We may have all come on different ships, but we are in the same boat now. Martin Luther King, Jr.
The proof that we are citizens of the world, no matter how fiercely we choose to localize, was one of the pandemic’s profound lessons. Technology has created an interdependent global economy. What happens in a province of China that is 7,150 miles away, disrupts life around the planet.
In response, marketers are beginning to attempt to mirror their universe of customers. Today, ads target a spectrum of racial, ethnic, gender, and physical diversity that was invisible as recently as five years ago. But organizations and institutions have a lot of catching up to do before they reflect the reality of a connected planet. There is a long road to travel until all US residents have equal opportunity in the workplace. Here are a few statistics that highlight the gaps:
- By 2024, less than 60% of the US labor force is expected to be defined as “white non-Hispanic.” As recently as 1994, over 75% of the labor force fell into that category. (Deloitte)
- Despite the fact that more women are entering the workforce, pay equity continues to lag. In 2019, women’s wages were 82% of those of male full-time wage and salary workers. (US Bureau of Labor Statistics)
- Pay disparity was even worse for Black and Hispanic women — though Asian women made more than their white counterparts. In 2019, White women earned 82% as much as Asians; Blacks earned 69%; and Hispanics earned 63%. (US Bureau of Labor Statistics)
- In 2019, Black people only held 3.2% of the senior leadership roles at large companies in the U.S. and just 0.8% of all Fortune 500 CEO positions. (Coqual)
A casual search didn’t reveal many facts or numbers specific to associations. Although as early as 2006, the American Library Association was studying the distribution of gender, race, and age among librarians.
For my own off-the-cuff unscientific survey, I picked five healthcare associations and reviewed their board composition. I selected organizations where the leadership has traditionally not included many women or people of color just to see what may have changed. Of the five, four still have almost twice as many male as female directors and even fewer minorities.
Events of the past year prompted many associations, especially the largest, to evaluate their demographics and attitudes in a stronger light. The benefits of diversity in nature are clear. Genetic variety equals strength and endurance over time. This is also true for organizations.
The digital marketplace has no room for uniformity. Innovation and creativity are skills that define the fittest and assure their survival. Those qualities feed on a rich diet of experiences, perspectives, and ideas.
Our best thinking isn’t accomplished by a group of clones. In the global economy, success comes from deep immersion in the multicultural environment we all share.
Unfortunately, human nature often pulls us in the opposite direction. We gravitate toward members of our tribe. Introducing greater diversity and inclusion at the policy level is easier than putting it into practice among humans.
If your organization is seeking to become stronger, reflect a global perspective, and create the culture of equity and acceptance that will benefit your members and your mission, here are some first steps.
Seek Expertise and Training
Changing attitudes and behavior isn’t easy. Group dynamics are challenging—even among friends. We are never as self-aware as we think, especially when it comes to identifying our blind spots.
An expert facilitator can introduce the level of introspection needed to encourage empathy and insight. Diversity training builds these related leadership skills:
- The awareness to hire, compensate, and manage equitably
- Strategies for developing more multiracial and multicultural teams
- Respect for divergent opinions and customs
- An understanding of racism and its origins
- Appreciation for the value that our differences bring to the table
Training is not a one-off event. Offer ongoing opportunities for learning to new staff, leadership, and volunteers. Incorporate principles learned into board, staff, and committee meetings.
Live Your Values
Mission and Strategic Plan
Diversity training is complicated because it must go beyond skill-building. Success means embracing the values that promote and protect equity and inclusion. That is a cultural norm that must be reinforced with policies, procedures, and action.
A review of your mission statement and strategic plan is a good start. Evaluate whether the language and the intention of your statement are inclusive. The words you choose are important and will make a difference in how readers perceive your organization. Use gender-neutral, inclusive language whenever possible in all communications.
If your association is not currently as diverse as you would like it to be, identify goals and benchmarks to take you where you need to go. Include them in your strategic plan along with targets for board leadership, employee recruitment, retention, and promotion, and volunteer engagement.
A diversity and inclusion statement and policy formalizes your organization’s commitment. Writing this document can be a co-creative activity for staff and leadership. It’s an exercise that will provide the opportunity to explore lessons learned in training and reflect on how they impact real-life situations. Include these components for an effective statement:
- Your mission
- How inclusivity supports your mission
- An explanation of how your organization fulfills its commitment to diversity and inclusion
- Your goals that support a diverse and inclusive organization
Make your statement concise, readable, and positive. Here are some examples (source, Ongig):
At the Ford Foundation, diversity, equity, and inclusion are at the core of who we are. Our commitment to these values is unwavering – across all of our work around the world. They are central to our mission and to our impact. We know that having varied perspectives helps generate better ideas to solve the complex problems of a changing—and increasingly diverse—world.
At Uber, our mission is to ignite opportunity by setting the world in motion. We see direct parallels between how we ignite opportunity through our company and how we ignite it within our company. But we also know that a solely data-driven approach will never be sufficient, because D&I is more than a box to check or a target to hit. The numbers matter, but they’re only a starting point; a commitment to diversity and inclusion has to run much deeper. That’s why we’ve set an audacious goal: to make Uber the most diverse, equitable, and inclusive workplace on the planet. And we’re not just setting high expectations for our own good. We’re aiming sky-high because we know from experience that reducing and eliminating inequity is hard to do if all you shoot for is incremental change.
Set the Example
Commitment to a diversity strategy that goes beyond lip service begins, like most successful initiatives, with the CEO. Demonstrating inclusivity in daily activities is the most powerful way to motivate similar behavior from others. The willingness to dedicate resources, both financial and human, gives that intention muscle.
Deliberate CEO outreach to minority groups, who are or might be involved with your association, indicates that their participation is encouraged and valued.
Be Visible and Accountable
This is a case where wearing your heart on your sleeve is a good idea. Visibility makes your commitment real to both insiders and outsiders. Post your diversity statement where it will be seen by your members and the public. Use images on your website and in publications that include multi-racial and cultural representation.
Hold everyone in the organization accountable for delivering on the goals you set for recruitment, hiring, promotion, and compensation. Make supporting diversity, equity, and inclusion part of performance standards and recognize excellence.
Look Beyond the Bottom Line
Diversity and inclusion are Association 4.0 attributes or qualities that you need to succeed in a digital marketplace. But this is an initiative that extends far beyond the bottom line. It’s not a stretch to say that a more peaceful planet is created person by person. A workplace that welcomes employees of all stripes and offers everyone equal respect and equitable compensation puts us a little closer to that audacious goal.