Five Keys to Starting a Successful DEI Program

By emphasizing communication and making DEI a strategic priority, the American Association of Colleges of Pharmacy is learning how to better represent its members.

In 2017, the American Association of Colleges of Pharmacy decided to make a deeper investment in its DEI efforts. It hired a director of recruitment and diversity, and committed to increasing diversity within its membership and across its volunteer groups, including the board. “It was really apparent to us that our board was not reflecting our membership,” says Cindy Ziegler, AACP’s associate director of governance and executive office operations.

In the four years since then—and especially since the nationwide conversation about race that came to the fore last summer—AACP has learned a lot about what makes for a meaningful ongoing DEI effort. (Internally, AACP uses the term DEIA—for diversity, equity, inclusion, and antiracism.) Though it’s a work in progress, Ziegler shared five keys that have helped AACP along the way.

From a committee all the way up to the board, there should be diversity.

Build diversity into the strategic plan, and put a spotlight on it. AACP’s latest strategic plan, adopted earlier this year, makes DEI a key pillar. That was a direct result of conversations at the association’s annual leadership forum, where speakers argued that it was important to elevate DEI as its own priority. “We thought it would be great to weave [DEI] among all the priorities, but our volunteer leaders said it needs to be its own priority.”

Get outside assistance. Establishing a successful DEI effort involves sensitive conversations and close attention to interactions with staff, volunteers, and other stakeholders. For guidance, AACP became a signatory with CEO Action for Diversity and Inclusion, a PricewaterhouseCoopers initiative to encourage and guide corporations and nonprofits in their DEI efforts. That introduced the association to best practices and a support system. “A lot of people don’t know what to do, and there’s just so much to do when you start,” Ziegler says.

Introduce DEI efforts throughout the leadership pipeline. In 2017, AACP created a Leadership Development Pipeline Taskforce to address diversity challenges, and one of its mandates is that “each nominating committee was making a conscious effort around leadership development from the beginning—from a committee all the way up to the board, there should be diversity,” Ziegler says. And that means paying attention to a wide range of characteristics. The association’s leadership diversity declaration addresses the importance of “inviting, encouraging, slating, and appointing people who bring different viewpoints afforded by their gender, gender identity, sexual orientation, race/ethnicity, physical abilities, geography, disciplinary expertise, rank, institutional classification, and many other attributes.”

Create forums for conversation. AACP is creating a dedicated internal DEI forum online, but considers it just as important to have these discussions in person. In January, it hosted the first Mississippi Inclusion Institute, a two-day event host at the University of Mississippi focused on DEI matters in pharmacy education and practice. “It’s one thing to be invited, it’s another thing to be asked to dance,” Ziegler says. “We don’t want to just invite people in and say, ‘OK, now we’ve included you.’ We’re trying to have activities where people do feel really included.”

Build on successes. This year, Ziegler says, AACP will seat its most diverse board ever. The proportion of underrepresented minorities in pharmacy education is growing. Nearly three dozen volunteers have signed on for the association’s DEIA Advisory Panel to determine next steps. And it’s been sharing its experiences with other associations working on DEI. “Organically, we’ve become a framework for other associations—many CEOs have reached out, asking about what we’re doing,” Ziegler says. “We’re certainly not the best, but we like the way ours is happening.”

(Pusteflower9024/iStock/Getty Images Plus)

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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