For DEI Success, Set Goals and Measure Progress

Foundation_measure for DEI success June 21, 2022 By: Jenny Nelson

How do you know if your DEI efforts are working? A new report from the ASAE Research Foundation looks at how associations are advancing DEI among volunteer leaders. Among the takeaways: goal-oriented, metric-tracking DEI efforts lead to much better outcomes.

Advancing diversity, equity, and inclusion is critical not only to the success of an association but also the profession it serves. A key part of that effort is advancing and supporting DEI strategies at the top levels of volunteer leadership. But recent research suggests that many associations lack a clear, measurable set of DEI goals for their boards of directors.

According to a new report from the ASAE Research Foundation, Are Association Boards Embracing DEI?, 44 percent of associations have not established DEI goals for their boards. Even fewer track key data points that would help leaders measure success.

Define Success to Create Success

While 44 percent of organizations do not have defined DEI goals for their board, the rest use a variety of metrics. Most common were metrics that tracked the growth of underrepresented populations in leadership roles. Thirty-three percent of associations track the percentage of the board from underrepresented populations, while 29 percent track the percentage of board or subcommittee leadership from underrepresented populations. In addition, 11 percent track the percentage of candidates from underrepresented populations to whom offers are made, as well as board retention from underrepresented populations.

Associations that set and measured DEI goals for their leadership reported benefits from their efforts at higher rates than those without goals.
Recruitment is essential to advancing diversity on the board, so it’s not surprising that goal-oriented organizations tracked outreach-related metrics. Twenty-two percent of associations reported tracking outreach to new sources of nominees, but just 8 percent track the percentage of applicants from outside of personal networks.

Setting and measuring goals creates better outcomes. Associations that set and measured DEI goals for their leadership reported benefits from their efforts at higher rates than those without goals. Seventy-four percent of those who measure against their DEI goals said that their efforts promoted new ideas on the boards, compared to 37 percent of those without DEI goals. Other benefits that those who measured DEI reported at much higher rates include

  • better stakeholder understanding
  • enhanced reputation
  • improved ability to attract new talent
  • strengthened trust
  • expanded networks
  • better leveraging of talent

Only 3 percent of associations that defined and measured DEI goals for their board said they saw no benefits from their efforts, compared to 39 percent of those without goals.

Data Needed

While associations commonly set goals to improve inclusion of underrepresented groups, not many associations collected demographic data. Fifty percent of respondents said they did not track self-reported demographics for their board.

Of those that did, gender and/or gender identity was most commonly tracked, captured by 46 percent of associations. Race and ethnicity was tracked by 42 percent of respondents, and age was tracked by 29 percent of associations. Sexual orientation and disability were tracked by just 12 percent of associations.

Asking these questions may feel awkward in a professional setting, or leaders may fear putting members on the spot, but getting demographic data is invaluable for DEI efforts. While it may not be necessary to require volunteers to provide this data, volunteers may feel more at ease if they are given context for how responses will be used to advance board and association goals, or if the survey is anonymous. The data can then be used to improve outreach and recruitment efforts and provide concrete measures of progress.

Jenny Nelson

Jenny Nelson is director, content and knowledge resources, at ASAE.