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July 20, 2020

Question Everything: Applying Inclusive Practices Across Associations

Applying inclusive practices across associations can strengthen their industries.

“If you don’t have the right network, you don’t have the right credibility as a professional.”

After completing her education in another country, a now-member of the Institute of Food Technologists (IFT) encountered multiple obstacles to defining her standing in the industry. She quickly realized her international transition to the U.S. had left a gap in her career.

To strengthen her credibility and increase her prospects, she began exploring opportunities through the society. However, she discovered her university wasn’t recognized as an awarding institution for the degree required to become a member.

This was hurdle number one.

After succeeding in getting her university added to the list, she encountered more challenges. The closest active chapter was more than three hours away. And because of her lack of experience in the States, she had to apply for positions she was overqualified for.

Despite this, she moved forward. She joined and commuted to the distant chapter and began growing her network and involvement in IFT. Eventually, after several years, she discovered more potential than she could have imagined through the association.

Paving the way for diverse paths

By staying persistent, this specific member paved her own path and built a strong community to guide her. This persistence, however, is rare. In a society where we expect immediate gratification, these kinds of potential members are easily lost. The reality is that associations are not positioned to foster diverse entry points.

By expanding their horizons intentionally, associations can support a wider range of audiences and play a stronger role in their members’ careers, thus strengthening their industries.

Fortunately, IFT recognized their need for greater inclusion and began investigating opportunities for growth. Partnering with McKinley, a volunteer task force was organized to examine how their operational systems could become more inclusive of the rich diversity within the industry.

Prioritizing inclusive practices

During the summer of 2019, three phases of quantitative and qualitative research were conducted to capture the perspectives and backgrounds of members. This research, combined with the knowledge and experiences of the task force, resulted in a series of recommendations approved by IFT’s board of directors.

These recommendations focused on three key areas:

  • Organization-wide inclusive practices designed to be applied across all systems, including when staff members develop or revise programs.
  • System-specific inclusive practices which looked at a variety of individual operational systems to identify gaps or inconsistencies and instructed staff to implement them within respective systems.
  • Recommended changes to existing practices suggested to demonstrate progress of the society’s strategic promise to empower diversity, equity and inclusion.

Together we identified where these practices could make the most impact. Areas that had direct and immediate influence on the organization’s connection with members included:

  • Awards
  • Board candidate development, nominations & elections
  • Conferences
  • Divisions
  • Volunteer leadership application & appointment process

In February 2020, IFT was awarded with the Welcoming Environment® Organizational Award from Association Forum in recognition of their demonstrated commitment to serving staff and members in these areas.

Filling the gaps

By reviewing each system through the lens of inclusion, we were able to identify gaps, inconsistencies and practices that were excluding specific members from fully participating in and reaping the benefits of their association. We also developed a benchmarking tool to continue to measure the diversity of volunteers going forward.

Building a stronger future

Many of the IFT’s stakeholders feel strongly that a global future will benefit not only the organization, but the advancement of the profession. This is a perspective that extends beyond this example. These general practices have the power to be applied universally. By being adaptable and intentional, the entire association industry can make a long-lasting impact on diversity, equity and inclusion — both internally and across professions.

Do your organizational systems empower all members to fully engage in the membership experience? Reach out to McKinley to evaluate how you can operationalize inclusive practices.

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