Diversity, equity, inclusion and accessibility (DEIA) has been a popular topic for employers, particularly over the past decade, though efforts in this area date back as early as the 1920s with the creation of the Women’s Bureau of the Department of Labor.
The first initiative around diversity in the workplace is recognized as President Truman signing Executive Order 9981 to desegregate the armed services. The next big change was in 1961 when President John F. Kennedy established the Commission on the Status of Women around hiring women and allowing maternity leave. The Equal Pay Act in 1963 was to allow men and women to be paid equally for similar work, although there is much work yet to be done around gender equity.
In 1964, Title VII of the Civil Rights Act prohibited discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex, and national origin. The Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967 prohibited age discrimination against employees and applicants over the age of 40. Finally, the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) of 1990 required employers to provide reasonable accommodations to employees who have a disability to enable them to perform the job. Many organizations are being tasked with strengthening their DEIA commitments, but what does this mean, particularly for zoos or other cultural institutions?
DEIA work continues to remain important and moves the conversation from minimum legal requirements to solving internal and external concerns so that employees, volunteers, and guests feel welcome and a sense of belonging. Moving along a continuum from tolerance to accessibility to integration and ultimately inclusion allows the institution to not only promote participation for the majority of its community, but to allow for meaningful contributions from them, as well. DEIA values should permeate the institution at every job classification, every department and every level, including the board of directors and executive leadership.
The next question is how. How do zoos, aquariums, and cultural institutions make this happen?
It can start with an institutional assessment or analyzing the strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats (SWOT) across all departments. It is important to have shared language to discuss these findings, so a glossary of terms may be necessary for understanding what is presented. Creating a DEIA scorecard to regularly review demographic metrics is key for compliance with seasonal, part-time and full-time employees, in addition to monitoring the diversity of the applicant pools for staff and volunteers.
If experiencing high employee turnover, are exit interviews being conducted to gain insight into the culture of the institution itself. Another key component is assessing whether job descriptions are neutral with regards to gender and socioeconomic status since this sends a message about the company before a candidate even applies.
Demographic representation has shown marginal successes but ultimately equitable workplaces are better positioned to deliver mission outcomes. In other words, diversity should be visible, but it does not end there. Talent has no zip code.
Let’s continue to work together to empower managers to create a culture of DEIA with tools and examples, moving beyond intention to action.
De'Andrea Matthews is the director of diversity and community engagement at the Detroit Zoological Society.