Five Tips for Developing Goals Along the DEI Journey

agrawal and mehltretter-tips for developing goals along DEI journey July 6, 2023 By: Arti Agrawal and Jen Mehltretter

Knowing their stage of DEI maturity can help associations set accurate and measurable goals moving forward. While the work won’t be easy and change won’t happen overnight, the result will be more inclusive systems, processes, and culture.

According to a 2022 article in Harvard Business Review, organizations usually fall into one of these five stages of DEI maturity: aware, compliant, tactical, integrated, or sustainable. By identifying their maturity stage, associations can set effective and impactful DEI goals that will push them forward. Here are five tips as you begin this journey.

Tip 1: Understand the Why

Doing this work just to say you did it or to be a part of what’s popular now are not the right reasons for tackling this issue. Even if your board mandates this work, the organization still needs to be thoughtful when starting.

Reflect on your organization’s experiences and biases. Think about instances or policies that had an undesired, detrimental effect on a specific group of people. Consider the best way to acknowledge any past issues to learn and grow.

This doesn’t have to be an overwhelming process. Think about your core departments that impact stakeholders (meetings, awards, publications, etc.), and deliberate on the following questions:

  • Have you collected data that can paint a picture of the representation of underrepresented groups? If you’re having trouble getting data, is this something that your organization wants to pursue, and what are some strategies to implement to gather the data?
  • With the data you can find, can you see room for growth? For example, a 100-year-old organization may have a history of less than 5 percent of underrepresented groups receiving awards.
  • As you review each department, look at the procedures in place (like the requirements for an application) and question why they’re done the way they are and if they are still needed.

Tip 2: Gather the Right People

Your staff, board, and members all have their own viewpoint, thought process, and goals in mind when it comes to DEI. That’s why associations must be thoughtful about who they invite to participate in these discussions. Who is in the room, and what voices might be missing?

Involving stakeholders in the process and decisions (a form of procedural justice) significantly benefits organizations. When people feel part of the decision-making process, it can lead to greater acceptance and motivation and can help them keep going through setbacks and failures.

Tip 3: Get Comfortable With Discomfort

While there are likely to be moments of discomfort among team members when discussing DEI strategy and tactics, a Cloverpop white paper [PDF] revealed that diverse teams make better business decisions up to 87 percent of the time.

To alleviate any friction when bringing the team together, start the meeting by acknowledging that there may be some discomfort and reminding participants that everyone is coming from a good place. In addition, encourage everyone to be open, vulnerable, and trusting, while also recognizing how they fit into this world (e.g., how the world views them, their privileges).

Tip 4: Review the Data

Data is important for understanding where an association is in its journey, to set goals, to measure progress, and to communicate information to stakeholders. Compliance relating to data collection and reporting is essential, though it is best to regard compliance as the bare minimum work that needs to be done.

Data can be about people (e.g., the demographic makeup of the organization), culture, and processes (e.g., policies and their impact on people, the bottom line, and culture). Ultimately, you want to collect data that will help your association to successfully implement its DEI strategy and allow it to evolve and improve in an intentional way.

Tip 5: Communicate Transparently

When people engage in DEI for the first time, they have expectations. How will these expectations be managed? Be realistic about what you can achieve. Be honest about failures or things that get stopped. Communicate successes to all relevant parties including members, staff, and your board. Regular movement keeps people motivated and engaged and shows the leadership’s commitment.

Associations would ideally communicate with all their stakeholders, using channels and levels of detail appropriate to each group. The current best practice is to recognize the role each group plays, and their influence. Typically, a DEI strategy involves a robust two-way communication plan.

Remember, no organization reaches the most mature stage of its DEI work overnight. The journey must begin somewhere. When planning your DEI vision, make it simple, actionable, and measurable. You can expand it over time as you learn where the most effort is needed. The plan will help keep people motivated and focused, while also showing how DEI positively impacts the bottom line.

By embedding DEI bit by bit, maturity becomes part of the culture, processes, and systems. 

Arti Agrawal

Arti Agrawal is CEO of Vividhata Pty Ltd and a DEI expert who works with professional bodies to set up and support their DEI plans and journey.

Jen Mehltretter

Jen Mehltretter is director of membership and constituent services at the American Society for Clinical Laboratory Science (ASCLS) and a member of ASAE’s Diversity + Inclusion Advisory Group. She is an inaugural John H Graham Fund Scholarship recipient and attended NextGen in 2021.