DE&I And You: How Association Leaders Can Turn Purposeful Words Into Meaningful Action

By Kristin McGuine posted 08-04-2023 12:13 AM




DE&I And You: How Association Leaders Can Turn Purposeful Words into Meaningful Action

By Lydia Riesch, Association of Equipment Manufacturers
Stop talking about diversity, equity and inclusion. 
On its surface, that may seem like a strange position to take on what’s widely considered to be a relevant topic for most organizations today. However, the conversation around DE&I is highly saturated, with so many like-minded individuals making the same case for something already proven to be true.
DE&I has been examined from almost every conceivable angle, resulting in published tool kits, training curriculums, podcasts, social media posts, articles, books… the list goes on. And what’s more, even if you’re an association committed to creating a space for diverse voices to be heard and are eagerly awaiting your opportunity to listen, have you considered the possibility that those diverse voices may not be comfortable speaking?
So, with all that in mind, it’s time stop talking about DE&I and start doing something about it. No matter what your role is within your association -- executive, manager or team member, -- you should recognize and embrace the idea that you can be an “inclusion doer” that makes a measurable, positive DE&I impact for your organization.  
The action list below, based on my experience and research, suggests impactful actions for organizations and individuals to not only create the space where a diverse array of members can share thoughts, feelings and perspectives, but also an environment where they want to speak:

Organizational level
Policies. The organizational standards we set go a long way in communicating what priorities matter to us. However, it’s work that needs to be conducted at an organizational level. Working with a human resources decision-maker is a worthy place to start to put the right policies in place for your association.
One policy to consider is the development of flexible work arrangements. After all, a person’s caregiver status, cognitive diversity, mental health status and dis/ability are just some attributes impacted by the work environment. Providing a flexible-in-office schedule, with flexible work hours, allows employes to take care of themselves and bring their best self to work-- whether virtually or in person.
Another policy option to consider is related to establishing floating holidays. Many association-wide holidays are centered around traditions that are not universally recognized. With that fact in mind, adding one or two “floating” holidays lets employees recognize days of personal, religious or cultural significance. 
Physical work environment.
Open-office floor plans designed to promote interactions between employees can be challenging for employees who require less stimulation or private space to meet spiritual and emotional needs. Additionally, gender-specific restrooms create difficulty for team members whose identity is not consistent with the labeling of binary restrooms. While changing your office layout is very likely not a feasible solution (especially in the short term), making a few simple adjustments can also be an effective approach:
  • Allow (and communicate) private meeting space as an option to conduct individual quiet work, prayer or meditation.
  • As previously mentioned, taking steps to establish a flexible work arrangement can make a significant difference.
  • Convert single-occupancy restrooms to be gender inclusive by simply switching out the sign.
Enrichment. Association culture is influenced by the content we provide and promote. By enriching the personal and professional lives of those who work with us, we can foster an environment of support and growth that ultimately leads to greater innovation and productivity. With that in mind, consider the following strategies and tactics:
  • Acknowledge diverse monthly themes. A quick internet search will pull up monthly DE&I recognition calendars. Select themes that are relevant to your association and to your employees. If purchasing food for a celebration or special event, consider supporting a local business that reflects that month’s theme.
  • Provide educational opportunities on topics such as unconscious bias, bystander intervention, and conflict resolution. Right to Be is a non-profit group that conducts free virtual trainings for the public, and reasonably priced customized training for groups. However, it’s important to not just stop at the training. Continue the application of that knowledge by encouraging debriefing conversations between managers and their respective team members. 
Individual level
Meetings. A significant benefit of diversity is the blending of ideas from unique perspectives and experiences to develop a better product or outcome. It doesn’t just happen by throwing a diverse group into a meeting. Some team members need more processing time, or they are unintentionally excluded based on one or more attributes of difference. 
It’s critically important to ensure all voices are heard within your organization. In certain situations, it’s appropriate to prompt team members who are silent in the conversation to contribute and politely ask more assertive and vocal people voices to hold their thoughts to ensure the group can hear from everyone in the room. Just be sure to provide advance notice for any questions or contributions participants are expected to make, so as to ensure everyone has an opportunity to prepare.

Connections. The shortest distance between two people is a story, as Patti Digh, author of Simple Wisdom for Complex Lives, wisely advised. When team members build connections with each other, mutual respect and understanding often follow. Recognizing shared humanity bridges gaps. 
Ask questions. Look up and around at what’s going on with your colleagues. Eat lunch with a coworker. Sometimes it’s just as simple as that. 
The Bottom Line
We all have biases that influence aspects of our lives. These thoughts can influence our actions, and when those actions are based on an unfounded “truth,” there can be consequences for those around us within our organization.

Leverage your curiosity to serve as a strong antidote to bias. Intercept your thoughts with questions. Perhaps most importantly, open yourself up to new levels of understanding.

The evolving journey to a diverse, equitable and inclusive culture within an organization presents you with an amazing and ongoing opportunity to better the environment around you. It won’t be easy, and success will not come quickly or easily. But progress can (and will) be made. 

While there are many more transformative actions you can take to foster greater levels of inclusion in the spaces you influence, the above list serves as a great way for associations like yours to get started. The time for talk is done. Now is the time for action!
 Lydia Riesch is Association of Equipment Manufacturers (AEM)’s Project Director, Human Resources & Operations. In addition, she previously served as a member of ASAE’s Diversity & Inclusion Advisory Group.