When George Floyd was killed by a Minneapolis police officer in May 2020, the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association (ASHA) quickly made a statement of condemnation. In retrospect, CEO Vicki R. Deal-Williams, FASAE, CAE, describes it as a “massive failure.”
It’s not that the statement was inappropriate. But it was toothless—and, to some critics, self-congratulatory. “The stance we took was basically that we’ve been dealing with these issues for so long, and we’re going to continue to do what we’ve been doing,” she said. “That’s not what was needed in that particular instance.”
A follow-up statement explicitly condemned systemic racism and committed to actions to address it. “Members wanted us to be intentional and specific, which was what we came back and did,” Deal-Williams said.
Maintaining attention on DEI within an organization—among staff, members, and public stakeholders—can be a challenge. And, as ASHA’s experience shows, occasionally prone to missteps. Avoiding such problems means making sure staff and volunteer leaders have done the work to determine what its DEI goals are, how it intends to address them, and how it will measure its efforts.
Doing the Work
“A statement isn’t a strategy,” said Robin Rone, head of diversity, equity, and inclusion at Smithbucklin. “Many associations haven’t done the work to ask, ‘Where are we as an association? What are our priorities around diversity, equity, inclusion, and access? How is this part of the strategic development of our association?’”
One way to create sustained attention to those questions, Rone said, is to establish metrics around DEI goals and ensure they’re monitored. “If you want to have more women represented in your committee leadership structure, you then have to ask, ‘What do we have in place to ensure a wider, more diverse range of committee chair candidates?’” she said. “Don’t be intimidated by the idea of counting. Everyone starts somewhere. No place is better or worse.”