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Moving From Talk to Action on Diversity and Inclusion

Donald Cowper 29 June 2017 0 comments

2017-07-12 Webinar Diversity ImageThis is a guest post from Elizabeth Engel and Sherry Marts,  the presenters of our free webinar “Moving from Talk to Action on Diversity and Inclusion” which you can watch here

Does your organization have a compelling statement on diversity and inclusion that doesn't seem to be reflected in your day-to-day operations? If that’s the case, don't worry—lots of organizations face the same challenges. In this post, we’ll show you how you can make concrete steps to move your organization from talk to action when it comes to authentic diversity and inclusion (D+I). As a way of illustrating how you can make this change, we’ll share the story of one association leader who did just that.

Joan, the new CEO of the Generic Membership Association (GMA), is frustrated. 

A few years before Joan joined GMA as the new CEO, the Board hopped on the D+I bandwagon. They formed a diversity committee, recruited underrepresented people to serve on it, and created a beautifully written D+I statement. The D+I statement was approved by the board of directors, who congratulated themselves on a job well done.

However, when Joan arrived, she found a culture that still assumed all the members were straight white men with stay-at-home wives, which permeated the experiences of staff, volunteers, members, and conference attendees. GMA members had resorted to forming “caucuses” and “interest groups” in an attempt to diversify programs, but volunteer interest in maintaining those groups, and thus their effectiveness, waxed and waned over the years. The board of directors, the presenters at the annual meeting, and the award winners were still mostly white men. And GMA had a hard time recruiting and retaining a diverse staff.

As an advocate of D+I, Joan asked herself, do I begin?


Why Diversity is Not Inclusion

Many people make the mistake of thinking diversity and inclusion are the same things, but take a look at how these two terms are defined.

"Diversity" encompasses all the ways people can be different from each other, which extends to both protected class characteristics like race/ethnicity, gender, age, sexual orientation, disability, and veteran status and to things like socioeconomic class, level of education attained, urban/rural background, and family structure and composition.

“Inclusion” occurs when all people have equal and meaningful opportunities to participate and contribute regardless of their differences, and without having to hide those differences or conform to the norms of the dominant culture or way of being—that is, without having to assimilate or pretend to be someone or something one isn’t.

Diversity is required for inclusion, but it is not, by itself, sufficient. Diversity is being invited to the table. Inclusion is being asked to plan the event.


Associations Face More Complex Challenges Than For-Profits

Most for-profit businesses focus their D+I efforts on staff and boards of directors, in part because those are the only groups with which they have ongoing, deep relationships. Associations face the same challenge of ensuring D+I among staff (about which much has already been written) as for-profits, but have added challenges. While they have boards of directors, the relationships are different and require a different approach. Associations also have ongoing relationships with volunteer leaders, members, and the professions and industries  they serve. They thus have a broader role to play in increasing diversity and supporting inclusion efforts.


How to Develop D+I Practices Among Volunteer Leaders

Joan worked with the board of directors to reaffirm their commitment to increasing the diversity of GMA leadership and membership. The board made the D+I statement one of the pillars of a new strategic plan, and asked Joan to reach out to active members of the various caucuses and groups to identify candidates for board service. The board did unconscious bias and ally trainings, resulting in changes to board processes that were exclusionary. Several caucus members joined the board and more were being groomed for leadership positions.

Compared to for-profits, associations have more complex relationships with their boards of directors, because board members are volunteer leaders, members of the association, and members of the profession or industry the association serves. Meanwhile, the advancement and selection of volunteer leaders at all levels of governance is subject to the same kind of biases that occur in the workplace. A key remedy is to find ways to diversify the candidate pool, including reviewing selection processes for inherent bias. But beware of tokenism. Treat the “first” (woman, person of color, LGBTQ person, person with a disability) as an individual who has their own perspective rather than The Voice of Their Group.


How to Develop D+I Practices Among Members

Joan then focused on the annual meeting, beginning with a survey of how welcome and safe women, people of color, LGBTQ people, and people living with disabilities felt at GMA meetings. Based on the survey results, GMA staff worked with the program committee and the caucuses to create a code of conduct that explicitly prohibited harassment at GMA meetings and related events and detailed a process for dealing with any incidents. GMA modified session formats to make events more accessible to people with disabilities; provided ally training for speakers and session moderators; and, with board support, set rules regarding the proportion of speakers who would be women, people of color, or members of other underrepresented groups.

Look for ways to make inclusion a priority in all your interactions with members. Start with your meetings, conferences, and events. Here are some tips:

  • Create and enforce an anti-harassment policy specifically for meetings and events
  • Avoid conflicts with all major religious holidays, not just Christian ones. 
  • Choose meeting venues that provide disability accommodations that go beyond the minimum of compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act.
  • Make sure your choice of geographic location does not conflict with your D+I statement.
  • Review the images and themes of your marketing materials with an eye to exclusionary interpretations.
  • Ensure the availability of gender-neutral restrooms.
  • Provide food choices that accommodate the needs of people with allergies or who observe other dietary restrictions.
  • Hold social and networking events that don’t involve alcohol.

How to Bring D+I Practices Into the Profession

Associations also have a role to play in increasing D+I throughout the professions and industries they serve, beyond the practitioners who’ve chosen to be members. While eliminating barriers to inclusion in a profession is a tall order, one way to get started is by building coalitions of associations that have overlapping or complementary memberships, to address overarching barriers to inclusion. 


Building a D+I-focused Future

Five years later, the challenging work on D+I had paid off for GMA. Membership numbers and attendance at the annual meeting were up, and the diversity of committees and the leadership pipeline had improved. Even more rewarding for Joan and her staff were the results of a new member survey showing a real impact on the engagement and satisfaction of all their members. 

One survey comment particularly caught her eye: “When I joined GMA 6 years ago, it was because my boss made me do it. He told me it would be ‘good for your career.’ For the first few years, I couldn’t see the point. GMA didn’t seem to be for people like me—there wasn’t anyone who looked like me on the board or speaking at the conference. Now, I see people like me everywhere: on the board, on the stage, and on staff. I just volunteered for a task force for the first time, and I’m really excited to serve.”

If you’ve decided you’d like to duplicate GMA’s success, take the time to identify areas where your association is doing well, and areas where you’d like to do better. Active support from your association’s staff and volunteer leadership is critical. Gain clarity on the outcomes you want: What does inclusion look like for your staff, leadership, members, and profession? 

Start locally, with yourself. Learn more about your implicit biases (we all have them) and about ways to counter them. Then think about one thing you can work on to make your workplace more inclusive. Then identify one member program that you can enlist your volunteers and members to help you transform. Small steps will add up to big shifts over time.

If you feel authentic diversity and inclusion isn’t reflected in the day-to-day operations of your organization, please watch our free webinar on “Moving from Talk to Action on Diversity and Inclusion,” hosted by Wild Apricot. 

In our webinar, you’ll learn: 

  • The barriers that stand between words and action on D+I
  • How to lead D+I change with the audiences you serve
  • Concrete steps you can take to have an immediate, positive impact on D+I in your organization

We hope to see you there!

The preceding is a guest post by by Elizabeth Engel and Sherry Marts, 
authors of Include is a Verb: Moving from Talk to Action on Diversity and Inclusion, which you can download for free here

Elizabeth EngelElizabeth Weaver Engel, M.A., CAE, is CEO and Chief Strategist at Spark Consulting LLC. Elizabeth has twenty years of experience helping associations grow, in membership, marketing, communications, public presence, and especially revenue, which is what Spark is all about. She speaks and writes frequently on a variety of topics in association management. When she's not helping associations grow, Elizabeth loves to dance, listen to live music, cook, and garden.


Sherry MartsSherry A. Marts, Ph.D., CEO of S*Marts Consulting LLC, is a skilled workshop leader, facilitator, writer, and speaker with a lively personality and a wicked sense of humor. A former association CEO with a wide-ranging background in biomedical research, nonprofit management, public education, and research advocacy, Sherry provides expert consulting services to nonprofits and academic institutions on diversity and inclusion, harassment and bullying, and interpersonal communication. She also offers executive and career coaching with an emphasis on career and leadership development for women. Her interest in the issue of harassment and bullying lies at the intersection of her professional life as a woman in science, and her previous experience as a women’s self-defense instructor.

Donald Cowper

Posted by Donald Cowper

Published Thursday, 29 June 2017 at 11:32 AM
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