Monday, June 12, 2017

Don't Be Misled By the Concentric Circles of Diversity

A few weeks ago I mentioned that Spark Consulting was out with another white paper -- this one on the sometimes challenging topic of diversity and inclusion -- and that it was another thought-provoking read for association CEOs. If you're interested, you can download "Include Is A Verb: Moving From Talk to Action on Diversity and Inclusion" here. It's free and you don't even have to register for it.

I also said that, for me, there were several key concepts. Here's another one.

Look at the picture accompanying this blog post. It's from the white paper, and it leads off the section in which the authors provide some helpful advice on starting your own diversity and inclusion initiative at your association. They, quite correctly, I think, advise that you start first and foremost with yourself.

The first step is to undertake the work individuals must do on themselves.

Start in the center of the target with yourself and then, as implied by the picture, begin working your way out in concentric rings, working next to reform your workplace, then your volunteer leaders, then your membership, and finally, if you have the courage, the very profession or industry your association represents.

To be fair to the authors, they admit in the text of the white paper that things are not really this linear. That, for example, diversity in the industry your association represents is obviously a prerequisite for diversity in your association's membership, and that diversity in your association's membership is just as obviously a prerequisite for diversity in your association's leadership. In this regard, diversity in the outer three concentric rings shown in the picture moves from the outside in, not the inside out.

In my previous post I shared some of the leadership discussions and diversity initiatives that I participated in when I was Board chair of the Wisconsin Society of Association Executives. Well, it was this realization about the white paper's outer three concentric rings--and the recognition of how difficult changing the diversity of the profession we represented would be--that was one of the primary factors that led us down the "dimensions of diversity" path I described. Rather than determining what the diversity of the association management profession in Wisconsin should be, we decided instead to better understand what the diversity of that profession was, and then work proactively to ensure that that diversity was reflected in our association's membership and leadership.

That's one problem I have with the picture. Once you're told you're supposed to start in the center, you assume you have to keep moving outward through the rings. You don't.

Here's the other problem I have with it. The diversity of your association workplace and the diversity of your association leadership have little or no connection at all.

Unless you work for one of the few associations of association professionals, or for an even rarer association entirely staffed by the same people who work in the industry or profession the association represents, then, by definition, the profession of the people who work for the association and the profession of the people who belong to the association are two different professions. And two different professions likely have two different dimensions of diversity. What's important in one may not be important in the other, and therefore, fixing one may have no impact on fixing the other.

It might actually be better for the white paper to show two targets instead of one. The first with yourself in the middle, working outward to change the diversity of your workplace, and the second with your association's industry or profession in the middle, again working outward to change the diversity of your association's membership, and then its leadership. That way, not only do you start from the right premise, you've correctly split the task before you into its two basic strategies.

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This post first appeared on Eric Lanke's blog, an association executive and author. You can follow him on Twitter @ericlanke or contact him at

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