Bring Down Your Built-In Barriers

You may value and promote inclusion, but have you looked closely at where your programs and processes may limit who can engage with your association? Here's how one organization is working to widen its reach.

Ideas in organizations die all the time—not because they’re bad ideas, but because they lacked an owner. One thing that became clear to me as I was working on the latest Associations Now Deep Dive on diversity, equity, and inclusion is that the success of any program depends heavily on intentionality: Organizations need to commit to concrete goals and make sure that there are people who are held accountable for them.

At the Commission for Case Manager Certification, that process accelerated in 2019, when it created a DEI subcommittee. According to CEO MaryBeth Kurland, MPAA, ICE-CCP, CAE, volunteer leaders were concerned that certain communities were being shut out of the profession on a number of fronts—because CCMC (which is managed by Association Headquarters) had defined its membership pool too narrowly, made access to its credential too difficult, and wasn’t doing enough to reach out to diverse groups of potential certificants.

“We were asking, what should we be doing in this space as a credentialing body?” Kurland says. “We wanted to make sure that there weren’t any barriers to certification or recertification or taking the exam.”

“There are tons of qualified nurses and social workers who aren’t white women over 45—how do we get to those people?”

MaryBeth Kurland, CAE

CCMC entered that process knowing that there was a diversity gap to address. “If you look at the profile of our typical case manager, most case managers, even now, are probably white women over 45 who are nurses,” she says. “And what we said was, we need to do something to shift the needle, because there are tons of qualified nurses and social workers who aren’t white women over 45—how do we get to those people?”

One response to that question was simply to start making connections. During the pandemic, CCMC reached out to Black, Hispanic, and Asian nursing associations to spread the word about the organization and invite members to present at its conferences. In tandem with that effort, CCMC lowered barriers to access to certification opportunities, reducing fees and creating more free educational tools. It also launched a workforce development initiative where, Kurland says, “we were trying to encourage more people earlier in their career from varying backgrounds to become certified—or at least to look at case management and disability management as potential professions.”

For better or for worse, the stresses of the healthcare industry during the pandemic—and the workplace churn that’s ensued—has created an opportunity for CCMC to rethink its community and its certification process.

“The strain on the healthcare system and the people who would be eligible for certification is real—the Great Resignation is real,” Kurland says. “The hope is that because a lot of organizations, hospitals, and insurance companies have to recruit to bring more people into those spaces, that may bring fresh faces who might consider [case management] careers.”

Accomplishing that goal will take time, but there’s evidence that the approach can work: The Casualty Actuarial Society, for instance, has seen increased diversity in those taking its certification exams after CAS ramped up its direct outreach efforts. A mix of marketing, direct asks, and awareness of candidate needs will be key for CCMC to gain momentum. “We’re taking a multipronged approach,” Kurland says. “Hopefully we’ll see more growth.”

(Feodora/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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