• An Update on VCE’s Continuing Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Efforts

    Nearly four years ago, during a period of national reflection on barriers to social justice, we at the Vermont Center for Ecostudies articulated a commitment to diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI).  Since then, we’ve engaged in a challenging but rewarding process to advance DEI principles and practices within our organization and in the field of conservation science. In this update, we describe some of our efforts to continue learning, to foster a culture that honors differences, and to promote diversity in the field of ecology


    In order to build understanding and gain skills to improve the inclusivity of our workplace and programs, VCE staff and board members receive regular  DEI training. Professionally guided sessions have equipped us to better recognize and challenge unconscious biases, welcome diversity in all of its expressions, and use thoughtful, constructive language to navigate difficult conversations. 

    Staff leaders and members of our DEI Committee pursue additional learning through programs like the Upper Valley Equity Exchange, an educational opportunity organized by Vital Communities for local nonprofits aspiring to incorporate best DEI practices into operations, governance, and mission-related activities. In another initiative, VCE program and project leaders learn how to support the well-being of co-workers and facilitate access to mental health care, as needed. After trainings like these, participants share resources and facilitate meaningful conversations at staff and board meetings, where DEI is always on the agenda

    Honoring Differences

    We incorporate what we learn into personnel practices that honor differences. For example, we recruit job applicants from groups currently underrepresented on our staff, and we require all new hires to learn the basics of fostering an inclusive culture. We also provide seasonal employees with comprehensive safety training as well as guidance on accessing local affinity and support groups. When an employee leaves VCE, we ask them to evaluate their experience through a DEI lens and provide specific feedback on opportunities to improve how we carry out our DEI values. In addition, an ongoing revision of our personnel policy will update anti-discrimination and anti-harassment protections, increase parental leave benefits, and establish an equitable pay structure that meets or exceeds benchmarks in our sector

    Our efforts to promote diversity and equity extend to the broader VCE community as well. We now offer free field trips throughout Vermont, including areas with socioeconomically, racially, and ethnically diverse populations. This April, several staff members will lead biodiversity explorations of the Burlington area for the 2024 City Nature Challenge, a global initiative that connects urban residents with local nature and allows conservation scientists to learn more about what matters to them. In a way, our participation brings home the longstanding legacy of Chris Rimmer’s work in the Caribbean, where he and other VCE scientists have spent decades learning alongside the caretakers of once unfamiliar and underappreciated habitats

    We seek out diverse perspectives from professional ecologists to gain a more thorough understanding of the natural world and how to care for it. Presentations given through our Suds and Science program introduce our staff to the work of individuals representing a wide range of backgrounds and identities, while providing a platform for them to share their findings with local and remote audiences. Recordings of these talks are accessible for free on our website–part of a vast collection of videos, webinars, and other multimedia offerings designed to satisfy and inspire curiosity in all people, regardless of means, age, education, or ability

    Diversifying the Board, Staff, and Science Program

    We have made significant progress in diversifying our board, which now includes gender balance and greater diversity than ever before. Board members are committed to broadening VCE’s community engagement and ensuring that the organization’s leadership continues to more closely reflect the communities we aim to serve. At the staff level, our newest conservation biologist is investigating plant and animal interactions and biodiversity in urban and suburban landscapes, areas underrepresented in VCE’s past research efforts. We have also made great strides in promoting the use of community science tools, such as smartphone apps, online data dashboards, and image recognition software for identifying butterflies and moths; collectively, these tools advance equity in science by making it more accessible and transparent. Our investments in this area will increase further this spring with the addition of a community science coordinator to the staff.

    Promoting Diversity in Ecology

    To expand opportunities for up-and-coming scientists from diverse backgrounds, we offer job training and mentorship through our Future Ecologist program. This internship lowers barriers to a career in ecology by providing hands-on experience on a variety of field projects. Like other VCE interns, Future Ecologists also receive a fair wage and free housing near a zero-fare transit line. Participants who learn valuable skills and make new connections through this program go on to add fresh perspectives to what has been one of the least diverse scientific disciplines. As we prepare to share our passion for science with this year’s interns and involve as many others as we can in our field work and educational offerings, we realize there is no better time to foster belonging in the VCE community. A welcoming approach puts us in the strongest position to conserve the species and habitats we hold dear–in effect, to include them in a wide scope of belonging

    Thank you for joining in our learning and in the growing recognition that diversity, equity, and inclusivity are keys to uniting people and science for conservation

    We look forward to continuing this rewarding work into the foreseeable future. We want to be transparent about our processes and policies through these changes and reaffirm our commitment to a workplace and community that values people with different backgrounds and experiences. 


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