Are African Americans Under-Represented In Animal Welfare Organizations?
Research has shown a lack of diversity in animal welfare activities, and in nonprofit organizations as a whole. A previous study found that 92% of senior employees within nonprofits were white, 5.5% were African American, and 1.7% were of Hispanic descent. The reason for this under-representation is thought to be a lack of necessary systemic change, and the reluctance of organizations to face issues such as racism, fear, and lack of trust.
Another reason given for the lack of African American participation in animal welfare is the economic hardship faced by this part of the population. A 2002 U.S. Census showed that 24.1% of African Americans were below the poverty line (defined as an income threshold which varies according to the number of family members living in the same household), and that the median income of white people was about 60% higher than that of African Americans. Animal welfare issues are thought to be of low priority due to this disparity. Other research has suggested that there are differences in the level of attachment between animals and people of different racial backgrounds.
This study aimed to document the claim that African Americans are virtually invisible in organized animal protection spaces. The researcher contacted 32 animal welfare organizations thought to be some of the most influential in the movement, requesting a racial breakdown of their employees. Questions asked included the number of African Americans working in that organisation, and the types of positions held. The purpose of the study was explained, and all participants were assured anonymity.
Of the 32 organizations contacted, 13 ended up participating, with others agreeing but then dropping out before data could be collected. Some expressed concern that the results would portray their organization negatively. Given the large drop-out rate, the results were likely to focus on those organizations which were relatively more diverse and therefore willing to participate.
Of the 13 remaining participants, eight employed no African Americans, and of the 1,584 employees working at all the organizations, 4% (n = 63) were African American. Of those, 38% were male and 62% were female. When looking at the more senior roles, African Americans made up 0.8% of the total number of employees. The survey confirmed the hypothesis that few African Americans work within the animal advocacy movement at the time the study was published.
It’s worth noting here that African Americans make up around 12.3% of people living in the United States. Therefore, the 4% found to be working in the surveyed organizations falls short of even representing the proportion found in the general population. The researcher notes that it is unclear whether African Americans are not going into animal welfare work due to internal reasons, such as a lack of interest, external reasons such as feeling unwelcome, or other reasons, which may be related to the economic disparity they face. Another study involved conducting interviews with nine African Americans who do work within animal welfare-related fields. Some of the reasons they suggested for few African Americans working in this space included on-going civil rights struggles and discrimination. However, their suggested reasons also included factors which might apply to any person regardless of race, such as unattractive career incentives and negative images of certain roles.
Further research into the reasons behind this under-representation is needed. Future efforts to understand this phenomenon should control for other variables such as gender, region and socio-economic status. Why is diversity in the workplace important? Organizations should reflect the population they serve in order to succeed. The researcher also states that diversity is important for moral, political, and sociological reasons, and to ensure that all stakeholders have a voice in decisions which may affect them.