At Animal Charity Evaluators, our focus is on identifying the most effective ways to help animals. To follow through with this mandate, we believe it is necessary for the animal advocacy movement to engage larger portions of the population and to embrace diversity, equity, and inclusion. We must fight against the systems of oppression that negatively affect human and nonhuman animals alike.1
The Current State of the Animal Advocacy Movement
The animal advocacy movement has developed a reputation as a movement for wealthy white people, and relevant statistics seem to support that reputation. According to Faunalytics, more than three-quarters of vegetarians and vegans are white,2 while only 63% of the U.S. population is white. Similarly, nearly three-quarters of vegetarians and vegans identify as women, compared to only about 50% of people in the U.S. About 64% of vegetarians and vegans have earned at least a bachelor’s degree, whereas only about 32% of the U.S. population has done so.3, 4 There are likely many other demographic, ethno-racial, and social differences between animal activists and the rest of the U.S. How can the animal advocacy movement effectively help animals when it fails to reach or include the voices of large numbers of humans?
A review of the leadership within animal charities reveals another disturbing trend. Even though the majority of animal advocates are women, our Top Charities and many of our Standout Charities are led by Executive Directors who are white men. The race or gender of these leaders is not, in itself, the issue. Rather, we worry that this kind of leadership trend fails to be representative of (or welcoming to) the larger population. We are concerned that it reinforces racist, sexist, oppressive, and exclusionary hierarchies of power in the animal advocacy movement.
ACE and other effective altruist organizations may be even less diverse than other animal charities, since the leaders of effective altruist organizations have collectively been mostly male and white, as well as relatively well-off and invested in the dominant economic systems. Not all effective altruists have these characteristics of course.5 Still, to the degree that effective altruists do have these characteristics, effective altruism is at odds with other social justice movements. Again, we are not concerned about demographics per se; we are concerned that the demographics of the animal advocacy and effective altruist movements maintain and reproduce oppressive systems of power.
Many animal advocates share the vision of a vegan world, but we can’t realize that world until we change the appearance (and, to a degree, the reality) of animal advocacy as a movement for wealthy white people. Meanwhile, we are missing out on valuable contributions from talented people who have a variety of perspectives and ideas, but who currently may feel alienated from the movement.
Can Animal Advocacy Be For Everyone?
Before we can begin to tackle the question of whether animal advocacy can appeal to everyone, or even to a broader portion of the population, it is important to acknowledge that not “everyone” is positioned in the same ways in society. There are many social, political, and economic forces―both inside and outside the animal advocacy movement―that make it harder for some people to participate than others. As advocates of equal consideration for all, we should make it a central part of our mission to address these barriers not only so that we can expand our movement but also so that we can support other movements along the way.
One barrier inhibiting some people from joining the animal advocacy movement is that vegan food is not practically or economically accessible for everyone. Many people face powerful structural and systemic constraints on what they can consume. Some communities (especially lower-income, urban communities) are known as “food deserts,” since they offer limited access to fresh and healthy affordable food.6 If we want to make veganism and animal advocacy possible for people in these situations, then we should advocate for food justice in addition to veganism so that we can bring about a world in which everyone has access to healthy and affordable vegan options.
Another barrier inhibiting some people from joining the animal advocacy movement is that veganism is not culturally accessible for everyone. As Black vegan feminist Aph Ko writes, veganism “has a reputation for being a ‘white person’s thing.’” This reputation is reinforced by the skewed demographics of the movement and the predominance of white men in leadership within it. Understandably, people of color may not see becoming vegan or an animal advocate as options that are open to them. Struggling through racialized oppression and other barriers often demands attention over advocacy for nonhuman animals. If we want to address the movement’s cultural inaccessibility, we should work to make vegan spaces more open at all levels to people of various identities. We should support and promote the work of vegan advocates from diverse cultures. We should strive to integrate diverse views and experiences into the movement, rather than using a missionary model—wherein “outreach” is conducted from a fixed perspective.
A third barrier (and the last one we will consider for now, though there are many others), is that many of us in the animal advocacy movement not only fail to help but also actively harm other anti-oppression movements in the course of doing our work. We pass up opportunities to stand in solidarity, and we engage in our own advocacy in ways that are sexist, classist, racist, sizeist, and more.7 We fail to address oppressive attitudes, behaviors, and power structures in our own movement. We use slavery and Holocaust analogies in appropriative ways rather than in ways that draw moral attention to all of the relevant issues and connections.8 We need to do active work to address these problems within our own movement so that we can effectively build coalitions with other movements and expand our own in the right kinds of ways.
Promoting diversity in the animal advocacy movement will require more than just adding new faces to the existing movement. It will require opening the movement to a diversity of knowledge, worldviews, and experiences through ongoing engagement with LGBTQ+ persons, women, people with disabilities, immigrants, non-white racialized people, people engaged in socio-economic struggle, religious minorities, and so on. True inclusion will mean sharing power and decision making in the animal advocacy movement outside of the usual circles. Moving forward, we should push to see people from demographics that are currently underrepresented in the movement in leadership, executive, and senior staff roles in our organizations and headlining our events.
Can Promoting Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Make Us More Effective?
ACE’s primary role is evaluating animal charities and, as an effective altruist organization, we believe that animal advocates should aim to help animals as much as possible with their limited resources. One might worry that if animal advocates begin investing more time, energy, and money in supporting other movements, then we might have fewer resources to spend on nonhuman animals. However, we think our movement must ensure that it is accessible to a wider, more diverse population in order to achieve maximal impact.
Many of the ways in which we can support other movements would cost us little or nothing. We can integrate the knowledge and skills of vegans from marginalized groups, promote their work and leadership, and strive for greater diversity of staffing within our organizations. We can ensure that our websites and outreach materials represent the diversity and inclusion we wish to see in the movement, and we can avoid using language or images that may alienate certain groups. More generally, we can reframe our goals to reflect the understanding that the oppressive systems within society are connected and mutually reinforcing.
There are epistemic benefits to embracing diversity, equity, and inclusion. Relatively diverse organizations may develop more accurate worldviews than less diverse organizations by integrating the perspectives of people of varying class, gender, race, LGBTQ+ identity, disability status, and so on. Unfortunately, people with marginalized identities are often taken to have less authority than people with privileged identities.9 This is unjust in itself, and it also makes it harder for us to learn from each other and improve our beliefs as a result.10 If we make our organizations more diverse (emphasizing diversity of leadership and true inclusion), and if we create more space for supporting other anti-oppression movements in our work, we can both mitigate the effects of these injustices and develop a more comprehensive understanding of how to effectively pursue liberation for everyone.
There are also practical benefits to embracing diversity, equity, and inclusion. As our movement becomes more diverse, it will expand in reach and impact. When we look at financial and organizational performance, we have further reason to believe that promoting diversity could help animal charities become more effective in the short term. According to a study from McKinsey & Company, gender-diverse and ethnically diverse companies exceed the national median financial performance by 15% and 35%, respectively. McKinsey suggests that more diverse companies may be better able to recruit top talent, improve their decision making, and achieve high employee satisfaction.11 Each of these benefits would plausibly help animal charities improve their performance.
It is worth emphasizing that whether or not these efforts make us more effective animal advocates, supporting other anti-oppression movements is good in itself. Our frequent emphasis on cause prioritization may seem to imply that working for justice is a zero-sum game, or that investing resources in one cause necessarily means taking resources away from other causes. In fact, we believe that by investing resources in building stronger coalitions across movements, everyone will benefit.
The Role of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion in Our Charity Evaluation Process
Most of the charities that we’ve reviewed have not actively engaged in activities intended to promote diversity or support other social justice movements. In most cases, then, the value that we place on these activities has not played much of a role in our evaluation of charities relative to one another. With that said, since we think that diversity, equity, and inclusion are important to the animal advocacy movement, we are committed to searching for animal charities to evaluate or feature in our Interview Series that integrate these principles into their work.
Two of the charities that we evaluated in 2016 are engaged in efforts to promote diversity and inclusion within the animal advocacy movement. First, Vegan Outreach has recently developed a community engagement initiative intended to improve outreach in Black communities. Second, Collectively Free makes actively fighting all systems of oppression a central part of their mission and the impetus for many of their activities. We considered each charity’s commitment in these areas to be a strong though defeasible reason in favor of further investigating them or recommending them more strongly.
We realize that there are many other charities doing valuable work on these issues,12 though our review of such organizations has not so far been extensive. It can be difficult for us to evaluate their impact, in part because they are working for relatively long-term, indirect, structural changes. We will work to develop better evaluative tools to assess the effectiveness of this kind of integrated anti-oppression work.
At Animal Charity Evaluators, we recognize that we still have a lot to learn about diversity, equity, and inclusion, as well as supporting other social movements. We may make mistakes or miss opportunities, but we are committed to improving in this area. As an effective altruist organization, continuing to use evidence and reason to do the most good possible will remain our primary goal. We think it’s important, though, to pay more attention than we have in the past to how our demographics as a movement and our interactions with other movements affect our work.
By setting an example and by evaluating socially responsible activities favorably in our charity evaluations, we hope we can play a role in inspiring other animal charities to make a greater effort to support other anti-oppression movements and actively integrate diversity, equity, and inclusion into their goals. We hope to see more leaders of animal charities consulting with and learning from leaders of other social justice movements. In the following section, we recommend some concrete steps that we as individuals or as organizations can take.
Steps We Can Take to Support Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion
If you are interested in helping the animal advocacy movement become more inclusive and in developing solidarity with other consonant movements, there are many ways to take action.
If you are an individual in the mainstream animal advocacy movement, you might consider the following options:
- Engage with people from marginalized groups, listening and learning from them. You may want to begin with the following resources13
- Aphro-ism, by Aph and Syl Ko14
- Black Vegans Rock, a project founded by Aph Ko
- Circles of Compassion, edited by Will Tuttle
- Is Veganism Ableist? A Disabled Vegan Perspective, by Michele Kaplan15
- Sistah Vegan, by Dr. A. Breeze Harper16
- Queering Animal Liberation, a list of resources curated by Vine Sanctuary
- Videos of talks from VegFestUK’s Pro Intersectionality Conference
- Do your best to avoid using language that may alienate certain groups. There are some helpful tips on this list, written by Christopher-Sebastian McJetters;17
- Listen with an open mind when people from marginalized groups report their experiences with the animal advocacy movement;18
- Do not advocate for your issue in ways that are racist, sexist, heterosexist, cissexist, sizeist, ableist, ageist, classist, etc., and please call out (or call in) those who do;
- Support food justice and efforts to make vegan diets more manageable for low-income communities that are affected by factors such as isolation from healthy food options and lack of access to good public transportation;
- Support vegan projects, campaigns, and organizations run by people with marginalized identities (e.g., the projects in this list compiled by Aph Ko, and Better Eating International, which is currently seeking funds);
- Support and promote the work of vegan leaders with marginalized identities in whatever ways you can. One important way to support them is to credit them for their ideas and compensate them for their labor whenever possible;
- Actively support other social justice movements, listening to and following the leaders of those movements when you do so;19
- As you learn about other social justice movements, educate others within the animal advocacy movement.20
If you work for an animal charity, your organization may wish to consider the following options:
- State explicitly that your organization opposes all systems of oppression;21
- Develop and enforce policies regarding harmful patterns of behavior (e.g., sexual harassment and assault) within your organization;
- Learn how to “operationalize” diversity, equity, and inclusion through toolkits like Operationalizing Racial Equity;
- As resources allow, empower your employees to actively support other social justice movements through training, facilitated discussions, and other such activities;22
- Avoid restricting your outreach work to college-educated white audiences, but take care to engage with non-white communities in the right way (e.g., by supporting the work that community members are already doing there and consulting with activists who have lived experiences of the issues faced by the community in your campaign planning);23
- Ensure that your website, outreach material, and celebrity endorsements represent the diversity you wish to see in the movement;
- Make an effort to ensure that all demographics are represented at your organization’s events, especially as speakers at conferences;24
- Consider implementing dynamic “diversity and inclusion” staffing policies and anonymized early-round hiring practices to mitigate the effects of implicit bias when considering job applications;
- Incentivize entry-level positions and internships in your company so that low-income individuals (who may be unable to work for free or near-poverty wages) have an opportunity to enter the movement.25
It seems to us that we are in the very early stages of a new development in the mainstream animal advocacy movement. We are beginning to see an increasing amount of discussion of diversity and social justice among animal advocates and a stronger push for these causes from animal charities.
That said, we recognize that there is a lot of work yet to be done, both within the animal advocacy movement and within our own organization. Some of our goals for our own organization include:
- Increasing and maintaining the diversity of our staff and board,
- Actively searching for animal charities that integrate diversity, equity, and inclusion into their work,
- Promoting a wider range of voices through our Interview Series,
- Developing more resource material on how animal advocates can support other movements,
- Revising our evaluative frameworks to include metrics for diversity, equity, and inclusion,
- Promoting the discussion of anti-oppression work to a greater extent through our charity reviews.
Watch our blog for announcements about further steps that ACE will be taking to improve diversity, equity, and inclusion within our own organization.
Edit 5/8/2017: Initially, we mistakenly wrote that 49% of Americans have obtained at least a bachelor’s degree. In fact, just 32% of Americans have done so.
We are grateful to Dr. A. Breeze Harper and Elise Aymer of Critical Diversity Solutions for acting as external reviewers and providing extensive feedback on this post. Many thanks to ACE Board Member Jeff Sebo for providing extensive feedback on multiple drafts of this post as well.
We think this is the best available estimate of our movement’s racial demographics, but it’s important to note that some groups, including women and white people, were overrepresented in Faunalytics’ sample, and we don’t see any indication that they attempted to rebalance the demographics.
Scott Plous’s “Signs of Change Within the Animal Rights Movement” (1998) is the most recent study of which we are aware that focuses specifically on animal activists rather than all vegetarians and vegans. Plous reports that 96% of respondents were white and 76% were women. He also reports that 69% of respondents completed college or graduate school.
For instance, in “Effective Altruism and Anti-Capitalism,” Joshua Kissel argues that effective altruists should consider arguments for anti-capitalism, and in “The Other Half of Effective Altruism,” Kathryn Muyskens argues that effective altruists should place more emphasis on systemic inequality and structural violence.
For more discussion, see, for example:
Gaarder, E. (2011). Women and the Animal Rights Movement, New Brunswick: Rutgers University Press.
Harper, A. B. (ed.). (2009). Sistah Vegan: Black Female Vegans Speak on Food, Identity, Health, and Society, Brooklyn, NY: Lantern Books.
Ko, A. (2016). “Vegans of Color and Respectability Politics.” Aphro-ism. Accessed February 7, 2016.
Sebo, J. (forthcoming). “Multi-Issue Food Activism,” in Barnhill, A., M. Budolfson, & T. Doggett (eds.) The Oxford Handbook of Food Ethics, Oxford University Press.
Tuttle, W. (ed.). (2014). Circles of Compassion: Essays Connecting Issues of Justice, Danvers, MA: Vegan Publishers.
Wrenn, C. L. (2016). “Fat Vegan Politics: A Survey of Fat Vegan Activists’ Online Experiences with Social Movement Sizeism.” Fat Studies, 90-102.
As Christopher-Sebastian McJetters puts it in his blog post on Sistah Vegan, white animal advocates should “[a]mplify the voices of marginalized people who talk about these issues themselves instead of appropriating their histories or experiences to further our agendas.” See also:
McJetters, C. S. (2015). “Animal Rights and the Language of Slavery,” Striving With Systems. Accessed February 7, 2016.
For more, see:
Dotson, K. (2014). Conceptualizing Epistemic Oppression. Social Epistemology 28(2): 115-138.
Fricker, M. (2007). Epistemic Injustice: Power and the Ethics of Knowing. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Privileged people also often expect marginalized people to educate them about oppression, which is an additional injustice. Expecting people with marginalized identities to do this work (often without payment) places an unfair burden on marginalized groups and, as Nora Berenstain puts it, “maintains structures of oppression by centering the needs and desires of dominant groups.”
For more, see:
Berenstain, N. (2016). Epistemic Exploitation. Ergo 3(22). Accessed online.
Please note that increasing diversity without also addressing other issues related to equity and inclusion may not be sufficient to improve organizational performance and employee satisfaction. These efforts should be coupled with other work to improve equity and inclusion, e.g., internal workshops aimed at identifying and addressing systems of racial oppression within the organization.
Examples of organizations working at the intersection of animal advocacy and other social justice movements include: A Well-Fed World, Better Eating International, Black Vegetarian Societies in many states, Food Empowerment Project, The Food Project, Maitu Foods, The Pollination Project, People’s Grocery, Real Food Challenge, and The Veggie Connection. Also see this list of Black vegan organizations and projects, compiled by Aph Ko at Black Vegans Rock.
This list is intended to provide some resources for those wishing to learn more about the importance of diversity and inclusion in the animal movement. It is not meant to be a comprehensive list of all relevant resources. We’d like to thank Hannah West for recommending some of these resources to us.
Aph Ko has written many influential articles about oppression and animal rights, including “#BlackVegansRock: 100 Black Vegans to Check Out” and “5 Reasons Why Animal Rights Are A Feminist Issue.” She writes Aphro-ism with contributions from her sister Syl Ko. Look for their book, forthcoming in 2017.
Michele Kaplan is a disability rights activist and vegan with an active Twitter presence.
Christopher-Sebastian McJetters maintains an active Facebook presence. Those who wish to learn more about the intersections of various social justice movements should consider following him.
If you read the work of vegans from marginalized communities, you may notice that many of them report having had charged conversations with white vegans about the intersections of veganism and other social justice movements.
Aris Austin emphasizes the importance of listening in their essay, “How Vegans can be Better Pro-Intersectional Activists.”
As Brittney Cooper suggests, “[w]hite people should recognize that the best way to be good allies is to go work among their own people (white people) to create more allies.”
For an example, read about Collectively Free.
This suggestion was provided by philosopher and ACE Board Member Jeff Sebo, who emphasizes at 1:11:00 of the linked video that animal advocates should participate in solidarity work without “expecting anything in return.”
As Ida Hammer articulates on The Vegan Ideal, animal groups should focus on working with people of color, not simply “recruiting” them.
Animal groups should also consider ways to make their conferences accessible for low-income individuals, as suggested by Ida Hammer on The Vegan Ideal.
This option is suggested by Professor Garrett Broad beginning at 1:03:00 of the linked video.