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  • Writer's pictureRich Haglund

Cow chutes, diversity, and impact

"It's too expensive."

"We designed it that way because that's how it works."

"You obviously don't have the experience to understand."

These are the kinds of reactions Temple Grandin heard when she proposed a new system to guide cattle through the slaughterhouse (as portrayed in the 2010 film about her life).

The veteran--and all male--executives of the slaughterhouse immediately questioned her radical design. It had solid walls, which would cost more. It used up a lot more square footage (another cost increase). And it included a conveyor belt for the cows to ride. Why would people pay for the soon to be steak dinners to have an amusing ride?

Grandin appealed first to the executives' normal financial interests. Then she explained her data-based rationale. Grandin explained that she could see what the cows saw. She had taken time to understand how cows would respond to each part of the path. Grandin's system was more humane and more productive.

Designing a more humane system would prevent the unnecessary injuries that occurred in the current system--which seemed designed to move cattle solely by brute force. It would eliminate stoppages that occurred as a result of injuries. And it would reduce the time workers spent solving problems instead of creating the products that earned revenue.

One of the things I noticed watching the film was the effect of one or two people taking time to understand Grandin's differences and her competence ("different, not less," as her mother said in the film). When a teacher saw past her discomfort in a social situation, or a passerby in a grocery paused to wonder why she was hesitating at the sliding door, it made all the difference. Their willingness to see opened a door for Grandin to walk through and for her to make a difference in her community. Grandin entered the field in the 1970s. By the time the film about Grandin was made in 2010, more than half the slaughterhouses in the country used designs based on Grandin's ideas.

So, as you think about your company or the groups you associate with, what are you doing to invite others with diverse experiences, perspectives, and skills into the group? And, how are you preparing others in the group to make these individuals and their contributions welcome?

As Grandin's experience shows, doing so is not only right--it helps others be who they are and feel accepted--but it will help your organization make a bigger impact.

If you'd like to know more, read Grandin's paper on making slaughterhouses more humane. Or watch a video of a talk she gave in 2019 on how horses think. Both the paper and the talk provide a sense of her perspective and valuable thinking processes. Her website is

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