RESEARCH & DEVELOPMENT

THE NEXT FRONTIER IN ANIMAL WELFARE

We stand at the beginning of a new era. Through advanced imaging technologies such as magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) and the functional MRI (fMRI), it is now possible to study the brain in real time. For the first time in history, we have specific information about the brain’s underlying circuitry, functions, and processes, and how these directly influence our experiences, perceptions and beliefs—all under the radar of our conscious awareness. This unprecedented window into the inner working of the brain also has immediate relevancy for advancing diversity and inclusion skills in the workplace. From neuroscience, we now have significant new information and insight into how biases operate in the brain, what we can do to override them more effectively, and how we can work with the brain to develop higher-level inclusion skills and competencies.[1]

But what does inclusion look like? And why is it important to animal welfare?

DIVERSITY VS INCLUSION: Diversity is the Measure, Inclusion is the Mechanism

According to Deloitte’s annual Global Human Capital Trends study, most organizations treat diversity primarily as a matter of compliance—a regulatory box to be checked. Not enough organizations take the next essential steps of creating a work environment that promotes inclusion in all its variations. Only one in five organizations believes it is fully “ready” to address this issue.[2]

Deloitte’s recommendation?

  1. Diversity of thinking as a business imperative, and
  2. A focus on inclusion as well as diversity itself

Organizations can start by broadening their understanding of diversity to focus not only on the visible aspects of diversity, such as race, gender, age, and physical ability but also diversity of thinking. This means deriving value from people’s different perspectives on problems and different ways to address solutions. It’s a complex world . . . and maximal participation is required from every workplace participant from the bottom to the top. Thinking of diversity in this way helps organizations to see value and to be conscious of the risk associated with homogeneity, especially in senior decision makers. And this means that diversity is no longer a “program” to be managed—it is a business imperative.

An important advance in thinking about inclusion is the recent work on “uncovering talent” from Kenji Yoshino, at NYU Law School, and Christie Smith, the head of Deloitte University’s Leadership Center for Inclusion. Their research suggests that current inclusion initiatives often implement formal inclusion (that is, “participation”) without recognizing how that inclusion is predicated on assimilation. In response to pressures to assimilate, individuals downplay their differences. This behavior is referred to as “covering” and can include how individuals behave along four dimensions:

  1. Appearance: Individuals may blend into the mainstream through their self-presentation, including grooming, attire, and mannerisms.
  2. Affiliation: Individuals may avoid behaviors widely associated with their identity, culture, or group.
  3. Advocacy: Individuals may avoid engaging in advocacy on behalf of their group.
  4. Association: Individuals may avoid associating with individuals in their own group.

Yoshino and Smith’s research reports that covering behaviors are widespread, costly to individuals and their organizations, and often misaligned with values of inclusion. Organizations should be interested in covering not because they are “playing defense” against lawsuits, but because they are “playing offense” to create a more inclusive culture over and above legal compliance.

Bringing these two themes together—diversity of thinking and inclusion—Deloitte suggests that organizations consider the importance of diversity when it comes to meeting specific business objectives:

Accessing top talent: Companies should recruit top people from a globally diverse workforce. The importance of leadership pipelines, the No. 1 priority in Deloitte’s global trends survey, underscores the importance of broadening leadership pipelines and accelerating the development of diverse leaders. Given the transparency of the employment “brand” today, in order to attract the best people, organizations must create a diverse workplace. When candidates research a prospective employer online, interact as customers, or interview with the company, they have to feel as if they would “fit” into the work environment.

Driving performance and innovation: A significant body of research shows that diverse teams are more innovative and perform at higher levels. Companies that build diversity and inclusion into their teams reap the benefits of new ideas, more debate and, ultimately, better business decisions.

Retaining key employees: One reason people leave organizations is that they feel they no longer “belong.” Or perhaps they feel they will “belong” and thrive in another organization that appreciates their unique value. A company that fails to create a diverse and inclusive workplace risks alienating or excluding key employees, who are then more likely to disengage or eventually leave the organization.

Understanding customers: There’s a thin line between customers and employees, with current and former employees purchasing their companies’ products and services, acting as advocates, and sensing customer needs. How better to understand and respond to diverse customer needs than by tapping into diverse employees? This is one of the most significant gaps in the diversity story, with the breadth of ideas and experiences from a more diverse front line falling by the wayside as decisions are made by more distant, homogenous teams that sometimes fail to fully include diverse perspectives. In a broad range of industries—including retail, hospitality, food service, oil and gas, insurance, and even banking—a diverse workforce creates opportunities to appeal to a more diverse customer base.

What this all adds up to is that high-performing organizations recognize that the aim of diversity is not just meeting compliance targets, but tapping into the diverse perspectives and approaches each individual employee brings to the workplace. Moving beyond diversity to focus on inclusion as well requires companies to examine how fully the organization embraces new ideas, accommodates different styles of thinking (such as whether a person is an introvert or an extrovert), creates a more flexible work environment, enables people to connect and collaborate, and encourages different types of leaders.

Much more than a focus on programs, this effort needs to focus on cultural change: behaviors, systems and symbols, and an explicit understanding of the extent and causes of “covering” in organizations.

The question is how do you get there?

One essential component of building a strategy of inclusion is recognizing the biases in the way each of us receives and processes information and the historical biases in our systems of work. Addressing these processing biases is critical because leaders—as they themselves feel high levels of inclusion—often do not understand levels of alienation in an organization. Given the critical importance of retention in Deloitte’s study, inclusion becomes a key strategy for success.[3]

MEASURING ANIMAL WELFARE (AWO)

“Minorities in general and Afro-Americans in particular are still virtually invisible in all aspects of organized animal protection.” ~ Society and Animals [4]

Deloitte’s study confirms earlier research related to under-representation of minorities and African American employees and leaders in AWO organizations in the United States.

In her peer-reviewed study in Society and Animals, Dr. Sue-Ellen Brown validated the widely held but undocumented belief that few African Americans work in U.S. animal welfare organizations.

In 2005, at the time of Dr. Brown’s study, no research studies on this specific topic could be located. That remains very true today, with Dr. Brown recommending further study into reasons for the under-representation of minorities in animal welfare.

There is a tremendous gap in research, which presents a very promising opportunity.

As Dr. Brown points out, it is unclear whether African Americans and other minorities are not going into nonprofit animal welfare work because of internal reasons such as not being interested in animal welfare, external reasons such as feeling unwelcome, other unknown reasons, or a combination of these reasons.

When Dr. Brown conducted semi-structured interviews with nine prominent African Americans working in the animal welfare-related fields of veterinary medicine, nonprofit animal welfare organizations, animal shelters, and animal control, participants identified possible reasons for few African Americans working in animal welfare-related fields:

  1. Economic disparities between African Americans and Whites;
  2. Ongoing civil rights struggles;
  3. A moral obligation to serve people and communities before animals;
  4. Unattractive career incentives such as money and status;
  5. Inadequate career exposure and recruitment;
  6. Non-supportive environments once hired;
  7. Negative images of fields such as “dog-catchers”;
  8. Little or no positive animal experience; and
  9. Prejudice and discrimination.

As Dr. Brown states, increasing diversity in animal welfare organizations is important for the same reasons as in other nonprofits. As confirmed in other research, nonprofit organizations that succeed are those that understand the needs of the people they serve and reflect the diverse population they serve.

Demographic trends show that non-whites will make up a majority of the American population by 2050. Therefore, increasing diversity is the best strategy for ensuring the continued success of animal welfare organizations. After years of talking about, planning for, and looking for, ways to manage diversity, it is time for animal welfare organizations to go beyond these discussions and take actions that will result in greater diversity.

Greater diversity is needed in animal welfare for moral, political, and sociological reasons and also because people of color who live with companion animals need a greater voice in decisions that may affect them. Before society imposes additional bioethical standards of care on those who live with companion animals, it is important for all stakeholders—regardless of race, culture, religion, or gender—to have a voice. If African Americans have a perspective different from a vocal majority of Whites and if they remain invisible, they will be vulnerable to the effects of changing laws for which they had no input. Without a strong voice in animal welfare, the potential is great for laws and regulations to pass that are irrelevant to African Americans and even may be detrimental to their guardianship of companion animals and the satisfaction that they and their pets might derive from one another.

 

GOOD INTENTIONS ARE NOT ENOUGH: Elephants in the Mind

Bias may be normal. But it is not acceptable.

Although many people disavow prejudice, they are still vulnerable to unintentional bias. While they may intend to act in non-prejudiced ways, stereotypes activate in the brain without intention or awareness.

In terms of inclusion, neuroscience is now revealing a new level of understanding about biases and the unconscious brain. It turns out that our biases toward differences exist within a larger set of unconscious processes in the brain. All of our attitudes and behaviors—not just those related to biases toward differences—get embedded so deeply in the circuitry of the brain that they are not only unconscious but they get normalized by these and other brain processes. Our biases towards people’s differences become camouflaged by the larger unconscious landscape and we don’t think to examine or challenge them because they just feel normal and right, even if they don’t make sense at a conscious, logical level.

Consider these statistics:

  • Approximately 14.5 percent of men in the U.S. are over six feet tall. Among CEOs of Fortune 500 companies, that number is 58 percent.
  • In 2014, female full-time workers made only 79 cents for every dollar earned by men, a gender wage gap of 21 percent. The gap has narrowed only a few percent since it was first recorded in the 1970s.
  • Job applicants with white sounding names were 50 percent more likely to get called back for an interview than applicants with black sounding names. Later in the same study, researchers added more credentials to some of the resumes. When they added more credentials to white candidates, it increased their call back rate by 30 percent. When black candidates’ resumes were given more credentials, it improved their call back rate by only 9 percent.
  • Black men are six times as likely to be incarcerated in federal and state prisons and local jails than white men, according to the U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics report released in 2012.
  • Investors were 2-3 times more likely to invest in a new business idea if the man making the pitch was attractive.

This is only a small list of the numerous unconscious biases that negatively impact people every day. Unconscious biases operate under the radar of conscious awareness, yet the impact can be just as negative and harmful as conscious and intentional biases.

What can make unconscious bias particularly difficult is that it often results in some individuals experiencing severe discrimination, while others may not even notice that it is happening. Our personal experiences become so deeply embedded into the circuitry of our brains—and create such strong, unconsciously preferred states—that it can blind us to each other’s very different experiences and realities. This is the nature of the unconscious brain. Our very different versions of normal get seared deeply into the brain and cause inclusion blindness.[5]

“US” VS “THEM”: To a Worm Stuck in Horseradish, the Whole World is Horseradish

Neuroscience findings show that when subjects view photographs of people who look like them, the areas of the brain for cooperation, empathy and self-awareness are engaged. When subjects are shown photographs of people who don’t look like them, these same brain areas are not activated as strongly or in some cases, not engaged at all.[6]

This means that when we meet someone whose differences the brain perceives as familiar and comfortable, we are more inclined to move towards that person and create connections and build trust.

When we meet someone and the brain doesn’t like their differences—the way they think, the color of their skin, what they believe, how they dress, where they worship, how they vote, their job level, the department they’re from, or any other characteristic the brain perceives as outside its comfort zone—this is no small event.[7]

When the brain registers differences as discomfort, it sends an “away” impulse, and even regards these differences as potential threats.[8]

Through the “us vs. them” base instincts in the brain, we unconsciously categorize people who look different from us as a threat (foe) or favor someone who we perceive to be more like us (friend).[9]

THE INCLUSIVE BRAIN: Overcoming Bias through Neuroplasticity

Brain science is showing us that what we focus on and where we put our energy and attention actually shapes the brain itself. Called neuroplasticity, it is now well established that the brain is malleable and changes physically in response to our thoughts, feelings and actions. Through studies on the brain’s “plasticity” and ability to change, it’s becoming increasingly clear that we can build a more inclusive brain through the choices we make. When we consciously and consistently choose to act in new, more inclusive ways, we are both overriding the brain’s “us vs. them” tendencies, as well as setting the stage for establishing more inclusive habits and patterns in our behavior.”[10]

Shaping a more inclusive brain is about challenging our biases and assumptions, and it is also about being willing to regard someone openly in order to learn about who they are, and what is important and meaningful for them. Focusing on what connects us engages our curiosity and a willingness to learn something new and authentic about a person, and provides an alternative narrative to any stereotypical storylines, negative assumptions or judgments we may have.

The brain already has the essential circuitry and wiring to cooperate and build social bonds with others, and this social circuitry developed most strongly towards people the brain perceived to be more like us. Yet, we now have the knowledge and opportunity to strengthen and extend these capacities towards others who are outside our comfort zone, and whom the brain may initially regard as a “them.” We can consciously pay attention to building connections and trust with others who don’t share our same culture, language, age, gender, race, values, [sexual orientation] or life experiences. By learning brain-based tools, strategies and skills, we can strengthen the brain’s built-in social capacities and extend these across differences.[11]

TO SERVE PEOPLE, YOU HAVE TO LOVE PEOPLE

It is through the social brain that we receive information about people’s intentions, attitudes and feelings, which provides us with an empathetic window into our shared concerns and needs. And research shows that we can intentionally increase the brain’s capacity for empathy.[12]

In a study by neuroscientists in Brazil, for example, “volunteers were instructed to engage in feelings of empathy while inside a functional magnetic resonance machine. As they did so, the researchers monitored their brain patterns. Afterwards, the subjects received feedback about their brain activity which helped them pinpoint when their feelings of empathy were highest. They were then scanned a second time, and by applying this learning, a majority were able to intentionally increase their empathetic brain patterns.[13]

Increasing our ability to extend empathy doesn’t mean we have to agree with someone, or that we even share similar experiences. Showing empathy is more than simply identifying and repeating people’s feelings. It can include that but it also involves listening with your whole self in a way that communicates sincerity, builds trust and encourages deeper conversations.

Showing empathy involves recognizing that people’s perceptions are their reality, even if we don’t see it the same way. By developing and strengthening the social brain across differences, we can increase our capacity to listen outside of what we already know, and build connections and understanding with others who don’t share our same culture, language, age, gender, race, values, [sexual orientation] or life experiences. By consciously working with the social brain, we can increase our ability to extend the “us” circle ever wider, and create work environments where everyone feels included and safe to be who they are without fear or judgments or recriminations, and are motivated to contribute at their highest level.[14]

BLIND SPOTS TO BRIGHT SPOTS

Increasingly, universities and other organizations have become concerned with identifying strategies to reduce rates of bias incidents and to promote equality. Abundant evidence indicates that, however well-intentioned, diversity and bias intervention efforts that are not based on scientific evidence at best do not work and very often make bias problems worse (e.g., Apfelbaum et al., 2012; Dobbin & Kalev, 2013; Legault et al., 2011; Paluck & Green, 2009). In response, nearly every major scientific organization (e.g., NIH, NSF, AAAS) has emphasized the need for evidence-based approaches to addressing bias and promoting diversity (e.g., Moss-Racusin, et al., 2014). The goal of understanding, predicting, and changing human behavior is best served by the scientific method, and addressing issues of bias, diversity, and inclusion is no exception; it requires a scientific, evidence-based approach to create change and demonstrate the effectiveness of efforts to reduce bias and enhance diversity.

Several different approaches have shown promise for overcoming unconscious bias, which requires motivation to overcome bias, awareness of different ways bias manifests and is perpetuated, evidence-based tools to effectively reduce bias, and effort over time to retrain bias habits.

Evidence-based methods that have demonstrated the power of the conscious mind to intentionally overcome implicit bias include the following:

 

Stereotype replacement

This strategy involves replacing stereotypical responses for non-stereotypical responses. Using this strategy to address personal stereotyping involves recognizing that a response is based on stereotypes, labeling the response as stereotypical, and reflecting on why the response occurred. Next one considers how the biased response could be avoided in the future and replaces it with an unbiased response (Monteith, 1993). A parallel process can be applied to societal (e.g., media) stereotyping.

Counter-stereotypic imaging

This strategy involves imagining in detail counter-stereotypic others (Blair et al., 2001). These others can be abstract (e.g., smart Black people), famous (e.g., Barack Obama), or non-famous (e.g., a personal friend). The strategy makes positive exemplars salient and accessible when challenging a stereotype’s validity.

Individuation

This strategy relies on preventing stereotypic inferences by obtaining specific information about group members (Brewer, 1988; Fiske & Neuberg, 1990). Using this strategy helps people evaluate members of the target group based on personal, rather than group-based, attributes.

Perspective taking

This strategy involves taking the perspective in the first person of a member of a stereotyped group. Perspective taking increases psychological closeness to the stigmatized group, which ameliorates automatic group-based evaluations (Galinsky & Moskowitz, 2000).

Increasing opportunities for contact

This strategy involves seeking opportunities to encounter and engage in positive interactions with out-group members. Increased contact can ameliorate implicit bias through a wide variety of mechanisms, including altering the cognitive representations of the group or by directly improving evaluations of the group (Pettigrew, 1998; Pettigrew & Tropp, 2006).

These trainings have been administered with many different audiences, including public school teachers, professors, graduate students, lawyers, judges, doctors, police officers, tech companies, and others. Randomized-controlled tests have shown that the training causes long-term decreases in measured levels of implicit bias and increases in awareness and concern about racial and other forms of discrimination. The training equips people with tools to recognize and address bias, and experiments have shown that people who have completed the training are significantly more likely to speak up against bias and confront bias in the world around them, up to at least 2-3 years post-training.

 

BREAKING BIAS BARRIERS IN AWO

 Using a multi-pronged approach, CARE intends to partner with academic institutions specializing in bias research and interventions, and award-winning film and public relations teams, to deploy evidence-based strategies to reduce and eliminate hidden biases that affect AWO in multiple ways.

[1] Robinson, S. M., & Casey, M. E. (2017). Neuroscience of Inclusion: New Skills for New Times. Outskirts Press, Inc.

[2] From Diversity to Inclusion: https://www2.deloitte.com/us/en/insights/focus/human-capital-trends/2014/hc-trends-2014-diversity-to-inclusion.html?id=gx:el:dc:dup681:cons:awa:hct14

[3] Ibid.

[4] The Under-representation of African American Employees in Animal Welfare Organizations in the United States Society and Animals 13(2):153-162 · July 2005

[5] Robinson, S. M., & Casey, M. E. (2017). Neuroscience of Inclusion: New Skills for New Times. Outskirts Press, Inc.

[6] Ibid.

[7] Ibid.

[8] A. J. Bahns. Threat as justification of prejudice. Group Processes & Intergroup Relations, 2015; https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2015/08/150804074251.htm

[9] Robinson, S. M., & Casey, M. E. (2017). Neuroscience of Inclusion: New Skills for New Times. Outskirts Press, Inc.

[10] Ibid.

[11] Ibid.

[12] Ibid.

[13] Ibid.

[14] Ibid.

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