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How Associations Can Move the Needle on DEI Initiatives

image Anne McCarthy image imageMarch 19, 2022 image image3 min. to read
How Associations Can Move the Needle on DEI Initiatives

Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) have been a hot topic in the professional world over the last several years, particularly amid the Black Lives Matter movement and the ongoing push for social change. People want the world – inclusive of the business world and its associations – to reflect what they see and who they are; that means having companies that include a wide spectrum of types of people across gender, racial and sexual identity lines. 

Sometimes, DEI efforts are created with the best of intentions but fall flat. In other instances, companies embark on “performative” DEI practices, which are helpful to almost no one. 

How to Deliver on DEI Commitments 

Be sure your DEI efforts aren’t just lip service. Ask yourself: Is my association doing what it said it would do? 

The Center for Creative Leadership outlines ways to take effective action on DEI and create real, lasting change. They include four steps to create real DEI-related change that start by shifting mindset and behaviors.

  1. Reveal relevant opportunities – Revealing relevant opportunities to people in your association means transparency, awareness, and giving access to all available opportunities to everyone.
  2. Elevate equity – Elevating equity is critical. The CCL explains, “To make progress on DEI, senior leaders first need to acknowledge societal inequities and recognize that their organization isn’t a level playing field.” Your association can also set clear goals towards greater equity within your association and then take action. 
  3. Activate diversity – Activating diversity also means setting clear goals and having defined expectations and metrics to measure your DEI success. Also, consistently checking as to whether there’s growth based on the data is critical. 
  4. Lead inclusively – People in associations look to their leaders to set the tone. Inclusive leadership means active, ongoing DEI efforts that create psychological safety and a sense of belonging for all people within the organization.

Check If Your DEI Strategy Actually Move the Needle 

Carlos Williams, founder of Black-owned branding agency DBC, believes in the power of leading inclusively and the impact that DEI can have – if it is able to move the needle and create change.

Williams says, “DEI efforts are all about creating opportunities for disadvantaged groups. One of the best ways an association can move the needle is by facilitating intentional opportunities exclusively for small businesses owned by marginalized groups.”

Williams says that DEI efforts can help with his company’s work output, too. He explains, “In my experience, that’s when I can really show off the amazing creative work we do, generating what I like to call the ‘where have you been all my career?’ effect. From there, it’s up to the small business leadership to positively leverage the introduction, the opportunity, and the relationship.”

It’s also important to reflect on your DEI strategy’s impact and take stock of whether or not your strategy actually moved the needle – or was it activity for activity’s sake?

Did you start some DEI initiatives that are not working or not meaningful? If that’s the case, don’t despair – look to other associations or organizations who are incorporating DEI efforts that really work, and doing so in a successful way. There is no need to reinvent the wheel; success leaves clues – copy the strategies for other organizations which are working. 

Don’t Just “Perform” DEI – Invest in It & Commit to It

Management consulting firm McKinsey & Company delivered a 2020 report on the efficacy of DEI efforts, “Diversity wins: How inclusion matters.” The report outlined who is succeeding at DEI initiatives and how they are doing it; it also revealed what can drive real progress. What the report found was fascinating: DEI didn’t just positively impact company culture; it was good for profits, too. 

The report states how “the relationship between diversity on executive teams and the likelihood of financial outperformance has strengthened over time.” McKinsey’s findings show that companies who invest in and commit to DEI efforts stand to gain social and financial benefit, and it emphasizes the importance of paying attention to inclusion, even if a company is already diverse. 

The bottom line is that DEI is good for everyone – and for the bottom line. To create lasting DEI change, create a clear plan of action, develop metrics for success and lead inclusively.

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Anne McCarthy is an independent journalist who splits her time between the U.S. and Europe. She is a contributing writer to the BBC, The Guardian, Business Insider, Shondaland, Cosmo, and more. Find her on Twitter @annemitchmcc

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