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How Tech Tools and Data Can Advance Equity and Inclusion

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For years, association leaders have worked to create organizations that are equitable and inclusive, with varied results. Today, data and technology, used well, can help organizations achieve this goal.

Associations typically have missions centered on advancing their industry or profession and helping the people in the field develop professionally. To do that best, they need to provide equitable and inclusive access to the association to draw a wider pool of members and staff. Many organizations haven’t fully realized this vision, but they can get closer by using technology and analyzing their data, say experts.

Karine Blaufuss, CAE, director of business data and intelligence at American Geophysical Union (AGU), said technology tools can help organizations capture and sort data to identify deficiencies in equity and inclusion.

“Inclusion [means] that everyone feels welcome,” Blaufuss said. “And data can be your friend to help measure how welcome people feel.”

AGU has used data to discover where the organization lacked equity among members. For example, “in our peer review process, women were not asked at the same rate as their male counterparts,” Blaufuss said. “Once we were able to see that with the data—both for peer review and honors and awards—we made some small changes, mostly for awareness. [Then] we gave a strong encouragement to members. We said, ‘Don’t forget to nominate your women colleagues who are deserving of these awards.’”

Blaufuss said sharing the data about equity gaps with “our people who love data” brought more nominations of women for awards, as well as more women to the peer review process.

Similarly, many organizations have turned to their data as they aim to improve equity and inclusion for meeting speakers, said Tim Hopkins, CAE, practice director at McKinley Advisors and vice chair of ASAE’s Diversity and Inclusion Committee.

“Inclusion [means] that everyone feels welcome. And data can be your friend to help measure how welcome people feel.” — Karine Blaufuss, CAE, American Geophysical Union

“One specific area, especially over the last two years, that I think is really important is equity when it comes to contributing to meetings, especially hybrid and virtual meetings,” Hopkins said. “I’ve seen organizations be especially thoughtful in trying to look at the different people who are participating—be it in-person or virtual—and trying to provide equity in their ability to participate.”

Additionally, technology can aid both staff and members when groups hold small virtual meetings, as they can compensate for differences caused by a variety of factors, including personality traits like introversion and extroversion.

“I personally use tools—Miro and Mentimeter—that allow you to have contributions from people who are introverted as well as extroverted and allows ideas to be placed in a digital space next to one another, without needing to be the loudest voice in the room,” Hopkins said. “These tools allow these contributions from different places, different personalities, and different communication styles in a way that is equitable for all.”

Ensure Access

When thinking about equity and inclusion, don’t forget about the importance of access.

“Make sure that the technology is accessible to everyone,” Blaufuss said. “For example, at AGU, we have a global audience, and we found in the past that some of the technology platforms we were using were not accessible to some of our members in China, because it was blocked by the Great Firewall of China.” Because the firewall is a well-known issue in IT circles, AGU has made changes to specific items on the platform—such as fonts—that caused problems, allowing access to members in China.

Even within the United States, access isn’t always universal. “Not everybody has broadband access, so you don’t want it to be too heavy on upload and download because it may not be rendering,” Blaufuss said. “You may have people who are visually impaired and some of the things on your website may not be easily accessible to them, so that’s another thing you may want to look at: 508 compatible websites.”

Prioritize Training

Adopting technology tools, data collection, or processes to improve equity and inclusion are all good steps, but they’re not enough, Hopkins said. For these strategies to be effective, staff have to be trained in how to use the tools and follow the processes.

“Some of the software tools that allow for greater equity and inclusion are not overly expensive, as far as the dollar signs for the subscriptions,” Hopkins said. “But when it comes to time, that is an area where it will cost your organization. But it’s well worth the investment.”

He recommends that leaders set aside time to show staff how the tools or processes they implement should be used to achieve the organization’s goals—including its DEI goals.

“Set aside a day of the week, or regularly occurring time periods and say, ‘You don’t need to do this other work. This foundational systemic work on learning this new technology or tool means enough to our organization that I want you to prioritize this,’” Hopkins said. “That means a lot, and they need to hear that from their leadership.”

Rasheeda Childress

Rasheeda Childress is a senior editor at Associations Now. She covers money and business. Email her with story ideas or news tips.

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