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Diversity Takes Practice
by Sandra Trice Gray

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An inclusive organization doesn?t miraculously appear. Here are 10 strategies for taking charge to build one.

Dare I say it? Associations have the opportunity ? and the responsibility ? to be models of communities that value and include everyone. Easier said than done, perhaps. But not impossible. In my conversations with leaders who are on the forefront of diversity initiatives, I?ve collected some strategies for creating diverse and inclusive organizations.

  1. Care about diversity. Make diversity and inclusiveness central to the core values of your association by adjusting work environments, assignments, and career paths in ways that nurture all people.
  2. Institute inclusiveness. Increase the presence of women and minorities in decision-making positions, and work to make diversity and inclusiveness concerns part of your organization-wide training programs. Recognize everyone ? from the bottom to the top ? for contributions made.
  3. Stretch your communication parameters. Opportunities abound to learn from those whose communication styles differ from your own. Remember that communication requires listening as well as speaking.
  4. Recognize and foster talent. Provide strong orientation and training for all newcomers to help them become involved and successful. Develop mentoring programs for populations that aren?t equally represented. Find creative ways to nurture those who clearly have contributions to make as future leaders.
  5. Learn from your critics. Find out how individuals feel about the organization or others whom they believe are impeding their progress. Be open to hearing others? perspectives on what can be done to improve the organization.
  6. Understand what you can change. Identify the restraining forces against achieving diversity within your organization. Strengthen your own efforts to create an inclusive organization, and work to get others to do the same.
  7. Conduct a diversity audit. Create a process whereby you, staff, volunteers, and the larger membership determine the essential questions to ask in a diversity audit, which seeks to identify strong and weak areas with regard to where your association currently stands on its diversity goals. Conduct the audit annually and ensure that it reviews all programs, initiatives, and work structures.
  8. Establish clear goals. The more specific you can be, the closer you can gauge your progress. For example, "at least 34 percent ethnic minority representation by 2004" is measurable.
  9. Form partnerships. Seek out organizations whose goals for diversity complement the mission and goals of your own. Share ideas and resources to discover mutual solutions.
  10. Implement an ongoing evaluation process. Don?t ever think you?ve arrived. Continue to ask good questions: Who else should hear this? Who should help us decide? How can we change what we?re doing to come closer to our goals?

We as association executives must advance a view of leadership that emphasizes community, diversity, and inclusiveness within and beyond our associations if we hope to renew, advance, and serve society. It is important that we institutionalize these ideals, because association people ? staff and members ? take key values with them as they move from organization to organization. This makes it possible for us to change the very fabric of our nation through the inclusive process we practice as leaders.


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