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March 7, 2024

Maintaining motivation and persistence in DEIAB work


Over the past two months, I have had the opportunity to be a panelist on the webinar, Solutions for Navigating DEIA Headwinds, hosted by the American Society of Association Executives (ASAE), and co-lead an interactive workshop on cultivating diversity, equity inclusion, accessibility, and belonging (DEIAB) among leaders in the association community.

During these sessions, we discussed what’s working, the key impediments, or “headwinds,” that prevent DEIAB (diversity, equity, inclusion, accessibility, and belonging) progress, and how to maintain motivation and persistence. 

This is top of mind for association leaders because DEIAB is a vital ingredient to a business’s success, yet association leaders continue to feel headwinds to progress they must overcome. 

Participants in the sessions highlighted challenges to gaining momentum on this work, including fear and recent legislative advocacy against DEIAB work in specific states that are making it harder to invest in and educate people on DEIAB, including legislation against DEIAB work in higher education institutions.

How can we help organizations and individuals make meaningful progress and overcome these challenges?

In my experience collaborating with leaders and board members on DEIAB initiatives, I’ve found that association leaders and boards who can sustain momentum focus on their organizational systems and processes, individual learning and awareness and organizational culture.

Organizational systems and processes (including strategy)

On an organizational level, this begins with understanding where unconscious bias occurs, what systemic barriers exist within the company, and where changes can consciously be made and incorporated into your strategy.

Take action:

  • Create inclusive selection processes (board, committees, speakers, awards, etc.)
  • Connect your DEIAB Strategy to an organization-wide strategy and implement clear measures of success.
  • Review your policies (e.g., bylaws, outreach/partnership strategies, pricing strategies, membership scope, etc.)

Individual learning and awareness

Gaining knowledge is a key contributor to progress. Educating ourselves, our boards, staff and volunteer leaders will help play a vital role in furthering DEIAB initiatives. 

Take action:

  • Educate and train staff, volunteer leaders and members on DEIAB (unconscious bias, microaggressions, privilege, etc.), using examples of how it applies to the mission and their specific work.
  • Bring awareness to DEIAB benefits and how individuals contribute (e.g., DEIAB training to volunteer leaders, unconscious bias training for leaders in selection positions, inclusive leadership training, holiday and recognition calendars across religions and cultures, etc.)
  • Sharing progress among the progress you’ve made and the work planned ahead.

Organizational culture

Organizational culture emphasizes how your values show up in what you and your organization do. This can include norms, behaviors, practices, etc. 

Take Action:

  • Celebrate DEIAB wins “out loud” with your members and community.
  • Make an inclusion commitment at meetings.
  • Extend your DEIAB work to staff and community members, such as creating prayer rooms, maternity rooms, check-in rounds, conference buddy programs, etc.

Focusing on your organizational systems and processes, individual learning, awareness, and organizational culture can help guide your association’s DEIAB efforts. As leaders, we need to recognize we don’t know it all and need to focus on listening and learning. Humility will help us approach this important work from a place of learning and empathy, which should help cultivate positive momentum in our DEIAB work. 



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