Diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) was at the forefront of the conversation at the American Society of Association Executives’ (ASAE) Annual Meeting Community Pop-UP. Normally held in person, ASAE’s 2021 Annual Meeting was held virtually with in-person pop-ups in cities across the country. This year, three DEI experts at the Chicago Community Pop-UP shared how DEI is evolving in their organizations, with one clear theme woven throughout the panel discussion: the importance of being intentional.
Current DEI Practices
The three panelists went into depth on current DEI policies and practices in their organizations and how it shapes their culture. Robin Rone, Smithbucklin’s Senior Director of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion, shared that Smithbucklin’s first step was writing down DEI-related goals and identifying how the company wanted DEI to grow in the future. From there, Smithbucklin analyzed its company policies to make sure inclusiveness was reflected in them, and developed a strategic plan for DEI initiatives. To help support these initiatives, Smithbucklin created the inCouncil – a group of employees who work to advance the company’s organizational commitment to the areas of diversity and inclusion. Rone’s role as Senior Director of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion was established specifically to create a more focused and intentional approach to Smithbucklin’s DEI efforts.
Roz Stuttley, Choose Chicago’s Director of Equity, Diversity, & Inclusion, also touched on the topic of being intentional with DEI efforts within her organization. Choose Chicago’s first step in its DEI journey was identifying clear objectives that they wanted to accomplish. Choose Chicago then created two new positions in order to improve DEI efforts – Stuttley’s position as Director of Equity, Diversity, & Inclusion, and a Neighborhood Strategy position to focus on building equity within ten key neighborhoods that need to improve infrastructure and tourism. Choose Chicago also created an employee resource group called Choose Compassion, a diverse group of volunteers within the organization who help DEI initiatives move in the right direction. Along with creating new positions and the resource group, Choose Chicago brought in a consultant who strategically advanced DEI efforts from an outside perspective.
Christine Nogal, Arthroscopy Association of North America’s (AANA) Vice President of Marketing and Operations, discussed her organization’s DEI efforts from an analytical perspective. The organization first took a step back to examine its history and look for trends. AANA was founded by a group of white men in the 1980s, and it stayed like that for rest of the decade – Nogal then looked at data from medical school to determine why the orthopedic field was lacking in diversity. After pulling data from medical schools, Nogal discovered that only 14% of orthopedic students were female, and only 30% were minorities. AANA aimed to get to the root of the problem, so they deliberately concentrated their DEI efforts and put their resources in medical school.
The DEI Journey
DEI, all three panelists agreed, is a journey – not an immediate destination. When asked how she will measure success at AANA three to five years from now, Nogal shared that anyone who expects instant gratification will be disappointed. Deeply rooted issues like racism have existed for decades, and three to five years is too small a piece of time to reverse that. Although the needle may be moving slowly, Nogal was adamant that each movement of the needle is a step forward and should be celebrated. Rone also touched on the concept of slow results, noting that a shift in culture after DEI efforts is more of a slow burn than an immediate result. Stuttley pointed out that she herself is on a DEI journey – having worked in client services for the past eight years, she had not focused on DEI in her career and experienced a learning curve when becoming Choose Chicago’s Director of Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion.
The Importance of Leadership
Nogal, Stuttley, and Rone all recognized that it’s essential to have the right leaders on your team when it comes to fostering DEI. Stuttley stressed the importance of having a senior leadership team that is fully invested in and heavily supportive of DEI. Nogal brought up the importance of having leaders who are willing to admit when they are unfamiliar with topics or had bias in the past, and are willing to relearn concepts. She also mentioned that it’s critical to have leaders who are willing to stop what they are doing, pick up the phone, and address any problem that may arise. Rone touched on the importance of senior leadership understanding that DEI is here to stay and affects everyone involved in the organization, and is not simply one person’s passion project that will fade away.
Another topic discussed was handling pushback to DEI efforts, both implicit and explicit. Stuttley echoed that strong senior leadership is key, and it can be helpful to attempt to get to the root of why some people aren’t on board with DEI. Fear, she said, can be a reason for pushback. The best way to handle pushback is to listen closely to understand where each person is at in their own DEI journey. There is a wide range of perspectives on diversity, and it’s important to understand those perspectives when approaching conflict. Nogal noted that most of the pushback AANA received was due to a lack of self-awareness as opposed to explicit pushback. AANA’s journey of self-awareness has been both on the staff and leadership level, and Nogal stressed that everyone must become comfortable with being uncomfortable.
When asked where associations are today on their DEI journeys, Rone reiterated an important point – each association is in a very different place. No matter where each association is on their journey, one thing was clear from the discussion: each organization needs to be intentional in their DEI efforts and created a strategic approach based on its history, members, and current culture.