Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion in Action

Taking Charge of Who’s in Charge

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DEI is everyone’s job, but it’s the responsibility of particular persons. Successful associations establish leadership roles, both individually and within committees, to ensure the work gets done.

For associations just starting to work on a DEI strategy, one of the biggest challenges can be establishing accountability for its programs. That was a key question for the American Association of Colleges of Pharmacy in 2017 when it made a commitment to strengthen its DEI efforts. It identified what it calls DEIA (the A stands for anti-racism) as a key strategic pillar. But AACP needed to determine how to both establish responsibility for it and measure progress.

Cindy Ziegler, AACP’s associate director of governance and executive office operations, says there’s an essential connection between metrics and accountability. “Whenever you’re trying to measure something, having a policy or statement around it really holds you accountable,” she said. “What gets measured gets done.”

Assigning Responsibilities

In 2020, AACP established a DEIA Committee that’s responsible for studying DEI gaps and barriers, identifying goals, and serving as a resource throughout the organization. For instance, AACP has set a priority around diversifying its board to make it more reflective of its member population. That means Ziegler sets ground rules with the nominating committee and the DEIA committee around diversity.

“We talk about how we define diversity, which isn’t just what you look like—we define it as geographic location, public or private schools, areas of the country, areas of interest,” she said. “And we consciously look at members leaving the board. What are we losing that we can bring back in to shape the board?”

Because one DEI-related strategic goal at AACP is to support a more diverse group of learners and practitioners, responsibilities fall across the organization, from meetings to credentialing to membership. To keep those conversations going within staff, it’s also established a work group of staff leaders across the organization for weekly conversations about activities in its departments, and also to get into conversations about race and ethnicity. “It was awkward in the beginning, but now that we’ve done it, people are really looking forward to it,” Ziegler said.

“Whenever you're trying to measure something, having a policy or statement around it really holds you accountable.” — Cindy Ziegler, American Association of Colleges of Pharmacy

Tying Goals to Strategy

Similarly, the American Academy of Hospice and Palliative Medicine had worked to connect specific staff goals around its DEI strategy. That can be as broad as guidelines for board nominations and as granular as conference session titles. “In education, we have our DEI chairs and staff person responsible for DEI review all the titles to flag anything that may be inappropriate,” said AAHPM CEO Wendy-Jo Toyama, CAE, FASAE. (AAHPM is a client of Association Management Center.) Similarly, AAHPM’s education leaders establish metrics around speaker diversity and create matrices to evaluate speakers based on it.

But you can’t establish accountability around diversity without goals. And to set goals, you need data. Toyama says that associations should be more aggressive about their data-gathering, to learn where they might fall short among members or volunteer leadership.

“If you want your board to reflect the membership and the membership to reflect the population, you have to start capturing data on members,” she said. “Associations are way too skittish about doing that.”

Regardless of the goals, definitions, metrics, and methods, Toyama said, associations need to assign clear ownership of tasks. “I was at a training once where someone said, ‘If you give five people the responsibility to feed a dog, it’ll die,’” she said. “If you say, ‘We’re committed to diversity, and we do it in everything we do,’ but you don’t articulate what that looks like, then I think you run the risk of dropping the ball.”

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.

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When it comes to making strides with diversity, equity, and inclusion, it’s crucial to take stock and measure your gains—or lack thereof. To collect the right data, match what you’re measuring to your strategic goals and be sure to include qualitative input.