January 15, 2021
Building Relationships with the Communities We Serve
By Denver Zoo’s Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Steering Committee
As we honor the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. today, we reflect on the words he voiced fifty-seven years ago when speaking at Oberlin College: "The time is always right to do what is right.”
In many ways, that quote guides our work here at Denver Zoo, from our continuous quest to provide our animal residents with the best possible homes, to how we serve our community in Denver and beyond. Today, we’re taking an opportunity to share our Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) efforts and how we are committed to growing our work.
Our mission—Inspiring Communities to Save Wildlife for Future Generations—is fundamentally reliant on all individuals in our communities having equitable access to experiences, ideas, knowledge, skill-building, and opportunities to save wildlife in meaningful and culturally-relevant ways. That means building a zoo—from our Board of Governors, to our staff, to our volunteers, program participants and visitors—that accurately reflects the community we serve, a mosaic of people of different colors, cultures, ages and abilities. We’re committed to creating a welcoming space, so that all people have access to the awe-inspiring magic that is wildlife.
Since 1975, Denver Zoo—in partnership with the City of Denver—has hosted numerous Free Days each year as well as daily free or highly discounted admissions through our community access programs. Even despite the necessary precautions in place this year as we weathered a global pandemic, we continued to offer free tickets. It is our firm belief that the ability to pay should not limit one’s access to the Zoo, and historically, our Free Days have been among our most diversely attended days.
Since 2016, Denver Zoo has partnered with consultants to inform our continued commitment to diversity, inclusion, and equity. As a result of this work, and with the help and guidance of external experts such as Dr. Nita Mosby Tyler of The Equity Project, we empowered staff in a professional development program—Leading Influencing through Forward Thinking (LIFT)—to develop an internal framework to support DEI efforts at the Zoo. From this work, in 2020, we launched Denver Zoo's first ever Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Steering Committee, comprised of entry level to executive leadership staff.
"Our goal is to transform the Zoo’s culture to one that pursues equity and inclusivity of our diverse current and future staff and community. Our hope is to engage staff in ways in which we, as a community (staff, Board of Governors, volunteers, guests, members, and community partners), can substantively express, live, and demonstrate our commitment to diversity, equity, and inclusion.” — Denver Zoo DEI Steering Committee
In addition to the DEI Steering Committee, leadership has been researching how to best serve our community in a number of ways. Internally, we launched a new Strategic Plan, comprised of four pillars: Wildlife, Resources, One Zoo Team, and Community. In service of this, our leaders have implemented Denver Zoo Community Advisory Group—comprised of Coloradoans who represent the diverse communities within our state. This group collaborates with Denver Zoo by sharing their own voice, as well as those within their communities, to help us strategically learn and build together, ultimately helping to advance our mission.
We were also awarded an Institute of Museum and Library Science (IMLS) Grant to advance access to professional development opportunities for traditionally underrepresented students and young professionals. We know we can’t do this alone. Included in the scope of the IMLS grant are plans to hire a diversity consultant at The HR Shop to guide us in reviewing current recruitment and hiring practices, and to identify specific areas for improvement in these areas.
“Studies have shown that out of the physical and life science occupations, conservation occupations have very low non-white representation...The mission of our organization, to inspire communities to save wildlife for future generations, is a mission that impacts all members of our communities. In order to best support our mission and create real change, we need representatives from our diverse communities to choose these occupations.”—Kisha Blanton, Denver Zoo DEI Steering Committee member.
Denver Zoo's DEI efforts and work serving our community is a life-long commitment. As Dr. King once said, “It really boils down to this: that all life is interrelated. We are all caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied into a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly.” In the endless work towards achieving our mission and vision—A World Where Wildlife Thrives—we must integrate the communities we serve and always strive to do what is right.
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