September 29, 2022

Now that We Know Better

When I began working at the Ottawa Humane Society 22 years ago and for quite a few years after, the board, staff and volunteers were predominately white, with ancestry in the British Isles. To be honest, for many years, I had naively assumed this was a cultural phenomenon. That is, I had assumed that other cultures in Canada just weren’t that interested in dogs and cats, nor the welfare of wildlife and livestock.

But the past few years — especially with the Black Lives Matter and Truth and Reconciliation movements — have been eye-opening. It has never been clearer that we must take a hard look at ourselves, challenge our assumptions, and do better for our staff, volunteers and community.

In March of 2021, I presented a plan to the board of directors to foster diversity, equity and inclusion at the OHS. The plan covered such areas as our public presentation of ourselves, our recruitment practices and diversity on the board itself.

In preparation for the plan, I consulted with the staff we did employ who I identified as diverse. That was my first mistake. I now understand that I should have asked people to self-identify. Yet, out of this, I learned a second important lesson. One staff member who had recently been hired told me that she had serious reservations about applying because we didn’t have a diversity statement on our website. It had never occurred to me that simple thing could be so powerful. Frankly, I thought diversity statements were often disingenuous marketing ploys. Again, I was wrong.

When we posted a diversity statement we truly believed in, our organization began to change, and quickly. Today, the OHS staff and board have become more representative of the community we serve, and we are much better for it.

Though we have made progress, we are certainly not done. To be real and meaningful, we can’t complete the plan as a checklist of tasks. We need to absorb new ideas, make mistakes, fix them, and grow in our minds and in our actions. We need to learn from others. As Maya Angelou wrote, “I did then what I knew how to do. Now that I know better, I do better.”

Bruce Roney

President & CEO