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by Jim Penrod, CAE, FASLA, KCSAE President-Elect

Behind every nonprofit association are passionate and dedicated individuals striving to do good for the world and their community. They are the pillars of the organization, allowing the association’s message and platform to stand tall and be seen by as many eyes as possible.

And to ensure your foundation is as strong as possible, associations need to be familiar with DEI—diversity, equity, and inclusion

Diversity, equity, and inclusion make up more than just a “movement du jour” in business. They’re part of a groundbreaking societal (and regulatory) transformation that will permanently affect association culture and operations.

What is DEI?

Diversity is the understanding and accepting of differences within a setting. In the workplace, that might include differences in race, ethnicity, gender identity, sexual orientation, age, religious beliefs, special needs, or socioeconomic class. Equity is the act of ensuring that processes and programs are fair and impartial for all individuals. Inclusion is ensuring that all employees feel comfortable and a sense of belonging in their workplace; an inclusive work environment should be supportive, collaborative, and respectful towards everyone.

Bringing together people of various backgrounds with different life experiences will encourage a broader scope of ideas or perspectives that others may not have ever considered - which in turn will encourage a better positioning to leverage a competitive advantage within your industry. Everyone has their own way of viewing a problem, shaped by the individual experiences that they have, so promoting DEI is the first step to not just “tolerance,” but true acceptance and greater opportunities for your industry.

Through growing contact with, exposure to, and communication between new people who bring invaluable diverse perspectives and unique ideas, individuals may see that they may have more in common than they thought. The advantage is that people who bring diverse perspectives and thought with equitable - inclusive and supportive structures in place, and who are remarkably different, reaps many benefits for an association when it comes to productivity, representation and advancement! Increasing familiarity with these differences will alter perspectives, facilitate the acceptance of others that is celebrated and embraced, and diminish the unconscious bias, misconceptions and prejudices that fuel discrimination within the workplace that can hinder productivity, efficiency, and contribute to low morale.

The future of your association is dependent on the ability to serve diverse individuals, because there is no escaping a variety of factors that will have a significant impact in your industry such as the vital representation of the growing demographics within the United States, and the focus on race and equality at the forefront of discussions happening in society.

Our commitment to fostering DEI within our organizations will align with and support the standards of other industries who are at the forefront of demonstrating this such as the American Arbitration Association (AAA), American Bar Association (ABA), and American Psychological Association (APA) – who have taken a stand as a leader in the shared commitment to DEI within their respective profession.

Additionally, according to McKinsey & Co, diversity has been proven to be a competitive differentiator and shows that race and ethnic diversity has a stronger impact on financial performance than gender in the United States. Considering the generation gap, the Bureau of Labor Statistics has determined that by the year 2025 Millennials will make up 75 percent of the workforce keeping in mind that there is a current make up of generational differences in the workforce – five to be exact - that are shaped and motivated by factors such as communication and values.

How do we walk the walk?

Start with an action plan.  Just as with any other project, it is important to create an action plan to follow on your path towards a DEI culture.  Some items to consider in your action plan:

  • Unconscious bias training – bring in a consultant to assist in your team learning about their biases and being aware of them when making decisions.
  • Update your employee handbook and adopt changes that foster a culture of DEI.
  • Review your hiring and promotion processes to ensure that they are inclusive and fair. Review all job descriptions to ensure gender neutrality and inclusive language to attract a greater diverse talent pool.
  • Enhance your process of conducting exit interviews to ensure you are heading down the right path. Utilize responses from voluntary exit interviews to gage impact of policies and procedures annually.
  • Measure traction of hiring and promotion rates of diverse candidates to determine traction quarterly.
  • Enhance professional development practices and policies. Develop a process for continuous learning on DEI matters.
  • Engage, empower, inform, and hold individuals accountable for fostering DEI.
  • Inform, educate and empower key stakeholders as appropriate through various communication channels inclusive of social media channels.
  • Develop a marketing strategy to ensure inclusive language across all channels.
  • Conduct board review of Core Values.
  • Form a DEI committee to provide input, support, and conduct tasks to foster DEI.

Once you have a good DEI plan in place, develop measures to ensure you are making progress. For your association’s success, you must just not talk the talk, you must walk the walk!

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