Creating an inclusive organization does not happen overnight. Instead, a truly inclusive organization often comes as a result of multi-year strategic planning by a board and staff working toward the same goals. Last year, the American Bar Association (ABA) held their 2023 Bar Leadership Institute (BLI), which is “intended to guide bar leaders in their roles as stewards of their organizations.” Robin Rone, Smithbucklin’s Head of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI), moderated a discussion panel framed around the best practices for establishing a DEI strategy. Three panelists discussed the importance of DEI, as well as their own experiences navigating this topic and implementing DEI strategic planning in the workplace.
Integrating DEI Practices
In Rone’s experience, a key factor to establishing a strategy of this nature is to not overshadow it with an initiative or activity, and instead spend more time focusing on concrete goals and objectives developed by fellow volunteers and staff. To do so, she shared examples of DEI tools that are offered to Smithbucklin association management clients, such as an assessment toolkit and Journey Map.
Smithbucklin DEI Assessment. © 2024 Smithbucklin | All Rights Reserved
Smithbucklin DEI Journey Map. © 2024 Smithbucklin | All Rights Reserved
Similarly, Wanda Claiborne, Executive Director of the Bar Association of Montgomery County (BAMC), stressed the need for open and honest conversations surrounding DEI in the association and profession. She described the need to have conversations about inclusivity within the Montgomery area bar association, and spoke about her experiences working to establish the BAMC’s social justice council, the work of its diversity committee, and the importance of the young lawyers group within the organization as drivers of change.
Helen Hierschbiel, CEO of the Oregon State Bar (OSB), followed suit to explain the importance of creating a strategic plan that continuously evolves. In Hierschbiel’s experience, “there is no perfect” when it comes to DEI efforts. Instead, she has found it to be a continuous journey that requires personal commitment from the top, consistency, and the ability to truly listen to one another.
Jason Hensley, Executive Director of the North Carolina Bar Association (NCBA), shared difficult stories about the history of the NCBA’s role in disenfranchising Black people from voting in the late 1800s. Hensley explained that there have been significant efforts to move forward since this time, particularly with the NCBA’s commitment to ensuring voting rights for all. For Hensley, he has found it important to accept that the push for DEI initiatives requires constant vigilance. Unfortunate as these circumstances may be, he strongly believes that you must “understand how your house was built in order to move beyond,” and this remains at the forefront of the NCBA’s DEI strategies.
Facilitating Productive Conversations
According to Rone, DEI best practices begin directly with the association’s volunteer leaders. Over the years, she has seen executive directors attempt to facilitate conversations around DEI in the workplace and within their association, however, many faced discomfort in doing so. With that being said, it is crucial for executive directors and other key staff to be a part of the conversation, as opposed to simply facilitating it. Being directly involved in the conversation, along with an attitude of willingness and a desire to grow and learn, will help create connections with fellow volunteers, directors, and staff members in an association. In doing so, more space for inclusive conversations is made, and strategies to foster diversity in your association can be clearly communicated and executed.
Gina Brennan is in Corporate Marketing at Smithbucklin.
Robin Rone is in Association Management and serves as Head of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion at Smithbucklin.
This article was originally published on March 23, 2023.