Expert recommendations for introducing inclusive language into your association.
Begin with an assessment. “I think the best way to start would be with a communication audit focusing on inclusivity,” says Nneka Logan, Ph.D., an associate professor of communication at Virginia Tech. “Bring in someone from the outside who doesn’t have the institutional knowledge and biases, so they see as an outsider looking in.”
Link change to your mission. Beth Hampton, vice president of marketing and communications at the American Association for Clinical Chemistry, says your inclusive communications strategy should dovetail with your mission. “It’s an ongoing process,” she says. “Let’s not do this for a one-year effort. It’s a philosophy. Are we adhering to what we aspire to be part of our mission?”
Introduce changes thoughtfully. “You want to be sensitive to your existing members,” Logan says. “You want to introduce changes in a way that seems genuine to your organization, so it doesn’t just seem like you’re jumping on the bandwagon.” Association peers who have made similar changes are a good place to seek advice.
Start small. You don’t need to dive in with a large, organization-wide effort. “Whatever you can do, you should do,” says Andrew Plumley, director of inclusion at the American Alliance of Museums. “The way to make change is to build momentum and get smaller wins. The more momentum you can build internally is where you should start the work.”
Be ready for resistance. As with any new initiative, expect some people to resist these changes. “There are few things that are universal, but pushback is one of them,” Logan says. “It’s good to put a little bit of preplanning into that, when you anticipate what problems will occur. Think about the types of people who might be put off by a change. Take that feedback, and then figure out how you communicate to those people.”—R.C.