Move DEI Beyond Words


The deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and Trye Nichols prompted vocal support for social justice throughout the business community. Organizations of all stripes were quick to issue statements confirming their commitment to diversity, equity, and inclusion.

In 2020, the Society for Human Resources Management (SHRM) reported that following George Floyd’s death, 85% of organizations published a statement on racial justice or diversity and 63% took action to address those concerns.

Three years later, the space between opinion and action seems to be getting wider. Revelio Labs’ 2023 report on the state of DEI and the impact of last year’s layoffs, found that DEI-focused roles “experienced a nearly 40% churn rate at companies engaged in layoffs, as compared to about 24% for non-DEI roles.” This statistic indicates that the momentum to translate words into initiatives may be waning.

The following numbers reveal that progress in the association community is not as rapid as we would hope. In 2023—

  • Twenty percent of association boards are made up of women. Association for Talent Development (ATD) State of the Association Profession report.
  • Fifteen percent of association boards are made up of people of color. ATD State of the Association Profession report.
  • Five percent of association CEOs are women. 2023 SHRM Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion in the Workplace Report.
  • Three percent of association CEOs are people of color. SHRM Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion in the Workplace Report.


Based on my anecdotal experience, most associations support the idea that a diverse leadership and workforce contributes to their success. Many groups have adopted DEI as a strategic priority. On the other hand, these barriers may be preventing some organizations from moving their ideals to action.

  • Lack of resources. Finding the bandwidth and funding to provide professional guidance for staff and volunteers may be a stumbling block.
  • Initiatives that seem more urgent. This is a challenging time for associations. Some groups are reluctant to divert attention from member engagement and attrition.
  • Low commitment from senior leadership and volunteers. Unfortunately, there are probably a few outliers that still don’t consider DEI a top priority.


If your association is struggling to launch a strong diversity initiative, these activities will help you get closer to that goal.

Pave the Way

Equity is good for business.

Don’t assume that everyone shares your enthusiasm. Your team may need to be educated about the urgency for and the benefits of embarking on a diversity plan. Do the research. Collect, analyze, and share the data. It’s easy to demonstrate the correlation between diversity, innovation, engagement, and increased revenue. The evidence points to equity as good for business.

People are fearful of change. But endorsement from their peers goes a long way toward building buy-in. Gather information and resources from organizations that are successfully implementing programs. If one or more of your directors is involved in diversity planning in their professional life, ask them to present to the group; Or invite a CEO and/or staff members from another association to tell their story.

Develop Competence 

Collegiality and good intentions are ingredients for success, but attitude isn’t enough to go the distance. All of us have baggage. This is not a forum for amateurs. A professional DEI training program can help people identify blind spots and biases while maintaining a safe and supportive atmosphere.

An expert facilitator will introduce the level of introspection needed to encourage empathy and insight. Look to training to build these leadership skills:

  • The awareness to hire, compensate, and manage more equitably
  • Strategies for working with multiracial and multicultural teams
  • Respect for divergent opinions and customs
  • An understanding of racism and its origins
  • Appreciation for the value that our differences bring to the table


Training is not a one-time event. Offer opportunities for learning to new staff, leaders, and volunteers and ongoing refreshers for current employees.

Articulate the Vision

Writing the diversity statement can be a co-creative activity.

If you don’t already have a diversity statement outlining your vision is an obvious step.  A statement formalizes your organization’s commitment. Writing this document can be a co-creative activity for staff and leadership. It’s an exercise that will provide the opportunity to explore lessons learned in training and reflect on how they impact real-life situations. These are a few basic guidelines for writing an effective statement.

  • Define what diversity, equity, and inclusion mean for your organization
  • Connect that meaning to your mission
  • Describe your goals
  • Outline how your stakeholders contribute to a workplace that reflects those values.
  • Keep the language positive, clear, and authentic


Below are two examples:

American Medical Association

Diversity, equity, and inclusion at the AMA

The AMA respects, welcomes, and celebrates all people and their diverse backgrounds. We value the diversity of identities and experience, and we encourage employees to bring their unique selves and experiences to the workplace.

In responding to the needs of those we serve—medical students, physicians, and their patients—the AMA relies on the diverse expertise, ideas, and strength of our workforce to promote and advocate for equity and justice in our policies, products, and services.

This commitment helps us attract and retain the best talent, provide opportunities for personal and professional development, and foster an environment that is continuously improving the equitable and inclusive workplace we strive to provide.

United Way

We take the broadest possible view of diversity.

We value the visible and invisible qualities that make you who you are.

We welcome that every person brings a unique perspective and experience to advance our mission and progress our fight for the health, education, and financial stability of every person in every community.

We believe that each United Way community member, donor, volunteer, advocate, and employee must have equal access to solving community problems.

We strive to include diversity, equity, and inclusion practices at the center of our daily work.

We commit to using these practices for our business and our communities.

Join us in embracing diversity, equity, and inclusion for every person in every community.


Approved by the United Way U.S.A. Board of Trustees on March 6, 2019

A statement is just the beginning. Putting words on a piece of paper is easy. However, activities that involve gaining people’s cooperation and changing their behavior require time and effort.  Acknowledging that DEI is a continuous commitment and living the values you’ve identified is the hard part.

Build Excitement

Goals create excitement. Attaching benchmarks to your statement provides structure and something for people to work toward. Try to align the objectives with initiatives that advance your existing strategic plan. Give the group some easy wins and some more visionary ambitions. Outline an action plan and timeline so that everyone knows what to expect. And set aside time to celebrate your accomplishments together.

These are examples of the type of goals you could consider:

  • Increase the representation of women and underrepresented minorities on the board of directors, in leadership positions, and on our staff by X.
  • Review our hiring and onboarding policies to ensure that they are equitable and fair for all applicants.
  • Create a more inclusive culture by providing DEI training to directors and staff.
  • Adopt a pay equity policy.
  • Create an environment at events and member activities that is inclusive and welcoming to all.
  • Research the needs of minority groups in our membership to determine whether targeted initiatives would benefit their professional success

Assign Responsibility

Don’t take an ad hoc approach to success. There are many moving parts to a diversity initiative. Appointing an oversight committee will ensure a strong launch and continuous progress.

Your committee should reflect the diversity that they are assigned to propagate. Strive for a mix of staff and volunteer leaders who represent the entire membership landscape. Consider race, gender, age, sexual orientation, and physical ability.

Set clear expectations, and then allow creativity, innovation, and enthusiasm to flow. The reward for bridging the gap between action and words is increased credibility. That trust is the foundation for a culture and a community characterized by equity and belonging.

Position Your Organization For Success

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