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July 8, 2021

Who Can Help AMZAP & How?

July 1st was week two of the AMZAP takeover series of our Community Conversations. During this webinar, we dove deep into actionable steps to advance racial and ethnic minority representation in our field. The discussion was vibrant and it’s clear that this is an area people are passionate about!

The bulk of the conversation centered on internships and apprenticeships, seen by many as a pipeline to zoo and aquarium careers. We discussed the language we use to talk about these opportunities–is the word “internship” exclusionary? Should we be calling the position something different?

  • “Even knowing internships are a POSSIBILITY is an issue. Community outreach, school programs, all of that is crucial to letting local students even know the options and opportunities.” –Devra Wexler

  • “…I would also love to foster the educational aspect and work on exposing the career to students. I honestly would be afraid that that removing the educational aspect would lessen the value of the career. But I think changing the name from internship to apprenticeship could be helpful. It’s just important to remember that a lot of major zoos won’t even look at a resume without a degree.” – Carolina Powell

We talked also about other barriers, including ability to relocate for jobs and even the cultures that we create to retain people at our facilities (though there’s lots more to discuss here!). Participants shared success stories–programs that they’ve used to engage underrepresented audiences and the ways in which they’ve funded entry-level opportunities for local candidates:

  • Jess Niven-Kohring from the Los Angeles Zoo talked about receiving funding from the city.

  • Juan Rodriguez from the Clearwater Nature Center shared the National Zoo’s partnership with the National Museum of Natural History to enhance an existing program at the museum and build on their successes.

  • Anthony Rivera from the Georgia Aquarium requested to continue the conversation on how to fund these programs in creative ways.

We pivoted from this conversation to one discussing other barriers to zoo and aquarium careers, including the perceived professionalism of this work. We talked about the necessity for a traditional educational path as well as how to create career ladders within our field so that professionals have upward mobility.

  • Carolina Powell from the National Zoo made the plea to increase salaries for zoo and aquarium staff, recognizing that there are numerous options available to minority candidates, and the salaries in zoos and aquariums may be prohibitive.

  • TJ Lowery from Arizona Boardwalk echoed this sentiment, recognizing the need for financial freedom that many minority candidates may feel.  

In the last few minutes of our webinar, we began the conversation on how to create more inclusive and safe cultures for minority professionals within our facilities.

  • Craig Saffoe brought forward the idea of building relationships so that difficult conversations feel more accessible when they become necessary.

  • TJ Lowery reinforced this idea by suggesting that employees, particularly managers, should undergo unconscious bias training alongside other professional development opportunities to increase their ability to manage and interact with empathy.

Alongside the webinar conversation, participants were sharing a plethora of ideas and resources in the chat, including:

Conversations like this often leave us with more questions than answers; questions like: How do we move to paid apprenticeships? How can we not only recruit minorities but give them opportunities to advance?

We hope to address some of these big thoughts in future webinars but in the meanwhile, would love to hear your ideas and perspectives. Similarly, we will be sharing with you resources and initiatives as we find them in an effort to collectively move our field forward.

A huge thank you to everyone who participated in this webinar! If you have any follow-up thoughts, or suggestions for future webinars, resources, or solutions in these areas, please comment below or email us.

Click here to view the full webinar recording and click here to view the edited chat session dialogue.

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