Five Questions to Make Diversity and Inclusion Come Alive

boney_holiding_leaders October 13, 2017 By: Mariama Boney, CAE

D+I comes to life when it runs through your organization’s plans and activities and is integrated into your leaders’ work. Here’s one association’s story of transforming a long-held value into an action plan bolstered by measurement and accountability.

For decades, diversity and inclusion has been a core value of NAFSA: Association of International Educators. But even associations like NAFSA, with well-established D+I commitments, need to assess periodically whether that value is reflected throughout the organization.

In 2015, the NAFSA board of directors decided to use the association’s Diversity and Inclusion Statement [PDF] as a way to rethink how to fully integrate D+I into the organization, and we asked ourselves key questions every step of the way. As the senior director with responsibility for member engagement, volunteer management, and component relations, I was in a good position to explore needs and assess concerns and opportunities that existed among member leaders to see if they were ready to take a look inward before expanding outward.

The five key questions we explored can help lay the groundwork for any association seeking to more fully integrate D+I into its operations and ensure that leaders are accountable for the organization’s D+I commitment.

Does Alignment Exist?

Our executive director and board president shared a commitment to this initiative and were open to proposals from staff on a path forward. We knew we could rely on our time-tested partnership with volunteer leaders to yield high-impact results. We asked ourselves: How can we enlist volunteer leaders to share in the accountability for diversity and inclusion?

We asked ourselves: How can we enlist volunteer leaders to share in the accountability for diversity and inclusion?

What Design Method Applies?

I identified a well-researched model, the Global Diversity and Inclusion Benchmarks, to use as a framework, and we opted to focus on several categories that were most relevant to member leaders. We assembled a short-term, six-to-eight-member work group to develop an action plan for review by the board. I worked closely with the volunteer diversity advisor to design an interactive, two-hour Diversity and Inclusion World Cafe activity for the annual leadership meeting. This would provide a way for 150 NAFSA volunteer leaders to provide input on five pre-determined goals.

How Will We Implement?

At the January 2017 leadership session, participants generated 600 ideas. In February, the work group met several times, and a preliminary action plan was produced and submitted for the March board meeting. After board discussion, edits were made and the final Diversity and Inclusion Action Plan for Member Leaders was produced.

Five of the plan’s 12 goals focus on the member leader structure and the work of volunteer leaders:

  • Increase intentional, personal outreach to specific audiences.
  • Develop onboarding and engagement strategies toward diversity-focused groups.
  • Foster an inclusive environment through activities like mentoring.
  • Include accountability for D+I in volunteer role descriptions.
  • Expand educational content to emphasize D+I in NAFSA’s annual and regional conferences.

How Will We Measure Accountability?

Each year, NAFSA's leadership, knowledge communities, and regulatory practice committees complete an annual work plan template that outlines their accountability to their committee charge and the annual activities they carry out connected to strategic plan goals. The work plans are reviewed and ultimately consolidated and approved by the NAFSA board.

To create accountability for the goals and action items in the new D+I action plan, we developed a similar template for committees to complete. For the next three years, the Diversity and Inclusion Action Plan will follow this same process of review, consolidation, and approval. Creating this level of accountability is key to track progress for mid-year and end-of-year reporting.

When Will We Celebrate and Evaluate?

Accomplishing this significant achievement in making diversity and inclusion come alive requires partnership among the board, executive director, and volunteer leadership. Our steps included:

  • aligning purpose and vision
  • selecting a design framework and method to gather input
  • assembling a small work group to generate the plan
  • identifying a process and tool for accountability
  • celebrating success, measuring and reporting on progress

We plan to share our progress and celebrate our accomplishments at the annual meeting and the annual leadership meeting. We will also share updates with members at the annual business meeting and via our NAFSA newsletter.

With this action plan, we hope to clarify and increase the impact of our volunteer leaders, expand opportunities for access by reducing financial barriers that prevent underrepresented groups and institutions from volunteering, and set targets for outreach to include new and diverse groups. This will likely lead to enhancing interview protocols for volunteer positions to include diversity and inclusion, a greater level of transparency, mentoring, and expansion of a pathway to NAFSA leadership.

Mariama Boney, CAE

Mariama Boney, LMSW, CPEC, CAE, is CEO of Achieve More LLC in Woodbridge, Virginia, and the vice-chair of ASAE’s Ethics Committee.