June 17, 2021

How Are We Doing Driving Change in Social Equity?

Last June, we hosted a Community Conversation on Social Equity. It followed the murder of George Floyd and the ensuing marches and protests throughout the country crying for change–change to the systemic racism that has plagued our country for centuries. One year later, how are we doing at driving that change?

Better, perhaps, but the journey has only begun. First, we should acknowledge the positive step of having started to engage in some of the hard conversations and listen to the stories, lived experiences, and perspectives of Black and minority communities, and that those historically silenced voices are beginning to be heard. Second, many of us have made the commitments and started the work–establishing committees, surveying our staff, creating action plans–to address the myriad of social equity issues found throughout our organizations. And third, we’re paying attention and understanding that there are no quick fixes, no easy outs, and this is not just a box to be checked. The work of creating more just and equitable organizations is a long journey that demands sustained attention and effort, but it’s a road on which many of us have embarked. That’s a reason for hope and optimism.

Zoo Advisors has tried to do its part by providing a forum for multiple conversations and webinars on social equity, launching a BIPOC leadership initiative, and adding new perspectives to our team. But we too know this is just a start.

One thing has become evident over the past year: the zoo and aquarium community needs to strengthen its representation, visibility, and recognition of the minorities within its ranks. We need to actively pursue ways to develop and elevate members of these underrepresented groups throughout the career pipeline, in positions both formal and informal, as influencers, connectors, facilitators, and partners. We must expand the pipeline and keep it flowing. That means taking real action to increase diversity at all levels of our organizations, entering, moving through, and leading the zoo and aquarium profession.  

Zoo Advisors is honored to work with many leaders throughout the AZA community. Over the past year, we’ve been involved in numerous executive searches for leadership roles in zoos and other organizations. We’ve also had conversations with many boards as they’ve begun to embark on search processes. In both of these situations, the refrain is the same: the candidate pool of minority leaders is very small. That’s true on its face, but we also know that there’s a strong talent pool of minority leaders, many of whom ‘fly under the radar’. For many boards, there’s a strong perception of a dearth of minority leadership prospects. It’s one of the things we would like to help change. The goals we’re committed to include:

  • Increase the visibility of minority communities to those making hiring decisions.

  • Help identify and guide talent into leadership positions and offer resources to position them for success.

  • Help change the perceptions of hiring decision-makers by promoting awareness of and attention to this substantial and well-qualified pool of talent available within underrepresented communities.

As we’ve written, the large number of open CEO/Director positions around the country–10 at last count–represents an opportunity for truly transformational change within our community, not only in those leadership roles, but in the opportunities that will follow throughout other levels of our profession.

In support of these goals, Zoo Advisors is excited to partner with the Association of Minority Zoo & Aquarium Professionals (AMZAP) in a ‘takeover’ of our Community Conversation webinars. This will be a place to engage our community in productive dialogue about AMZAP’s efforts to ensure the flow of the pipeline, to provide a space for open and frank discussion, and to find ways to develop and mentor future leaders and connect them with others who can help advance their career growth.

  • Session One – June 24, 2021: “AM What?”

    The Association of Minority Zoo and Aquarium Professionals (AMZAP) launched in February of this year with a mission to increase minority representation in zoos, aquariums, and related animal facilities. Hear more about AMZAP and the importance of connecting minority professionals in the industry and what AMZAP does for its members and the profession. This will also be a space where a few members will share their experiences in the field and what has changed for them since they’ve joined the network. Click here to register.

  • Session Two – July 1, 2021: “Who Can Help AMZAP and How?”

    How can we as a community increase minority representation in our institutions? How can we support current minority professionals in the field while recruiting new professionals? How can you help advance this goal?  Are paid internships the best way for students to gain experience? How does someone’s culture affect their views of careers with animals? Join Zoo Advisors and the Association of Minority Zoo and Aquarium Professionals as we discuss ways to increase minority representation in the field. Bring an open mind and your thinking cap and be ready to ask questions and contribute to the conversation! Click here to register.

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