How to Foster Diversity, Equity, & Inclusion (DEI)

Transition and adaptation are key components of maintaining a strong, healthy association. Organizations should be at the forefront of the increasing diversity, equity, and inclusion initiatives across the country. The necessity for associations to build a community of belonging and acceptance is only expected to grow. 

With that in mind, let’s take a deep dive into how associations can foster diverse, equitable, and inclusive initiatives. 

Launching your DEI initiatives

1. Asses your current diversity

It’s hard to formulate a strategy for diversity, equity and inclusion when you don’t know where you currently stand. You can utilize the list of questions below to determine what parameters to use when evaluating your current members and staff. You can then begin to analyze this data and formulate a strategy that aligns with your association’s values.  

  • Does your membership reflect the diversity of the field? If not, what are more diverse organizations doing to recruit and retain members? 
  • Does your leadership represent the diversity of your membership? What representation (if any) is missing? 
  • Are there any initiatives in place to ensure that all members feel included? 
  • Does your association reflect the groups or individuals that the field services? 
  • Do you have a committee and/or volunteer leaders dedicated to measuring and improving diversity and inclusion?

2. Set goals and benchmarks

Start brainstorming about what your ideal membership would look like and set short-term and long-term goals to get you there. It can be something as simple as revising your recruitment strategy to utilize targeting options or partnering with local organizations who support and have a large diverse network. Or, create a committee dedicated to nurturing DEI and ensure that state and local chapters are aligned with the association’s goals. 

3. Lead by example

Your leadership should understand the benefits of a diverse organization so they can play to the unique strengths of its members. As members join an association, they want to know that they have the same opportunities as everyone else. Make DEI a value of your association and you’ll attract members and leaders that also hold those same values. 

TIP: Ensure that you’re connecting members with mentors who help nurture diversity, equity, and inclusion. 

4. Implement Inclusive Policies

Everything from the sign-up process to the policies and procedures manual you share should aim to be as easy as possible for those interested in being a part of your association. Modeling inclusive language is a great example of a policy to implement. Also, publicize your policies regarding hostile community behavior and stand by them. If you create a positive organizational culture, you’ll find that your members refer others, building upon the environment you’ve started.

5. Provide Resources

Successful organizations create internal resources, programs, and networking groups to support their members. Offer diversity leadership training to create a space where members can discuss diverse topics; this will help set an authentic, inclusive tone for all. Regular communication to members on the progress and priority of diversity and inclusion efforts is integral as well. Listen and respond to your current members, who can help you retain and recruit diverse individuals. 

TIP: YM Careers has the expertise to implement a plan with proven strategies to increase member retention. 

Growing your DEI initiatives

Establish an inclusive culture  

It’s the differences of view, background, and experiences that lead to innovation and growth. Empower members to voice their feelings and/or concerns. There might be a policy or process in place that doesn’t consider all backgrounds or abilities into account, and members should be able to point out opportunities for improvement. For example, if you’re hosting an association event, make sure that you’re not excluding anyone who might have cultural conflict with the event location or food provided, or that someone with a physical limitation might not be able to access. 

TIP: Inclusive association events and meetings can connect your diverse members with their next career opportunity. 

Foster a collaborative environment 

As barriers between personal and professional lives have blurred, people are becoming more open about the stresses associated with taking care of loved ones, feelings of isolation from working remotely, and racial bias. Helping members find common ground, professionally or personally, fosters a more inclusive environment. Each member has their own unique circumstances, so make your association a space for them to collaborate with their peers for personal or professional problem solving. 

Understand public perception 

As the online world continues to grow, we are finding new ways to connect with others both emotionally and virtually. Audit your brand image, language, as well as the types of speakers you invite to your annual conference. These are just some of the ways your association’s brand is “speaking” to the world. Be sure that message authentically includes diversity and belonging. 

Communicating your DEI initiatives

Growing DEI is a multi–faceted initiative. Organizations must be cognizant of the messages they convey internally and externally. It’s not enough to recruit members of various minority groups. You need to create an environment where all individuals feel comfortable and included in the association’s community and goals.   

Small changes in the words and phrases used to communicate with staff and members are great opportunities to build and foster inclusivity. People are becoming more aware of how they want to be addressed. If you are unsure of preferred pronouns, use “they”, “you”, and “everyone” instead of “he”, “she”, and “ladies and gentlemen.”  

Words are important. Identify the places you and your organization can create a feeling of inclusion, such as:  

  • Avoiding gender-specific nouns  
  • Not using prefixes before names  
  • Auditing commonly used phrases and industry terms for perceived racist, ableist, or sexist connotations  
  • Limiting the use of acronyms and idioms  

TIP: Ensure your communications incorporate elements that foster empathy and trust.   

From your staff to your members, people today are more connected, and they can easily spot messaging that is authentic. Actively and consistently recognize what’s important across the diversity, equity, and inclusion community. Share updates regarding what is being done to drive the DEI agenda and what that means for members and staff.   

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