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November 6, 2018

From Rhetoric to Reality: Diversity and Inclusion in Associations

The results of our 11th edition of the Economic Impact on Associations (EIA) revolved around the theme Moving Forward: Associations Adapt in an Age of Accelerations. The closer look at how associations are maintaining relevancy in today’s everchanging market highlighted economic impact, and membership and organizational priorities.

New this year is a deeper focus on diversity, equity and inclusion (DE&I).

Diversity efforts today

As the world around us pushes for more accountability and transparency from companies, it is no surprise (though long overdue) that more and more organizations have rightly prioritized DE&I as part of their core values, vision or mission statements. Despite this, our findings indicate a complicated truth: As an industry, associations don’t collectively have much to show for it.

How has increasing diversity and inclusion among staff at your organization been prioritized over the past 12 months? - McKinley Advisors EIA Study 2018

The 2018 EIA Study found that 45% of the nearly 200 surveyed association employees believe their organizations have made DE&I a priority over the past year but not a top priority, while a striking 35% said DE&I is not considered a priority.

The good news is that 72% of respondents said that diversity and inclusion was a priority specifically because of the need to encourage a greater breadth of talents, skills and experiences within an organization. But, while the heart of the industry is in a good place, deeper findings indicated a gap between associations’ desire to prioritize and promote diversity and inclusion within their organizations and their actual ability to do so.

The harsh reality is that despite the best intentions of our organizations, too many associations severely lack diversity across their boards, leadership and membership. This is often difficult to admit, and in many instances, we might not identify as “creators” of the problem. But we do inherit the responsibility of fixing the cycle that leads to a lack of diversity, equity and inclusion within our workforce, membership and leadership.

The study narrowed in on current DE&I practices in the association landscape, offering baseline benchmarks across sectors and organizations and uncovered several opportunities for the association sector to better align with best practices.

Start small but prioritize growth

The simple conclusion is that putting the commitment to diversity and inclusion on paper is not enough to reach a desirable impact. It is merely a start.

EIA found that many associations had taken primary action to incorporate DE&I through efforts that included equal employment opportunity policies, emphasizing benefits in job postings, and using diverse sources for recruitment.

While these are all important and necessary efforts, they should be treated by associations as the bare minimum rather than the overall solution. Once those efforts become commonplace, there is more room to focus on taking action – the very part of the puzzle we are missing.

Organizations that have taken a hands-on, coordinated approach to enhancing diversity, equity and inclusion are the ones that will see long-term results. The successful practices they have chosen to implement don’t guarantee instant results, which is probably why they are currently the least likely to be adopted by associations.

Practices like formal diversity trainings for both staff and management, supporting and volunteering in diverse communities, and implementing mentoring programs and cross-trainings – these things all take time and resources. But they are practices that will have a lasting impact. They will bring in new ideas and perspectives, grow communities and audiences, expand reach, and, ultimately, will lead organizations to become what others in their industry look to for inspiration.

How organizations are changing the narrative

ASAE has provided influential leadership in this arena. A key step in advancing the industry – and the world around us – lies in improving DE&I in our workplaces. This is why ASAE created a diagnostic tool that evaluates diversity and inclusion policies, philosophies, and practices against community standards. The tool, known as the Association Inclusion Index, is built around five key D&I performance areas: Mission and Focus, Roles and Leadership Accountability, Resources, Operations and Communication and Culture. The diagnostic tool provides real-time feedback about performance level and helps answer challenging questions relevant to each association facing the challenge of starting or sustaining progress in diversity and inclusion.

Nearly a decade ago, the College and University Professional Association for Human Resources (CUPA-HR) also collectively prioritized meeting their mission statement, which had a strong focus on DE&I, with action. They felt the first step was to commit to only doing business with those who share their commitment to DE&I. Their solution: Requiring every organization with whom they do business to have a strong, official policy embracing diversity, equity and inclusion. Any organization that does not have such a policy is not considered an eligible business partner.

Through this simple but actionable tactic, CUPA-HR has inspired other organizations to follow their lead over the years. They transformed rhetoric into reality by not only including DE&I on their mission statement, but by enforcing it.

Taking the next step

At the end of the day, association leaders must continually ask themselves: “What is the next step to make sure we are holding ourselves, the industry we represent and the association industry at large accountable?”

It is through living our values that associations can make a difference. When staff and external stakeholders can see, feel and experience an association’s commitment to diversity through meaningful tactics and operational strategies, a culture that celebrates and attracts diverse talent is achieved and, as a result, diversifies membership and reach.

Download the 2018 EIA Study to learn more about diversity, equity and inclusion, and start making your impact today.


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