At Animal Charity Evaluators (ACE), we are committed to building a healthy organizational culture that embraces representation, ensures equity, and fosters inclusivity. In the following text, we expand on the measures ACE has taken to embrace this commitment, and we hope to encourage other groups within the effective animal advocacy movement to do the same.
Representation,1 equity, and inclusion (REI) are more than just words. They are values embedded in ACE’s work and integral to making continued progress for nonhuman animals.
ACE is adamant about integrating the perspectives of people of varying race, color, ethnicity, religion, sex, gender, sexual orientation, age, ability, national origin, citizenship, amnesty, size, parental status, marital status, socioeconomic status, veteran status, political views, dietary preferences, genetic information, or any other such feature into our organization. We are deliberately striving to foster an inclusive culture in which REI’s tenets are woven into our organization’s fabric and that is reflective of the type of movement we want to serve.
A healthy organizational culture is one free of harassment and discrimination, where all parties act responsibly toward staff, board, volunteers, donors, and stakeholders. It thrives when the organization is stable, financially secure, and resilient. We have previously written on the importance of healthy workplace culture and still uphold that it is an essential component of any effective charity. We value this concept so highly that “a healthy culture and a sustainable structure” is one of our seven criteria for charity evaluations and something we look for in potential grantees. Over the years, we’ve observed that even if an organization appears successful on a surface level, larger and more existential problems will arise over time if it has a culture where its team members do not feel empowered to do their best work.
Additionally, we believe that organizations with REI issues or other aspects of an unhealthy culture cause harm to the animal advocacy movement in the long term: They prevent talented activists of various backgrounds from joining, and they contribute to high turnover and burnout, both within those organizations and the movement as a whole. ACE’s experience evaluating charities has substantiated our belief that unhealthy organizational cultures are an impediment to the success of our movement. In order to live by our own values and inspire the movement we want to see, it is essential that we support every person on our team in feeling comfortable bringing their whole selves to work in a space with adequate systems in place to prevent and appropriately address discrimination and toxicity. As Encompass’ Executive Director Aryenish Birdie stated in this ACE roundtable interview, “our movement’s people are its most valuable asset, so investing in a culture that sustains them is critical.”
Part of this investment involves organizations putting policies and procedures in place that protect their employees and allow everyone on their team to excel. At ACE, we rewrote our anti-discrimination and anti-harassment policy, now called our Respect in the Workplace Policy, to make it as protective of our employees as possible. We have also developed an accompanying Code of Conduct to foster a safe environment for effective team collaboration. We encourage other organizations in our movement to draw inspiration from or use these policies themselves. Additionally, we have updated our performance evaluation process in an effort to minimize implicit bias, made our benefits more equitable across all geographic regions, and discussed how to proceed when a colleague unintentionally makes a hurtful or uninformed comment.2
Meaningful change takes commitment and ongoing effort. We’re willing to put in that effort, upholding our rigorous standards for REI and demonstrating our unwavering support so that our staff, interns, volunteers, and board members can develop and grow as advocates while working with ACE and continue to enrich our movement long after their time with ACE.
To help nonhuman animals, we have to support the humans who help them. Our entire team and board, across all levels, is committed to REI. We see supporting marginalized people in our movement as a basic decency that every organization and advocate should hold themself to. Every animal advocate unquestionably deserves to feel equal, appreciated, safe, seen, empowered to use their voice, and a strong sense of belonging.3 We also agree with American feminist, womanist,4 and civil rights activist Audre Lorde’s observation that “there is no such thing as a single-issue struggle because we do not live single-issue lives.” Within animal advocacy, we interpret this to mean that we cannot effectively help animals without understanding the realities and complexities of human oppression, and seeking this understanding is complementary—not destructive—to our movement. We know that every advocate enters our movement with experiences and complexities that have molded who they are and that supporting these complexities does not take away from the effective animal advocacy movement, but rather enhances it.
As a leader in effective animal advocacy, we hope to set the example and inspire other organizations to get comfortable with being uncomfortable—since starting conversations about REI can mean facing some hard truths about one’s work—and actively embed representation, equity, and inclusion into their goals. We must all do our part to create a movement that reflects our evolving world and fight against the systems of oppression that threaten the liberation of human and nonhuman animals alike.
We choose to use the term “representation” in place of “diversity” in the more commonly-used “diversity, equity, and inclusion” phrase. Although this phrase means to intentionally ensure that marginalized racial, gender, religious, or other groups, are equally valued, well-represented, and free of discrimination in organizations, universities, and all other spaces, we feel that “diversity” has become an antiquated term, and is often easily mistaken to only encompass racial diversity. Representation acknowledges everyone’s presence, and is more accurate and fair (Andrews, 2017).
At ACE we discussed the concepts of “calling in” and “calling out” in situations where a colleague might make an unintentionally hurtful comment. Our goal is to support the person affected by the comment as well as support the learning of the person making the comment. We have created a formalized process that staff can follow to help encourage a healthy two-way process for addressing complex topics and learning from them.
“True inclusion cannot exist if individuals feel that they do not belong. Inclusion is an action; belonging is a feeling” (Alexander, 2020). Belonging lies in the intersection of representation, equity, and inclusion and is the outcome of holding space where everyone truly feels empowered to speak up, make change, and shift the culture (Burnette, n.d.).
Coined by writer Alice Walker in her 1979 short story “Coming Apart,” the term “womanist” is defined as a “Black feminist or feminist of color.” To be a womanist [means] that one [encompasses] some facets of feminism, but with more inclusivity and appreciation for the Black experience (Rahatt, 2020).