Why Diversity Efforts are Vital to Cultural Attractions

Implementing diversity throughout your cultural attraction can feel like an overwhelming task. Where does an organization start when there is truly so much to do? Given this, it makes sense that many businesses begin by focusing on just one element of their bigger diversity, equity, inclusion and access (DEIA) agenda.

Perhaps you’ve made great headway in improving diversity within your hiring efforts and have also made specific space for it within your employee culture. Maybe your focus has been on enhancing diversity efforts for your guests and making their experience at your attraction more inclusive. Possibly , you’ve prioritized leaning into working with partners who are a direct reflection of the local community in which you do business within.

All of these elements make for a more diverse cultural attraction, and regardless of where you’re at, kudos for getting started. Let’s dive deeper into these three key focus areas to find additional ways to implement DEIA initiatives into every aspect of a cultural attraction to ensure your organization is set up to succeed in the future.

Creating a More Inclusive Employee Culture

Oftentimes, diversity efforts start with a business’s recruiting and hiring practices. Starting from the inside out can be a great place to begin as these standards can be implemented internally so that your culture and employees are a reflection of the equity and inclusive values ​​your company is trying to embody.

Here are three ways to improve diversity within recruiting and hiring:

  1. Evaluate areas of strengths and weaknesses: If you’re unsure of exactly where to start, assess your current status and make goals around your inclusion journey with key stakeholders throughout the business.
  2. Recruit with diversity in mind: Expand your recruiting reach to make sure you are opening up opportunities at your organization to a diverse audience. This can be done through partnerships with local organizations and resource groups in your community.
  3. Educate with intention: Develop training for your employees that teaches them to think about inclusivity both at work and when they leave.
  4. Create diversity standards: Educate your staff about what is and isn’t tolerated both from them as well as guests who come into your attraction. Do regular assessments, host quarterly culture summits, and maintain continuous training to make sure everyone is on the same page .

Beyond inclusive implementing hiring practices, ensuring your employees feel welcome and supported with employee resource groups focused on racial, gender, sexual orientation, and beyond will help them find meaning both personally and professionally.

A group of employees posing for a picture

Finally, offering mental health resources whether that be in-house counseling or a partnership with local mental health facilities will also show your employees (as well as future talent) that you are invested in facilitating their growth and development long term.

“Diversity isn’t a destination, rather it is an outcome of all of our work on equity, access, and inclusion. At the Los Angeles Zoo, our goal is to create an organization where people can belong and be welcomed as their true authentic selves. The work is not easy, but it is necessary to achieve our mission of creating a just and sustainable world where wildlife and people thrive, together,” said Denise Verret, chief executive officer and director of the Los Angeles Zoo in Los Angeles, Calif.

“Our work really began with uncomfortable conversations. To us, it was important to start at the basic level. And while we sometimes fumbled through them, ultimately they showed a commitment to learning, understanding, and intentional focus. From there emerged our diversity inclusion culture equity (DICE) taskforce, programs, and initiatives, the creation of a people department, and a non-negotiable stance that the SSA family is a home for all human beings. Throughout all of this was one constant: talking and listening,” said Shannon Fitzgerald, SSA Group chief people officer.

Establishing a More Diverse Guest Experience

The ultimate goal of diversity around your guests’ experience is twofold. One, it establishes that your visitors are a direct reflection of the diverse population that makes up the local communities, and two, that this audience also feels comfortable and safe during their visit.

Man with a prosthetic leg showing a T-shirt to a woman in a wheelchair

As a cultural attraction, this means ensuring guests feel inclusivity from every angle of their time with you. Create an inclusive guest experience by considering the following:

  1. Accessibility does not equal inclusivity: Simply offering access, such as a wheelchair ramp, does not solve inclusion. Consider creating a design that doesn’t necessarily benefit the majority over the minority (for example the able-bodied vs. someone in a wheelchair) . By highlighting their ‘otherness’ and treating them differently, even if it’s with good intention, individuals may not feel equal or genuinely included.
  2. Consider your marketing material: Make sure your marketing supports the diversity you are hiring for and the guests you are catering to. This includes everything in your imagery from a diverse representation of in-store photography, to the pictures visible on your website and social media . In addition to your marketing imagery, don’t forget to also evaluate the content that your attraction is pushing out to your audience. Both the language and visuals used should be an authentic representation of your brand and the community you fall in and not just an illusion of inclusivity.
  3. Be flexible with time: The time of day you allow your patrons in can also be a helpful tool to be more inclusive. Offering different time periods for visitors with neuro diversities that make it hard to be around crowds during normal business hours, is a great way to help these individuals have opportunities to visit your cultural attraction.
  4. Think beyond your business walls: Inclusivity isn’t just for guests within your attraction, but also about expanding your visitor population to mirror the diversity present in the local communities. Research nearby zip codes that aren’t being represented in your attraction and brainstorm opportunities to overcome the barriers that exist to have these individuals visit. Perhaps that’s lack of transportation, pricing, or time. Find new ways to reach these people so they too can enjoy what your cultural attraction has to offer.

“As you know, there are many aspects of diversity—I think that the Birmingham Zoo has done an excellent job in embracing neurodiversity, and we are proud to have been the first zoo certified as sensory-inclusive, and to have launched that wave of certifications around that inclusivity,” said Lori Perkins deputy director at the Birmingham Zoo in Birmingham, Ala.

Establishing Local, Diverse Vendor Partnerships

Bear cans and merchandise from a local Denver brewery called Great Divide

Another vital component to the diversity of your organization is ensuring that the partners and vendors you work with to supply your products and services are an accurate representation of the local diverse community that you represent. Here are a few ways to do so:

  1. Evaluate your suppliers: Launching a supplier diversity program can help ensure a wide array of on-shelf representation and can be in direct correlation with where your exhibits or animals in your cultural attraction are also from originally.
  2. Community tables: By creating spaces for people of diverse backgrounds to come together for activities, community tables also serve as an interactive place to have local vendors do presentations and provide workshops using their products that might not otherwise have the opportunity to do so.
  3. Now trending: Use the latest retail and food trends to consistently find new ways to include local, diverse, and minority-owned vendors and suppliers in your cultural attraction offerings.

Inclusivity From Every Angle

Building diversity into your cultural attraction can start from a variety of angles, but there’s value across the board for those willing to do the work to better serve your employees, your guests, and your greater community.

Photos Credit: ©SSA Group

Shannon Fitzgerald is the chief brand officer at SSA Group.

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