Culture Change in Our AZA Community: A Conversation About Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion and What Needs to Change

We’ve been thinking a lot about diversity, equity and inclusion and where we stand as a profession and as individuals—how far have we come on this journey and how far do we still have to travel? At Zoo Advisors, our answer would be, first, as a profession we’ve not come very far but we’ve made progress; and second, we still have a long way to travel, but we’re learning the way.

At Zoo Advisors, we’re proud of our work promoting and advancing women in leadership—in AZA and in our community as well. We’ve spent the last year speaking and advocating on the topic, sharing its importance at the AZA, WAZA, and IAAPA conferences. As we continue to work in this area, we’ve begun to realize that the issue is greater than women’s advancement alone—it’s about broader issues of true gender diversity, equity, accessibility, and inclusion, (DEAI)—and the critical need for culture change. Without real culture change, DEAI may be just hollow words, just “checking the boxes” to say we did it. 

To advance the discussion on DEAI and gender equity, we’re presenting a session, “Cultural Change in Our Community,” at the AZA Directors Policy Conference. We’ll follow up on September’s AZA sessions—the women’s executive forum with Sally Jewell, our women in leadership panel, and our group discussion with some AZA men to gain their perspectives, but we’ll broaden our focus a bit for this session to look at the wider issue of equity and culture change.

We’ll engage DPC participants in thought-provoking dialogue around this issue, presenting data and personal examples from our colleagues about their experiences on the “equity continuum”—where they see themselves and our AZA community on a continuum from apathy>awareness>action>advocacy. But we won’t stop there; we’ll talk about strategies for nurturing systemic change in our organizations and provide a toolkit of resources for “back home” use. We’ll employ a mix of panel presentations, audience participation, and real time social media Q&A to encourage honest, thought-provoking dialogue and concrete suggestions for fostering change.

Stay tuned to hear more of what we learned and what we will continue to do to make progress.