Anca Georgescu, Transylvania Animal Care: The world is diverse, how else should we act in it?

You may have noticed an increase in posts about diversity and inclusion on the Romanian Diversity Charter’s webpage recently. This is part of a conscious effort of the platform to advocate for our society to become more diverse and inclusive in future. In today’s post, Anca Georgescu from Transylvania Animal Care talks about what actions the organization has been taking — and plans to take – to address this topic, including celebrating some successes to date and identifying some challenges ahead.

Anca Georgescu leads the Strategy and Communications of Transylvania Animal Care, the first veterinary organization in Romania for low income pet owners and animal welfare charities. She was a newspaper editor and then a TV producer with the public television in Romania after which she became a Public Relations officer for international NGOs. She is a member of the IUCN’s Commission on Education and Communication and a consultant in the Experts Roster of UNDP’s Crisis Response Unit.

Why and since when does your organization believe and invest in diversity management?

Since our inception, simply because we are young, smart people who travelled quite a lot around the world. We have a soft spot for diversity, most probably trained daily by what we do: we treat and care for animals that are usually regarded as the inferior ones in the world of home pets: strays, hungry or injured so potentially not that kind (what a huge misconception!), dirty and infested, described as ugly sometimes or at least not complying with the generally accepted beauty standards. Our work – low cost veterinary medicine - is an incredible school of diversity values, one just needs to translate the data in the world of humans. And every day we see around us many reasons to keep an eye on the topic of diversity as an attitude. Today, social networks make it very easy to see how many people hate other people just for being different and how easy we find it to label and even hurt the other based on one or two things we imagine we know. So I think it’s a question of common sense and basic responsibility to nurture diversity as a value and as a way of thinking. The world is diverse, how else should we act in it?

What aspects of diversity management have the highest priority in your organization?

We’re not yet big enough to say issues bunched up in a list and we need to prioritize. Actually, I hope not to get there ever, simply by being careful enough not to let diversity details become issues.

Which D&I activities have been implemented in your organization so far?

I’ll give you a very small, yet very meaningful example. At one point, we realized that two members of our staff – and one was I – were dealing with a peak in their coincidentally common ailment, anxiety disorder with very troublesome panic attacks. This ailment alone is something so scarcely known in Romania and very much disregarded though it affects so many people. Anyway, I realized that the issue did affect our daily work as a team but not in itself as much as because we found it difficult to explain it to the team. Why were we late every day? Why moody, tensed, avoiding this and that? So I proposed to my team a meeting only about our medical condition - mine and my colleague’s - while businesswise speaking, we had completely other urgent matters to deal with. I prepared some short videos on the topic, we watched them together and then had a long talk about it. I can’t even begin to describe the result but I’ll say this: it was like a long and expensive soft skills course done in an hour. I very much believe in simple, down to earth and concrete approaches of what seems to be complicated or even abstract. And I can add this: all our recruitment ads read «ethnicity, sexual orientation, religion, and other costume jewelry are irrelevant». I care deeply for this phrase.

Many organizations aren't prioritizing inclusion and diversity initiatives right now. Why should they reconsider?

They should reconsider to the extent they want to be more than a workplace or a business. Businesses make products, whatever that is, from objects to concepts. However genius a product is today, it gets common in a short while, so I think businesses have little to no chance of making true history with their products, no offence intended. But every day, they have the opportunity to shape the actual history by shaping the minds of their teams and their public. I don’t know many people saying in real contexts Oh, I’m so proud of my company’s products! But I hear every day people describing their workplace as cool or narrow minded, full of prejudiced slobs or happily populated with awesome mates. This translates to retention rates, good or bad moods so to productivity levels, loyalty or the lack of it, better persons or nasty rogues in all aspects of life, at work and around it.

In addition, diversity cultivated and openly articulated at work gets stronger as a personal value at home and in community: it’s one thing to believe in diversity and feel alone in your belief and completely another thing to know you have work mates and managers sharing sincerely your beliefs, talking about them, putting them to work. It makes one stronger and bold when spreading diversity values. It’s simply the power of solidarity.

Simpler put, workplaces are for adults what schools are for children: one practices what’s learnt, seen, witnessed, preached in the place he spends most of a day’s time. So work places are adults’ schools and that’s why organizations must pay attention to their «curriculum».

In your opinion, what tangible benefits does diversity bring to your organization?

I find it difficult to elaborate much on this, simply because I don’t see diversity as a distinct value to put at work and measure the lucrative benefits of it. To me and my team this is simply the right way to do things: always judge people (because we do, don’t we?) by their deeds and attitudes and not by identity details. And then, how about exploring the richness diversity brings on? We’ve had numerous foreign students as volunteers and the first thing we do is think «This person is different, so he or she has different information». So we ask the person How is this or that different in your country? It’s amazing how much we understand about our field when asking this question. How could one ignore the wealth of information and perspective you always find in the different? Furthermore (and risking to be skin-deep), let me tell you this: the most tangible result is we feel good about ourselves and that’s more important than meets the eye.

While from another point of view, communicating our diversity values brings on a lot of sympathy and fellow feelings while keeping away people that don’t share our way of being. I think this is healthy and mutually benefiting, really. Only a few days ago a lady, big supporter of ours, told us she ceased to be so after we said, in a humble Facebook post, that religion is not a worthy criteria to judge people. She thought otherwise and said she’d stop following and supporting us. We gracefully agreed and were pleased with it. Sometimes is that simple and that healthy.

Can you name three diversity challenges that organizations have to pay attention to?

Well, allow me not to name three, but stress upon one and the most important: pay serious attention to our famous and infamous Romanian sore spot, the beautiful shape with the shallow content or no content at all. Don’t make diversity management a mere item on your HR policies list, a thing to tick as done. Practice diversity and then articulate it in blunt statements to be periodically and clearly communicated to all staff. Sanction misconduct promptly yet assertively, look for the roots of it. And that should do it for the most part. Diversity management doesn’t have to be an abstract science or a stiff policy, it must become simply a way of being.

What do you do to convince your colleagues to see the value in diversity management, or even more to truly get them on board?

I’m lucky enough with my team not needing to get them on board: they hopped in from the very beginning simply by who they are. From time to time, we just need to talk about it and make our view and ways clear to people outside our team: volunteers, partners, clients, our public. And we’ll surely continue to do so.

Interview by Dana Oancea