Redefining our Commitment to Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, Belonging, and Justice: Statement & Actions

One of the American Ornithological Society’s (AOS’s) key functions is to create a strong community that welcomes and supports individuals across a broad range of career paths, interests, backgrounds, and needs. Last year we solicited insights from our members to better understand our Society’s current culture and how to improve it.  As we work towards continued improvements, we must periodically review our stated commitment to diversity, equity, inclusion, belonging, and justice (DEIBJ) to ensure our foundation for progress is strong. We are proud to share a new diversity statement that articulates our sincere commitment to change and our resolute support of a broad and diverse community. We also have several new initiatives planned for 2023 to help us along our journey.

Revised Diversity Statement and Definitions

Image: On left is a brown, black, tan, white, and grey feather. Across the top it states Our Commitment: Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, Belonging, and Justice. Followed by a blog post pull quote, "Our revised statement recognizes that organizational and societal barriers to participation and inclusion in ornithology exist, and we commit to addressing those barriers within our organization." Below the text is the AOS logo. Across the bottom is a band of colors indicative of the PRIDE and BIPOC flag.

Our new statement focuses on five elements: diversity, equity, inclusion, belonging, and justice (DEIBJ), expanding the reach and coverage of our previous, narrower diversity statement and introducing the idea of belonging as an important element of our culture. Critically, our revised statement also recognizes that organizational and societal barriers to participation and inclusion in ornithology exist, and we commit to addressing those barriers within our organization. We further commit to creating and fostering opportunities for people with diverse backgrounds, traits, and perspectives to participate at all levels of the organization. Finally, we recognize the benefits of integrating all of these values more clearly into our decision-making processes, and we aspire to lead by example to make diversity, equity, inclusion, belonging, and justice core strengths among our membership.

One of the many challenges of work centered on diversity and inclusion is that these terms can be broad or narrow and have multiple facets: we may mean different things when we talk about supporting diversity. To create a common language for us to discuss diversity, equity, inclusion, belonging, and justice, we have developed a set of definitions for these five core elements. These definitions differentiate among the five terms, demonstrate how they relate to each other, and give a sense of the breadth and focus of activities that we may support under this rubric. 

Initiatives Planned for 2023

We recognize that a statement without accompanying action is performative rather than meaningful, and we commit to continuing our strong, action-based trajectory on our DEIBJ path. We are excited to share several new initiatives that we have planned for 2023.

First, members of AOS leadership, including Councilors and Committee chairs, will participate in training on issues related to power and privilege and implicit bias within the AOS. These trainings will help AOS leaders recognize how power and privilege inequalities within AOS affect who is heard, who is supported, and who has access to opportunities, and identify where implicit bias is causing or could cause differential treatment of individuals within the AOS. The goal is to enable leaders to recognize and change these harmful dynamics within the AOS. Second, we will hire a communications intern to help highlight and promote the diversity of our membership, to broaden who comes to mind when we think of ornithologists. Third, we will start to develop and support additional resource groups, identity-based communities that both identify needs and provide a sense of belonging for different identity groups within ornithology. Finally, as we develop our new long-term strategic plan for the AOS, we will use what we learned from our audit work with the independent consulting group Diversity Crew, our 2021 focus groups, and our 2022 survey to ensure that diversity, equity, inclusion, belonging, and justice are considered and incorporated throughout all our programs and operations. 

Redefining our organizational commitment to DEIBJ requires the input and support of our broad community. We are grateful to Diversity Crew, whose insights helped us draft early versions of our revised statement and definitions. Our new guiding documents reflect insights gained from focus groups, survey results, and thoughtful and iterative discussions with members of our Diversity and Inclusion committee and the AOS Council. Thoughtful conversations over more than a year have allowed us to develop these strong commitments that reflect the unique niche of the AOS and will help move us into the future. We look forward to continuing to work closely with members of our vibrant ornithological community as we work toward continued improvement.

Colleen Handel, AOS President
Judith Scarl, Executive Director & CEO

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