Teshia A. Birts, CDE, CAE, director of membership and component relations at the American Health Law Association, uses the term “long haul” often when she talks about what helps its DEI efforts succeed. Like many organizations, AHLA was stepping up its activities around DEI following George Floyd’s murder in May 2020. But Birts recognized that short-term efforts wouldn’t be meaningful.
“Any association executive that goes into this thinking, ‘OK, we’ll just teach our leaders about unconscious bias, and we’ll do that a couple times a year, and that’s going to be enough’—they’re missing the whole point,” she said.
When Birts was helping to organize AHLA’s DEI initiative, she made sure both to solicit a partner that would deliver regular training to staff and volunteer leaders, and to submit a proposal for a five-year commitment from the board, which it agreed to in 2022. That’s given AHLA enough time to conduct assessments with leaders and members about the gaps in its previous DEI efforts—an important priority for Birts beyond the training sessions.
If giving the organization time to stand up DEI programs helps make them sustainable, so does building out specific DEI programs that are meaningful to members. Since 2022, the National Association of Personal Financial Advisors has offered a DEI training and certificate program for its members, based on “actionable strategies that people could use to implement DEI at their firms,” said Nikki Palluzzi, senior director, member services and experience at NAPFA.
The initiative demonstrates the association’s responsiveness to calls for DEI efforts within the industry and creates a clear deliverable around it. Moreover, NAPFA has worked to provide the certificate program for large and small firms alike and has expanded into whole-staff trainings; one recent training seminar included all 33 employees of one member firm.
“We were hearing things like, ‘You’re not speaking to my firm size or my firm structure, so I still don’t know what to do,’” Palluzzi said. “So we were really intentional about reaching out to firms of all different sizes.”