Why D&I Matters Beyond Hiring

Hiring for diversity is important, but what about after the hire? Some recent studies point to gaps on the HR front, and how to lead on closing them.

Companies and associations seem to increasingly recognize the importance of diversity and inclusion. However, that doesn’t always mean that they’re good at putting that recognition into action.

For example, a recent survey conducted by Salesforce reports that while 80 percent of professionals and business leaders say they have a responsibility to think about making an impact on society beyond profit, only 36 percent say their own companies are working on that. Moreover, only about 25 percent of respondents say their companies are committed to closing the gender gap, and a little more than a third say they “foster an inclusive culture” and “actively works to be more diverse.”

Alas, recent evidence suggests that the association community doesn’t get to congratulate itself on doing much better. Last month Vetted Solutions released a white paper, Diversity and Inclusion: Core Values Among Associations [PDF], that exposes similar challenges in the association community. A study of 227 association executives revealed that while 81 percent see D&I as part of their association’s core values, 45 percent say they don’t have a plan for implementing D&I initiatives. Only 45 percent say they have a diversity strategy for hiring, and less than 25 percent have one for promotion and retention. (Associations Now’s Alex Beall reported on the study last month.)

Does the association regularly look at where diversity exists in its ranks?

It’s striking to see those low numbers on the HR front and then to see, in the same study, that only about 20 percent say that D&I is “helpful to our profitability.” But failures to consider D&I issues can be costly. Last week, Fortune reported on a study from the Center for Talent Innovation that perceived bias among employees have an impact: 34 percent of those who say they experienced bias on the job report that they withheld ideas in the past six months, and 48 percent said they looked for a new job in that time period. Not getting your employees’ best ideas is a waste of resources; so is spending time recruiting employees when you don’t have to.

How to confront that problem? The Center for Talent Innovation study suggests that leadership matters—perceived bias is lower at companies with diverse and inclusive leaders. But beyond that, the bias is also lower when employees have sponsors supporting them through their path at an organization. And that may be the most valuable lesson here: D&I isn’t something that an organization does during the hiring and recruitment phases, but something that ought to be baked into every point in the organization’s HR continuum.

“Promotion should always be merit based,” write the authors of the Vetted Solutions report. “With that said, does the association regularly look at where diversity exists in its ranks? Is it only at the base of the organizational pyramid? Is the senior leadership team diverse, but there are fewer diverse staff at midmanagement levels? If organizations can identify structurally where diversity does and does not exist, it can then challenge itself on how it is guiding, supporting, and providing development opportunities for all staff so that they are better prepared for career advancement.”

Chef Jeff Henderson, the closing keynote speaker at this year’s ASAE Annual Meeting & Expo, has pointed out that in terms of D&I, the rubber hits the road at a lot of organizations in the middle-management ranks. Those roles are less visible, but they play an important role in guiding employees through the organization. “Middle managers need to be trained and taught the history of the various subcultures of the people they manage and potentially hire,” he says.

It’s not an insurmountable task: The Vetted Solutions report offers some good guidance on how to do that, from day-to-day interactions to broader, more strategic D&I planning. But it does require a commitment to the task. An overwhelming majority of association leaders say that caring about D&I is “the right thing to do,” but saying that is no prize in itself. The true challenge—and true measure—of D&I success is building teams that feel ready to share their best ideas, and trust they’ll be heard.

What does your organization do to put your D&I program into action, particularly in terms of supporting employees? Share your experiences in the comments.


Mark Athitakis

By Mark Athitakis

Mark Athitakis, a contributing editor for Associations Now, has written on nonprofits, the arts, and leadership for a variety of publications. He is a coauthor of The Dumbest Moments in Business History and hopes you never qualify for the sequel. MORE

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