The Importance of Diversity within Your Association

You’ve probably heard the term “diversity” thrown about quite a bit these days. And if your association is like most, you are also probably aware that your board, volunteers and membership are not as diverse as they could be.

Even organizations who do a fairly good job at attracting members of different races and a good mix of men and women may still find themselves lacking in other kinds of diversity. Perhaps there is a lack of younger members or members of different religions and faiths. Do you have members with different sexual orientations, economic and educational backgrounds?

There are many different kinds of diversity and your organization would do well to make efforts to attract people from all different kinds of groups. If diversity is not currently a priority at your association, it should be.

Why Does Diversity Matter?

There are a number of good reasons to be concerned about having an inclusive, diverse membership within your association.

Diverse organizations build your reputation. If you want to have a voice in the community, with industry and with governmental bodies, having a variety of members will allow you to better represent the population you serve. The diversity (or lack thereof) in your leadership ranks will be noticed. You want that notice to reflect positively and show that you are an open, inclusive group.

Diverse organizations are better prepared for the future. The population of the United States and the overall workforce continues to get more diverse, not less. If your association intends to stay relevant for the long term, you need a wide variety of voices and opinions to stay abreast of current trends and the issues that resonate.

Diverse organizations are more successful and profitable. A study in Bloomberg showed that there are significantly higher earnings and returns on equity at companies that have highly-diverse executive boards versus those with low diversity. Having a wide variety of life experiences, skill sets, and opinions within your organization leads to better decision-making and well-rounded thinking.

Increasing the diversity of your association

Creating a more diverse association is not something that you will be able to achieve overnight. It is an ongoing process that you will need to continually work on.

Find your weak spots. First, make an assessment of what groups are currently represented in your organization and where your biggest deficits are. Make a comparison to your industry. If the representation within your industry is 60% male and 40% female, but your board only has one female member, actively recruiting more female members might be your first initiative.

Get the board on board. Discuss the issue with your board and ensure that everyone is in agreement that increasing your organization’s diversity is a worthy goal and a priority. Set an achievable goal of where you’d like to be in one year. After that time, meet again and reassess, setting a new goal.

Do some training. Bring in someone to do some diversity training with your board members. Ensure that they understand the importance of inclusivity and how their past practices may have unknowingly fostered a culture that has kept out a wider spectrum of people from your organization. Encourage them to think about ways they could reach out to professionals of different races, religions and genders to be considered for future board positions, or general membership recruitment.

Create a task force or diversity chair. The goals you have set should be assigned to someone or a committee who will head up the initiative. They will be in charge of making recommendations on how best to achieve the diversity goals. Ask them to provide regular updates on progress.

Reassess your recruitment tactics. For recruiting new members, many associations rely on word of mouth, networking and existing members bringing in new members. The problem with this is that existing members tend to network with and associate with people much like themselves, and therefore you just end up with more of the same types of people joining. You may need to encourage your board to ask for recommendations and reach out specifically to people outside of their immediate circle.

Host events designed to attract a wider audience. Golf outings and country club open houses are great, but probably aren’t the best choice for appealing to women or people of color. Look at other organizations that do have diverse memberships and see what types of successful events they have hosted. If all your organization ever does is host a few meetings per year, consider a meet and greet type of event at a local brewery or winery. Present yourself as a relaxed, welcoming organization and invite new people in.

[Related: How to Grow Your Young Professional Membership ]

Partner with college campuses. Most colleges are naturally diverse and open, and are a great source of new, young members from a wide variety of backgrounds. Offer to host a free event with food, drink, and games and you will almost certainly attract an audience. (College students never turn down free grub.) This could be an opportunity to offer mentorships with your experienced members to soon-to-be-graduates who will be entering your industry.

What if your industry simply isn’t diverse? If you represent the interests of an industry that is particularly homogenous and, for instance, overwhelmingly populated by white males, that can make recruiting a diverse membership and board more challenging. However, that may be all the more reason to make the effort. If you would like your organization to advocate for the advancement and future of an industry, doesn’t it make sense to make a concerted effort to welcome and encourage people from a wider range of society to join and to potentially become interested in what you do?

Diversity is an important issue that should be on the minds of any association that hopes to stay relevant for the future. The efforts you make today will pay dividends for years to come.