Board Smarts: Task Force Focus
Building diversity and inclusion into governance structure.
A week after the Pulse Nightclub shooting, the American Library Association gathered for its annual conference in Orlando, Florida. In light of this national tragedy, ALA decided to quickly change the conference program and pay tribute to the victims and community surrounding them.
“It was the deadliest shooting by a single person in our nation’s history, and it was targeted to the LGBTQ community,” says ALA President Julie Todaro. “We felt we had a responsibility to act. Our leadership team made that possible.”
ALA’s task force for diversity and inclusion was at the heart of that effort. The task force quickly pulled together a memorial event featuring remarks by civil rights leader Rep. John Lewis (D-GA). Onsite, conference attendees wore one of three armbands with the word “diversity,” “inclusion,” or “equity.”
“We literally wear this issue on our sleeve,” Todaro says. “Diversity and inclusion is not only a core value, it’s how we approach our own leadership.”
ALA’s distributed leadership structure—with an executive board, 100 at-large councilors, and multiple task force committees—helps ensure that diverse voices are heard in important conversations about strategy and major initiatives. The president, elected to a year-long term, can form specialized task force committees on significant issues.
“One of our previous presidents set up a task force on diversity, equity, and inclusion, and it sits outside the council set-up,” Todaro says. “I served on the task force before becoming president. And it’s an essential way for us to ensure that our policies and procedures align to our actions.”
In June, the task force released recommendations that help to build equity, diversity, and inclusion in membership, the field of librarianship, and local communities. Todaro cites herself as an example: She is the first community college librarian to serve as ALA president.
“I serve a one-year term, so initiatives like our task force for equity, diversity, and inclusion have to be continued efforts,” she says. “We are lucky to have some very deliberative leadership on our board and councils. They ensure that ALA’s core values also advance our policy positions.”
An organization-wide survey last year confirmed that members wanted ALA to continue prioritizing D+I as an area of focus. The board is working on a change to the association’s strategic plan, which would add diversity, inclusion, and equity as a strategic initiative. Survey responses are also helping to guide business decisions, like annual meeting locations, membership pricing, and ALA’s hiring process, including an ongoing search for an executive director.
“These temporary task forces help to answer bigger organizational questions,” Todaro says. “And at this point in time, it’s critically important that we look at issues, like diversity and inclusion, specifically and separately.”