Proven Strategies

Man in gray sweatshirt standing next to woman in green jacket holding small dog

Best Friends Moves to Incorporate Diversity, Equity and Inclusion into Our Mission

Every organization has at least one culture; many organizations have more than one. And whatever culture you have is the one you’ve created, intentionally or not. I want us to be intentional.  

I have long believed that you can’t bring out the best in your people without seeking and celebrating difference, lending opportunities and equal opportunities, and ensuring every person who has signed up to make a difference is able to fully do just that. These beliefs share a shorthand called diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) and are the foundations to a strong, thriving company. 

DEI is one of the foundations of building a strong company culture, because it ensures that everyone is seen, heard and empowered to do the work at hand. DEI is not just about putting a person of color on your collateral; that can’t be where it starts and ends. It must be a conscious effort to make sure everyone is equipped to contribute in the most meaningful way possible.  

If you’ve been following the content on our website over the past few months, you’ve seen that we have been taking a hard look in the mirror and acknowledging the deep-rooted systems in place in animal welfare that prevent our movement from being truly and deeply diverse, equitable, or inclusive. 

If you haven’t been following us, I hope you’ll take some time to read or watch some of the content our staff has put together about culture and DEI. This includes: 

Best Friends is a leader in this movement, and we have a platform and a megaphone to inform and influence how culture and DEI become paramount to how we all approach lifesaving. We aren’t satisfied with simply talking about change, however. We are evaluating how we as an organization need to change from the inside out so that we are practicing what we preach.  

With the historical lack of diversity in our industry, this is yet another opportunity to lead by example and influence the movement that there is strength in diversity, equity and inclusion.  We believe every animal is unique and has intrinsic value.  This is an extension of that philosophy to humans. From the golden rule, to kindness, to leadership by example, our guiding principles demand this focus and change.  

And it is essential to our mission. Everyone loves pets… and pets love everyone (they don’t discriminate). 

Ethnic and racial diversity are significantly greater in the priority areas (states/shelters) that we are focusing on, where the greatest number of dogs and cats are needlessly dying.  Engagement in those communities requires our own diversity and cultural competency. 

To that end, and because our employees are some of our greatest assets and resources, DEI is being incorporated into—not alongside—our mission critical strategies and business plans. We are engaging with staff at all levels to effect change by building out six culture councils to advise our CEO and top leadership. Those councils will focus on everything from our internal culture and hiring practices to how we make decisions, communicate, promote, perform our outreach and so much more.  

No one is the authority on DEI and I certainly recognize that Best Friends doesn’t have all the answers. That’s OK. But it’s important to acknowledge where we are and where we want to go in replacing systems that no longer serve all of us regardless of race or cultural background. 

This is a journey and we will continue to share our progress and pitfalls while looking to learn from others all along the way. We are committed to building a culture that transforms lifesaving forever, for the animals and the humans that love them. 

It is my personal hope that animal welfare collectively can make this change, not only because it is deserved, but because it is time. 

José Ocaño 
Senior director of culture and talent 
Best Friends Animal Society

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