raise the profile and status of working in zoos and aquariums. It may not be seen as a “proper status” profession.

  • Diversity sometimes happens if you do the right thing.

Tony Vecchio, Jacksonville Zoo, shared these thoughts as follow-up to the session:

“We all share the mission to save the world’s wildlife and wild places. Having a diverse and inclusive workforce isn’t a luxury; it’s a necessity if we’re going to accomplish that mission.

I do worry that equity and inclusion efforts have become the new shiny object for some of my colleagues who have never before shown any concern about the topic. We shouldn’t look at having a diverse workforce as the goal. The goal is to save the world. Having a diverse workforce will allow us to accomplish that goal. 

We need to be thinking about how to utilize all of the knowledge, experience, and perspective of a broader, more inclusive community to help accomplish the mission. Having a zoo or aquarium team that reflects the demographics of the community doesn’t mean anything if we aren’t utilizing that diversity in a meaningful way.”

We applaud and thank Brian Davis, Cassandra Ray, Charles Hopper, Robert Churchill, Dana Murphy, Cynthia Vernon, and Tony Vecchio for sharing their experiences. Yet, we know that others may not be comfortable sharing in a webinar venue. With that in mind, we offer an anonymous medium to share your lived experience that I know others may find valuable. Click here to share your experience.

Join us this Thursday the 18th at 1:00 EST as 15 additional leaders share their lived experiences and stories with an opportunity for smaller group feedback and dialogue. We’ll then talk about how we begin to move towards concrete action. Register here.

Click here to view the Lived Experiences webinar recording.

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