Individual and institutional barriers in animal care career diversity at zoos and aquariums

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Zoos and aquariums are important community attractions, boasting impressive annual attendance and programming numbers. They are well positioned to raise awareness about critical global issues, like climate change, biodiversity loss, and the benefits of diverse workforces collaborating to solve these global-scale issues. However, the lack of racial and ethnic diversity among zoos and aquariums’ animal care positions is similar to most other STEM careers, significantly limiting the diverse perspectives needed for effective problem solving. The barriers to a more diverse animal care workforce at zoos and aquariums are multi-faceted, complex issues that people face on individual and institutional levels. Social cognitive career theory frames individual-level barriers to include awareness of opportunities, the skills and knowledge needed to pursue a career, representation and a sense of belonging , self-efficacy in the required knowledge and skills, and the economic resources and mentorship support needed to stand out in a highly competitive job market. Simultaneously, institutions create barriers through their internal systems. Systems theory with a sociological institutionalism lens frames how institutions’ past practices, current policies and practices that stem from systemic racism, lack of representation in the existing workforce, hiring practices that require substantial amounts of schooling and experience for entry-level positions, and low pay all contribute to a lack of diversity in the field. These barriers vary in significance depending on each person’s experience and their access to resources and opportunities and need to be addressed from individual and institutional aspects. By collecting quantitative and qualitative information from individuals currently working in animal care careers at zoos and aquariums, patterns, barriers, and potential solutions were identified to promote diversifying the field.

Embargo status: Restricted until 01/2027. To request the author grant access, click on the PDF link to the left.

zoo, aquarium, diversity, animal care, career, STEM, barriers