Diversity, equity, access, and inclusion (DEAI) have never been more visible or prominent within the zoo and aquarium world than in 2021. As we all seek to be better connected, representative, and relevant to our communities, this focus has both shed a light on intense inequities within our field and paved a pathway for mission activation moving forward. For many individuals and organizations, our privilege has previously shielded us from these topics. Whether discussing issues of race, ethnicity, LGBTQ, neurodiversity, gender identity, and many other dimensions of diversity, we are now accountable to our staff, communities, and partners to take action.
As a professional community, the Association of Zoos and Aquariums has been formally working to address DEAI topics since at least 1999 when the Diversity Task Force, the precursor to the current Standing Committee (2018), was formed. Several Executive Leadership Development Program (ELDP) Action Learning Teams have focused their group projects on making the business case for diversity (2014), creating the Diversity Summit (2015), surveying zoo and aquarium directors on best ways to advance this work (2019), and producing a shareable video, reorganized library of resources, and more accessible web page devoted to DEAI (2020-21).
In response to George Floyd’s murder in May 2020, the AZA Board released a statement condemning violence against Black people, adding, “Doing nothing, or even little, will allow evil to continue to triumph.” AZA adopted a position statement several months later, recognizing the history and effects of colonialism and systemic oppression in the work we collectively do and committing to improving its efforts to address DEAI. Further, AZA added a fifth promise to its strategic plan to, “advance diversity, equity, access and inclusion practices in the profession and integrate these as values into our organizational cultures.” This resulted in a DEAI Action Plan for 2020-2023 for the AZA staff, as a membership organization.
Accreditation standard 7.9 was updated in 2020 in response to some of the 2019 survey results and to help outline for accredited members the need for continuous improvement toward DEAI goals, and the Diversity Committee outlined guidelines for helping members meet this important standard. And just last week, members of the Diversity Committee, last year’s ELDP cohort, and AZA staff ran a webinar on Advancing Diversity, Equity, Access, & Inclusion: Finding and Using an Updated Library of Resources.
These issues and this work are not new, but we are at a pivotal moment to become a professional community that truly is diverse, equitable, accessible, and inclusive. Some of us can be models and beacons for those of us who need some support and guidance. Some of us can take action within our own sphere of influence and some can lead entire organizations forward. No matter where each of us is in this process or what role we serve at our respective organization, there is more we can do. And do more, we must.
There should be no lingering doubts that this work is critical to achieving our shared mission, but if you have any, there are ample resources available on the Diversity Network to help. As the AZA Position Statement outlines, “there is an expectation that all individual members, member institutions and AZA staff will proactively work toward greater diversity, equity, access and inclusion in all that they do.” The time to do this work is now.
Photos Credit: ©The Florida Aquarium