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Employee Development, Diversity, & Inclusion


The Employee Development, Diversity and Inclusion Attribute is focused on creating an equitable, diverse and inclusive culture where all contributions are valued, respected and appreciated. Best practice focuses on internal culture and places an emphasis on intentional recruitment, retention, advancement, and a pervasive feeling of inclusion.

As social institutions, public gardens can inspire inclusion in communities by modeling inclusive practices and policies for all of their stakeholders, both internally and externally. A workforce that is representative of a public garden’s community is aligned with the organization’s success and sustainability. This holistic change results in a creative, innovative workforce, a competitive advantage, and an organic shift in audience demographics.


Goal 1:  Identify and adopt a culture and values system that understands respects and celebrates diversity and inclusion from all aspects of the institution

Goal 2:  Recruit, retain and recognize a diverse workforce within your institution 

Goals 3:  Establish diversity best practices that shape and impact the workforce, the workplace and the community



Diversity refers to the variety of personal experiences, values and worldviews that arise from differences in culture and circumstance. It includes but is not limited to the influence of different cultural, ethnic, and religious heritages and the differences that emerge from class, age, sexual orientation, gender identity, ability and other socially constructed characteristics.

Equity refers to the guarantee of fair treatment, access, and opportunity for advancement for all individuals. Equity also aims to identify and eliminate barriers that have prevented the full participation of marginalized groups. The principle of equity acknowledges that there are historically marginalized populations and that fairness regarding these unbalanced conditions is needed in order to provide effective opportunities for all. The key to understanding equity is the idea that individuals and groups need different kinds of policies, programs and practices in order to succeed.

Inclusion indicates an environment in which a diversity of identities are not only represented, but are also supported and embraced through consistent institutional behaviors, practices and policies. An inclusive and welcoming climate embraces differences and offers respect in words and actions for all members.


Making the Case: Why Should We Care About Diversity and Inclusion in Public Gardens?



American population demographics are changing, and these changes accompany a shift in our public garden audiences, members, supporters, and neighbors. It is predicted that by 2065, only 46% of the population will be white, with an inevitable “minority majority” population that already exists in some major urban centers. While population growth is fastest amongst racial and ethnic minorities, age demographics are also changing. Millennials have recently overtaken Baby Boomers as America’s largest generation and this younger cohort of public garden visitors may have different needs, interests, and expectations compared to prior generations. Immigration is also on the rise, with almost half of the American population being foreign born, but these indicators of racial and generational diversity are not the only ways that the population is changing. In 2010, one out of five Americans identified as having a disability, and the religious landscape of the United States has been shifting as fewer young adults identify as Christian and more identify as non-affiliated. While data surrounding LGBTQ+ populations can be difficult to obtain, it is estimated that anywhere from 4% to 10% of Americans identify as LGBTQ+, and regardless, mainstream acceptance and support of LGBTQ+ issues has grown. With these demographic changes, communities that may have been previously underserved by public gardens are now an increasingly important and targeted audience.


Financial Sustainability and Support

Gender diverse companies are 15% more likely to outperform their respective national industry group in terms of financial returns, and race and ethnically diverse companies are 35% more likely to outperform peers using the same metrics. Research further suggests that it is likely that age, sexual orientation, and experience would also bring competitive advantages. Diversity drives innovation, leading to growth in market share and new markets. Other benefits of diversity in the workplace include an increase in creativity in terms of both new ideas and problem solving, decreases in turnover (Glassdoor survey: 57% of employees believe their company should be doing more to increase diversity), and boards with diverse members function better.

With changes in cultural, generational, and socioeconomic demographics, there becomes a need for change in the representation of our donors, supporters, and funders that must also be reflected in the constituents we serve. The topic of diversity in nonprofit fundraising has been a key issue for contemporary nonprofits, and has led to resources on building relationships with diverse constituents, the giving patterns of multicultural donors, and diversity in fundraising models. Creating diversity and inclusion in fundraising will require deep reflection, subtle differences, and strong connections to encourage the deeply personal act of philanthropy.


Organizational Culture and Decision Making

Despite best intentions, programs aimed at diverse audiences can be difficult to plan and implement without input, engagement, and stakeholders from the communities they represent. In areas where communities are racially and ethnically diverse, reflecting this diversity in garden leadership could aid collaborations and partnerships with communities of color. This could also be helpful connecting with other underserved communities that may be marginalized due to ability, orientation, or financial access. Studies in nonprofit leadership show that an organization that encourages diversity and inclusion will have a wider range of perspectives, experiences, and methods of action. An organizational culture that encourages differences can benefit from honest feedback, especially if “unpopular” opinions are taken into consideration. This can also be a challenge, as having a heterogeneous staff risks conflicts, disagreements, and misunderstandings due to different perspectives. However, a diverse organization is still one that has a diversity of experiences, perspectives and contexts to draw on in crisis management, and is better equipped to respond to emergencies.


Relevance and Sustainability

As public gardens tackle questions of relevance and engagement, diversity and inclusion practices must also help a garden fulfill its mission. Diversity in garden leadership, staff, volunteers, and board members can provide a greater access to resources in and out of the community. Diversity and inclusion practices also provide relevant opportunities that can be taken advantage of, and a lack of diversity at all levels may risk stagnation in mission and practice. By strategically implementing diversity and inclusion practices, public gardens can prepare for the future by attracting younger generations of leaders and board members, ensuring sustainability in leadership and management.



1.Investigate and Establish a Baseline   2.Identify Stakeholders   3.Data Collection/Resources   4.Develolp and Implement a Plan of Action   5. Evaluate and Maintain Success   6. Report Communicate and Educate




1.  Investigate and Establish a Baseline


The following questions should be considered as part of an initial self-audit.  Board members and key leadership staff including Human Resources professionals will ideally be part of this initial conversation and organizational self-reflection. If you do not know the answers to some questions, simply note that you don’t have metrics in place. Do not be discouraged if your initial responses generate more questions than answers.



Have Diversity and Inclusion become embedded in the culture of the organization and is not seen as an isolated program, but rather as a key value and a means to growth and success?

Are all the major components of Diversity and Inclusion, including vision, strategy, business case, goals, policies, principles, desired behaviors, and competencies regularly reviewed?

Do all employees and the board of directors demonstrate that Diversity and Inclusion is aligned with and integral to organizational success?

Does all “institutional body language” (the design of buildings, the content of advertising, the behavior of front line staff to visitors, the demographics of staff and boards, the choices made in exhibitions and programs) convey the message that the garden is for everyone?



Are leaders (all levels of management) held accountable for implementing Diversity and Inclusion strategies in all areas of the organization?

Are senior leaders seen as change agents and role models themselves,  providing consistent, visible leadership on Diversity and Inclusion?

Do leaders and board members publicly support diversity-related initiatives, understanding that the work of Diversity and Inclusion is systemic and designed to strengthen the organization’s culture?

Has the garden surveyed a large majority of employees (with representation across a range of diversity dimensions) to rate their leaders as treating them fairly and inclusively?



Does the board and staff reflect the diversity of their own community?

Does your garden’s talent development process result in equitable recruitment, retention, advancement, and a pervasive feeling of inclusion?

Does the garden’s reputation for quality Diversity and Inclusion efforts enhance its ability to attract and retain employees who contribute to outstanding organizational results?

Does developing and advancing employees with valued competencies usually result in diverse senior leadership at the garden?

Are coaches and mentors made available to develop advanced careers within the organization?



Do garden leaders have the skills to respond to requests for flexibility and model work-life balance?

Are part-time, job sharing and flexible work arrangements that do not negatively impact career development or progress available for all appropriate positions?

Does the garden accept diversity in language, dress, physical appearance, non-traditional schedules and leave, as fully legitimate?

Does the garden offer a full range of flexible benefits and services, including education and counseling, provided based on employee needs, wants, and the organization’s financial ability to provide them?

Are significant others, same-sex, and transgender partners included in organizational events that previously excluded them?

Are benefits and services adapted to changing conditions and innovative ideas based on research and assessment?



Does the garden have equitable compensation and classification practices?

Does innovative job design result in employees being paid for performance, enabling them to work flexibly based on their needs and wants?

Have reward and compensation systems been designed specifically to reduce bias in recruiting, hiring, retention and advance the development of high-performing talent?

Does the garden utilize balanced scorecards or similar methods as part of its compensation system to ensure that conscious and unconscious bias is reduced?



Does Diversity and Inclusion training and education include:

-Learning reinforcement, application and sustainability strategies

-On-going, multi-year, developmental curriculum that takes individuals through graduated stages of learning

-Customization to meet changing local situations, ensuring that it is not global at the expense of local or local at the expense of global relevance

-Innovative tools, including an extensive accessible library, fully supported, and shared externally?

-Challenging and sometimes controversial issues such as racism, sexism, ageism, classism, homophobia, religious bias, and unconscious bias  addressed with sensitivity, conviction, and compassion?

Is Diversity and Inclusion integrated into all training and education that advances the garden’s strategy?



Does the garden conduct in-depth Diversity and Inclusion assessments covering behavior, attitude and perception?

Does the garden utilize employee opinion/engagement surveys to solicit feedback on needs and effectiveness of Diversity and Inclusion efforts?

Does the garden commit resources to regular assessment, not only of its revenues and attendance, but also of its public and social impact?

Are garden leaders able to articulate the impact and return on investment of Diversity and Inclusion efforts?


Resources link to Maturity Model: A Metric for Institutional Transformation



2. Identify Stakeholders


Leadership from the top

An effective process is predicated on buy-in from both the garden’s leadership and the members of its board.  But supportive words will not, on their own, be sufficient.  Leadership must strive to identify potential board and committee members who reflect the racial, gender, and socioeconomic diversity of the communities they serve.  Then they need to convince these individuals of the benefits of their providing service to the garden.

In some cases, this process can function more effectively by bringing in an outside consultant or advisor. In addition to their expertise and practical knowledge, such a consultant brings an objective, non-emotional approach that can be critically important when points of conflict arise.


Entire teams working together

The commitment to diversity and inclusion must reach beyond the garden’s leadership to the entire organization.  Groups of staff members must commit to it, as must the committees with which they work.  These can range from a Best Practices Committee, to an Education Committee, to a Cultural or Outreach Committee.

In addition, each staff member and volunteer needs to understand that the garden’s mission and values support diversity and inclusion, and that they are contributing to the fulfillment of that mission and those values.


Keeping everyone informed

A commitment to diversity and inclusion is an evolutionary process that isn’t accomplished overnight.  As new staff, board, or committee members are recruited, it’s essential that they be properly oriented and kept informed of positive developments in the garden. It’s equally important that all members of the garden’s community feel that they have a voice and are being heard. Finally, by sponsoring events that celebrate particular heritages, the garden can promote a culture in which all people are appreciated and learn from one another.


3. Data Collection/Resources


In this section you will gather resources needed to make Diversity and Inclusion action planning decisions.

Having completed the audit/self-reflection activity and begun the process of identifying stakeholders, it is critical that key staff begin a dialogue about the internal culture of the garden. It is important to discuss definitions and agree on the shared goals. Agreeing to take steps that affect change will require acknowledging that the path forward will be difficult, messy, uncomfortable, and will if successful, reveal what we are not even aware that  we are doing wrong. This is personal work in public spaces and many people will feel vulnerable examining biases.



Solicit feedback from staff at every job level and every department to determine the current cultural climate. Survey methods must be anonymous, secure, and easily accessible even for those without regular or private computer access.

Sample questions for staff:

-Do you feel emotionally and psychologically safe?

-Is the garden helping you to progress in your career?

-Do you see yourself throughout the organization? In the makeup of staff, what is on the walls, in the leaders and managers?

-Do you feel that you belong?

-Do you know how HR would handle an issue like discrimination, and feel safe and confident in pursuing that process when needed?

-Do you see senior leaders demonstrating inclusive policy as a culture of practice?


Solicit feedback from community and audience stakeholders to establish a baseline understanding of what audiences believe about your authenticity and efforts. Use anonymous, secure, and accessible methods for all surveys.


Demographic Data

Use regional demographic data to understand your community. Once you have a baseline understanding of both current staff demographics and regional demographics, you will be able to use this to establish long term goals for staff representation.  



If your garden does not regularly survey staff, board members, and volunteers for demographic data, at onboarding, consider implementing:

-Survey questions should be written using nuanced categories

-Survey respondents must be assured the survey is secure and anonymous

-Survey data must be collected directly from the individual being surveyed


Sample survey:

Sample reports:

Pay Equity data should be tracked and reported and ideally the garden also tracks their compensation and benefits ( against median.



If you are within the United States, community demographic data is available through the U.S. Census and Public Use Microdata. There may be other community organizations that collect demographic data in your region on specific populations such as local health departments or  organizations that are working with government grants for services. This may supplement the longer timeline of census data.

The American Community Survey (ACS) Public Use Microdata Sample (PUMS)

Statistics Canada


Training and Educational Resources

Become familiar with external resources and methodologies used to educate staff.

Understanding the range of resources available will help you make decisions about where to invest in outside experts such as consultants or evaluations.


Even if your garden has qualified personnel, utilizing a trained external facilitator will allow all participants to fully engage in training experience, to get the maximum benefit.


Policy is not enough to make cultural change, having your staff understand the systems of diversity and oppression and inclusion so that they can then make these decisions for themselves avoids feelings of having to adhere to a set of rules that they might not understand or really appreciate.


“I think anything as big as trying to change the culture of an organization, which could take well over a decade, you really need it to be planned properly, so you want someone who is professional on board.”


Other Resources:

The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission enforces Federal laws prohibiting employment discrimination.

Canadian Human Rights Commission

Critical Race Theory

LGBTQ Alliance Offers Welcoming Guidelines for Museums

US Dept of Justice



4. Develop and Implement a Plan of Action


“You shouldn't start your plan of action until you really understand what work you're already doing, how it's affecting people by either not reaching them, or turning them off, or who knows what. You may not have any idea how what you're doing isn't working.”


“The organization really needs to look back at itself and its own history of staffing and hiring practice and really be honest about where they might have been wrong about something, which is hard to do right for an organization.”



Identifying the Unique Garden Story

In this section, you will begin the planning process by first engaging stakeholders in helping to interpret the answers to the self-audit and employee/stakeholder surveys. This work can be accomplished through task forces or committees, as long as strict timelines trigger outcomes that will be shared across all departments, engaging the entire garden organization. No working group or task force should operate in a vacuum. As soon as short term goals are met, the continuation of task force duties should be integrated with the work of all departments.


The first step for task forces/working groups is to utilize the self-audit and employee/stakeholder data to understand holistically what the garden knows about itself; what the work force looks like, what overarching goals and new initiatives must be considered (ie: projects that will add significant number of new hires, contracts etc.), and unique characteristics of the larger community, including significant community needs.


Development of an action plan must engage top level leadership (see Stakeholders) including the director, directors of departments and board members which are often positions with diversity challenges. Because these roles control a lot of the policy making, it is critical that they push initiatives forward in the upper levels or it will be hard for anyone in the middle and lower levels of the organization to feel motivated to work for change.


Best Practices for building working groups/task forces:

-Groups are comprised of people across age spans, abilities, ethnicities, departments, personalities and MUST include persons in leadership positions

-Group member’s supervisors are supportive of group activities

-Group members are committed to work well together

-Group members are empowered to enact the garden’s priorities

-Group members have leadership roles on initiatives they are especially passionate about


The Process of Prioritization

“I think it helps to bring in someone from the outside not only because they might have more experience with this topic, but because they’re removed from the situation, they’re not emotionally or financially invested in it.”


Like many things in life, addressing Diversity and Inclusion is a messy process which may not follow a phased approach. The work the garden does internally with board and staff members will reverberate out to make external change. Use the same categories that were presented in the self-audit and determine which areas will be addressed by specific working groups. Take advantage of external resources (cited in this Index) including external facilitation opportunities.











Evaluate/Revise/Monitor and Maintain Success


Evaluation tools should be determined by effectiveness and available resources (including personnel time). This section helps your garden determine what is best for the site, providing guidance where goals were not achieved in order to revise the plan, research, and take further action.


Report Communicate and Educate


When gardens identify meaningful accomplishments, they must determine how and what to share in an internal capacity with stakeholders and in an external capacity with the public/target audiences or on a national scale (such as through our Association’s network).



The Public Gardens Sustainability Index Working Group is made up of diverse field-wide professionals. Does your expertise lie within an Attribute area? Help us build content for Principles and Best Practices. Have success stories? Let us collect your Case Studies. Contact Sarah Beck:

Case Study 

Montréal Botanical Garden

Completed in August 2001, the First Nations Garden was a three year project that the botanical garden and a committee of First Nations representatives completed together. The coalition worked closely to determine guidelines and criteria to be integrated into the project concept and design. Vital from a political perspective, the coalition worked to avoid the incorporation of stereotype. This contemporary garden, inspired by Amerindian and Inuit cultures, highlights not only Native knowledge of plants, but also First Nations activities relating to the plant world, from gathering food and medicinal plants to using wood to build their homes.

 Michel Tremblay

The Interpretation Pavilion in summer.   Photo:  Michel Tremblay

While the First Nations garden has been successful in fostering positive internal staff relationships and  visitor experiences, the gardenis considered to be a first step in the right direction. Even in light of the mandate issued by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada, many Canadian cultural institutions have been hesitant to broach the subject of reconciliation due to its sensitive nature, which makes the Montréal Botanical Garden quite unique. To bridge the gap between garden and visitor, Native interpretation staff are trained to provide guided tours and encourage discussion about reconciliation. Indeed, the garden has served as a cultural crossroads and made space for necessary conversation surrounding the history of the First Nations, but not without challenges. For instance, budgetary constraints limit the number of interpretation staff as well as the on-site involvement of the initial committee of First Nations representatives, with whom the botanical garden consults regularly. Additionally, many First Nation descendants have elected to assimilate to their surrounding environments, weakening ties with traditional culture. Because transmission of culture from First Nations elders to youth is so highly valued, the First Nations Garden aims to provide space for cultural preservation and healing. This is interpreted in a number of ways including interactive terminals, visitor activities, shows, special events, and an interpretation pavilion. The pavilion also houses a permanent exhibition including movies by Natives on contemporary Native lifestyles, connecting the past with a bright future.

The distinctive curve of the Interpretation pavilion roof at the First Nations Garden. Photo Michael Trembley

The distinctive curve of the Interpretation pavilion roof at the First Nations Garden.  Photo:  Michael Trembley


Smithsonian Gardens 

The Smithsonian Office of Facilities and Engineering and Operations (OFEO) recognizes that while a strategic plan is an essential tool to help guide work, the department’s true success is dependent on the willingness of employees to be creative, provide quality work, and commitment to serve over 25 million visitors and over 12,000 staff each year. With so much of the plan hinging on the performance of employees, including those of the Smithsonian Gardens, the OFEO has prioritized the cultivation of a highly motivated and dedicated workforce as a primary goal within the strategic plan itself.

The first objective associated with this goal is foster an organizational culture that is fair, inclusive, and team-orientated by understanding and addressing real and perceived equity issues, clearly defining performance expectations and measures of success, and making business processes transparent and involve diverse representatives of the workforce in their design.

The second objective associated with this goal is create a positive, challenging, and gratifying work environment. This will be accomplished by empowering employees to make decisions and take responsibility for their work, providing internal and external training opportunities„, and providing the resources to work effectively and in comfort.

The third objective associated with this goal is enhance leadership at all levels by demonstrating excellence in leadership, exemplified by open communication, a positive attitude, fairness, and forward thinking, „strengthening leadership skills of both current and potential leaders „, and continuously providing opportunities for staff to become leaders.

The fourth objective associated with this goal is foster a flexible, dynamic, and knowledgeable work force. This will be accomplished by conducting strategic staffing reviews to ensure recruitment of employees with skill sets that align with mission needs„, increasing cross training of staff to provide diverse learning opportunities, and recognizing and rewarding innovation and creative problem solving.

The fifth objective associated with this goal is to position OFEO staff as recognized experts by continuing to research, develop, and implement best practices in all OFEO operational, service, and business areas „ and sharing OFEO best practices with industry, peers, and other external organizations. With dedicated staff, a mission and vision for facilities excellence and this Strategic Plan, OFEO will hopes to achieve its highest goals and become known throughout numerous professional fields for its level of excellence.

Goal four of the strategic plan recognizes the department’s true success is dependent on its employees’ motivation.

Goal four of the strategic plan recognizes the department’s true success is dependent on its employees’ motivation.