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Talk Effectively to Your Board About DEI Change

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Discussing diversity, equity, and inclusion with volunteer leaders can seem like a daunting task. Although it’s a complex issue, CEOs should focus on the benefits of DEI and how changing the status quo can deliver results.

Talking to boards about DEI does not have to be a difficult—or dreaded—conversation. It helps to start the discussion by showing the many business advantages that come along with a DEI strategy.

“When you shift that mindset, you’re not afraid to go talk to your board. You’re excited to talk to your board,” said Janet Smith, cofounder and president of Ivy Planning Group, a management consulting firm with a focus on DEI. “You’re showing you are indeed a leader; you are forecasting, you are doing what’s best for your organization.”

When Felicia K. Taylor, MBA, CAE, started as CEO of the New Jersey Chapter, American Academy of Pediatrics (NJAAP), she set out to immediately do just that. She met with the board to ask what kept them up at night and where they wanted her to focus energy. Top of the list? To be financially stable and to grow and diversify membership.

After Taylor delved into how things were structured at the organization, she realized everything was being done the same way year after year. “Hiring the first Black female CEO was a huge statement for this organization,” she said. But when she looked at the composition of the board and the staff, she knew it was time for some straight talk.

“When you bring the DEI lens to the table and show them some things they could try to do differently to grow—whether it’s drawing your unrestricted revenue, or growing your membership, or engaging your community—when it’s from a DEI lens, that’s when the lightbulb went off,” Taylor said.

“When you keep bringing the same folks to the table to have similar conversations, it gets stale after a while.” — Felicia K. Taylor, CAE, New Jersey Chapter, American Academy of Pediatrics

Change the Status Quo

The lightbulb revealed that selecting the same speakers for conferences repeatedly was not going to attract a new audience. It was also not reflective of the state. New Jersey is one of the most diverse states in the country, according to recent U.S. Census data.

“When you keep bringing the same folks to the table to have similar conversations, it gets stale after a while,” Taylor said.

Taylor was able to get the board to see that there were opportunities to make real change, and one way was to create a diversity, equity, and inclusion committee on the board. The committee, which was formed in 2020, surveyed the membership to see how they felt about the way NJAAP was being run and if they saw themselves reflected on the board and at its conferences.

The survey results revealed a need for diverse representation on NJAAP’s board and throughout its program content. The DEI committee discussed the feedback and took a recommendation to the board to develop a new position so there was someone at the board level making sure DEI was being integrated throughout the organization.

But some board members were opposed because the national organization did not have a DEI officer on its board. Taylor convinced them that different chapters may have different needs. “You have to do what’s best for the good of the chapter,” she said.

The board approved the change, and the bylaws were amended. The new officer is chair of the DEI committee, as well as a voting officer. “It’s a position that has a distinct role that is going to be looking at our policies across the board, and our programs, to make sure that we’re being fair and equitable,” Taylor said.

In response to NJAAP’s need to grow the business and develop new product lines, the DEI committee proposed developing a training institute that focuses on educating both physicians and the public on a variety of topics, including immigration policies affecting families, systemic racism and cultural biases, and the negative impact of racism on children and families.

“This is the power,” Taylor said. “This truly shows the power of creativity when you’re open to doing things a different way and bringing new ideas to the table that bring in additional money for the chapter.”

The upshot? NJAAP turned a profit last year—the first time in a decade.

“There’s too much change going on not to pay attention to this,” Smith said. “People are different, people’s expectations are different, and either you can rise to the occasion, or you can miss out on the opportunity and let your competitor take over and make you irrelevant.”

Lisa Boylan

Lisa Boylan is a senior editor of Associations Now.

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