Rob Stott is a contributing editor to Associations Now.
Through two leadership development programs aimed at students, ASHA has created a culture of diversity and inclusion that will benefit the association and its industry.
Leaders at the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association know that diversity and inclusion (D&I) programs are critical to ensure a culturally competent workforce and to develop future industry leaders—and that a good way to achieve those results is to focus on students.
Hallway conversations at ASHA's annual convention more than a decade ago led to development of the Minority Student Leadership Program (MSLP) and Student to Empowered Professional (STEP) program, which were honored with a Summit Award in ASAE's Power of A Awards Competition last year.
"We have a long-standing commitment to D&I, and as a result, we've had to pay attention to differences that emanate from different cultures for a very long time," says Vicki Deal-Williams, FASAE, CAE, chief staff officer for multicultural affairs at ASHA. "For us, these programs have given us an opportunity to formalize some of what we've wanted to be able to do for some time. As we've built a pipeline, we've been able to ensure that these students are able to come into the professions, get through the training successfully, and that they understand the resources and tools that are available to them to ensure their success as professionals."
The MSLP gives student members from underrepresented groups who have demonstrated strong leadership qualities opportunities to explore AHSA's inner workings. The STEP mentoring program grew out of MSLP and was eventually opened up to all student members. It matches them, one-to-one, to industry veterans who can guide them through the early stages of their careers.
"What we wanted to do was give them access to the kinds of things that they might not know about, already have access to, or know they were eligible to participate in," Deal-Williams says. "Our objective is to try to groom them and make sure that they became ambassadors for the association and for leadership roles so that they could then take those roles on as they move through the industry."
Close to 500 students have gone through MSLP since 1999. Deal-Williams says the key to ongoing success has been to adapt the content and function of each program to students' changing needs.
"We think we know what they need, because we think we know where the industry is going, but they're taking it places we never thought of," she says. "As a result, we've learned to really listen to them and make changes based on their feedback, and we've been able to give them what they need to move forward. And they have been amazing ambassadors for the association, for their professions, and for the discipline."