Association leaders across industries can all agree: diversity and inclusion matters. Businesses and communities alike are more thoughtful, creative, and productive when their values reflect diverse experiences and perspectives. But, it’s one thing to know you need to build more diverse cultures both internally and externally, and it’s another thing entirely to actually do it.

This guide is by no means the holy grail guidebook for overhauling your internal culture. In fact, it’s worth noting that this feature is written by an able bodied, cisgendered, heternormative white woman. Take that information as you will. But it’s a good place to start.


Diversity and Inclusion Starts Within

At risk of sounding too cheesy: your association’s inclusion efforts must start from within. You must create a culture of inclusion within the folds of your own internal culture before you can start advocating for diversity inclusion industry-wide. Start by taking a critical look at the makeup of your own company. Who holds executive leadership positions? Who sits on the board? Chances are your association is led by white men. Chances are those men are very successful in your industry and have tons of industry knowledge to impart. Chances are, these men are wonderful leaders, and truth be told, you’re lucky to have them.

Now that you’ve identified the strengths of your amazing leadership team, take a moment to think critically about what experiences your leadership team lacks. Chances are they haven't had to overcome many debilitating obstacles in their lives - things like poverty or hunger. Chances are there was never a question of whether or not they’d receive a college education.  Chances are they’ve never experienced a world that wasn’t built to make space for their bodies and their voices. And, as not to harp on negative experiences, chances are they’ve never truly immersed themselves in the unique magic and creativity of communities and cultures that aren’t their own. These are just a few examples, but it doesn’t take a genius to connect the dots to see why experiences like this might be important representations on teams that make major strategic, culture-defining decisions on behalf of your association.

Inclusivity starts at the top and trickles down to the way your association hires, the way your employees interact with each other, and the types of experiences you create for members. Given the understanding that your association plays a critical role in defining the values, advocacy efforts, and behaviors of the workers in your industry, ultimately, these internal, top-level decisions have an immeasurable impact on the culture of your industry.

Ok, Ok, we know this is an issue, and we understand why it matters. Now what?

Problem, Meet Solution

This is an area where an outsourced solution is a critical imperative. If your diversity and inclusion efforts are spearheaded by a team that lacks diversity, you’ll end up back where you started. Begin by hiring a corporate diversity and inclusion consultant who is specially trained to know what to look for, and how to advise your leadership team. Listen to this person and intentionally and thoughtfully put their recommendations into action. 

You must actively work, every day, to change your culture, starting with adding more diverse representatives of your industry to your leadership board. You must actively search for opportunities to amplify diverse voices, both from within your organization, and externally. Bring in speakers to host workshops and learning opportunities for your members that are led by diverse individuals. And I’m not just talking about bringing in diverse individuals to speak about diversity and inclusion (though, these are good workshops to host too!). Bring in diverse experts to speak about normal, run of the mill industry topics like finances or key industry skill sets, or preparedness for the next big industry testing opportunity. 

Start thinking of every member touchpoint as a moment to explore new perspectives and amplify new voices. Over time, you’ll see positive, diverse growth in your membership base (did I mention that Gen Z is the most ethnically and culturally diverse generation ever?) and ultimately, positive change in your industry.

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