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From Pet To Threat In Community Organisations

Ric Raftis

An article in Forbes speaks of the phenomenon known as “Pet to Threat” [1]. The article illustrates situations where women of colour, are recruited to organisations and treated well, but only for a short time. As their knowledge and stature grow, they begin to be regarded as a threat by the very same people who employed them. Hence the term Pet to Threat. I would like to use this term as an example of the same situation I have seen in rural community organisations.

The Newbies In Town

Welcome on Board

Now on the other side of the situation are the new people to town. Humans, being what they are, are communal animals and need to have a sense of value and belonging. Having left their old life behind, they may well be eager to fit into the new environment and meet new people. The organisation courting their favour seems an ideal way to do so. The meeting they attend bends over backwards to make them feel welcome and valued. They sign up to get involved. They are excited about being part of a community organisation that has welcomed them as newcomers and the organisation is excited about gaining new members with valuable skills. It’s a win/win for everybody concerned.

Consider the situation of a small rural town that just happens to attract a new family to the area. The people have considerable professional skills, but it doesn’t matter what they are for the purpose of the discussion. Community organisations and volunteer groups in the community immediately recognise the potential for some new members with skills the group desperately requires. Perhaps some accounting knowledge or information technology skills. The potential volunteers are approached and invited to come along to a meeting of the organisation. If you wished to be cynical, you could almost refer to this meeting as a Honey Trap. Everybody present knows what the purpose of the meeting is and are consequently warm and friendly to the invited guests.

The Importance of Leadership

What can happen next is all down to the leadership of the community organisation. Consider these scenarios, and if you have ever been in a community organisation in a small rural town I’m sure you will recognise them. The new member comes up with an idea to improve something the organisation is already doing. The organisation resists and resents the change on the basis that “they have always done it this way”.  The new member suggests that this is how they do it where they come from and the organisation resists even further because they don’t like people coming into town pushing their ideas, particularly on the basis of how it was done where they came from.

The dance goes on in the same manner for some time. The new member no longer feels their skills are valued and begins to resent the organisation and the town. The organisation begins to resent the new member telling them how to do things they have always done in a particular way. The conflict escalates and the new member leaves the organisation. The organisation is happy they’ve gone and everything goes back to the status quo. Does this situation sound familiar either in this form or a similar variation?

Prevention of Conflict

Conflict - woman punching man with boxing glove

Being aware of potential issues is what provides the opportunity to prevent conflict. Again, this is where good leadership comes in. First of all, make it clear to potential new members that change is always resisted within organisations and happens over time. Let them know that the sure way to get peoples’ backs up is to tell them that this is how it’s done where they come from. Be aware of conflict resolution and prevention strategies [2]. Leaders also should cultivate a culture in their organisations where they welcome new ideas and refuse to accept the response that this is how we’ve always done it as being valid.

Dynamic organisations readily accept suggestions and consider their merits on what improvements they will bring. Both new and old members need to be aware that there may well be cultural differences that can impact perceptions. When I say cultural differences I don’t just mean people coming from a different country. Just coming from a different town can result in a cultural difference. It can also include gender bias too. Practising the concepts of inclusivity in your community organisation can help [3].


So, it all comes down to Leadership. Put the culture in place and handle your new members and old members so both feel valued. Encourage ideas and contributions knowing that the survival of any organisation over the long term depends on its ability to adapt to current circumstances.


  1. The Infuriating Journey From Pet To Threat: How Bias Undermines Black Women At Work[]
  2. Ten Simple Rules for avoiding and resolving conflicts with your colleagues (plos.org)[]
  3. Make my group more inclusive – ourcommunity.com.au[]

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