Three Ways Mid-Level Staff Can Help Advance DEI Initiatives

Baumer-three ways August 30, 2021 By: Katie Baumer, CAE

Knowing how to effect meaningful change on diversity, equity, and inclusion within an organization is challenging, especially for people who are in earlier stages of their careers. Here are three ways to get started and make real progress.

Following the headlines, the marches, and the protests about racial injustice that gripped the country, many people have reached a point where they not only recognize a need for change throughout society, but they also want to take action.

One of the most natural places to start is the workplace since we spend a lot of our time there. You might be wondering how your job recognizes and addresses DEI issues and how leadership creates initiatives that advance equity.

How do you make a meaningful change and speak up? Should you even speak up? Figuring out what to look for and where to start can be challenging for anyone, no matter what their role or title is, but it can be even trickier if you are not in the C-suite and in earlier phases of your career. Consider these initial steps to get started.

Educate yourself. Look at other associations with strong DEI cultures and compare them to the efforts your own organization is making. Look for changes like revamped processes for selecting volunteers that remove bias, or an emphasis on selecting leaders based on skillset, rather than personal networks or relationships.

Also consider how your association handles the hiring process. Does it make efforts to post job opportunities on websites for diverse professionals? Have certain prohibitive job requirements such as four-year degrees been eliminated? These are all steps your association’s leadership might take that signal a commitment to DEI.

Keep in mind that any kind of change can take time, so there could be strategic planning happening that you are not aware of in your daily meetings and communication. Just because things might look or feel a certain way now, does not mean that your board and leadership teams are not having those critical discussions about how to create change.

By modeling inclusive behavior, you will lead by example and gain trust from those on your team, all while creating change.

Learn about inclusive best practices. Be sure you are using the right language and communicating in inclusive ways. Listen to diverse opinions and perspectives. Consider your own preconceptions and how those may be affecting your relationships. Show appreciation for your colleagues who have the courage to share a different opinion. Connect empathetically to your colleagues and their experiences. By modeling inclusive behavior, you will lead by example and gain trust from those on your team, all while creating change.

Ask how you can help move the agenda forward. Rather than challenging your colleagues, support them with the work necessary to advance these efforts. Talk to your supervisor and express your interest in assisting wherever possible. “I would definitely start with my own department and share the results,” said Catherine Lada, senior marketing director at HRCI.

For example, if you are on a marketing or communications team, focus on the language and visuals used to communicate. “We can use our ’voice,’ and have the opportunity to be leading by example, and using insights and lessons learned to help make the business case within your own association’s members,” Lada said.

John Tramontana, CAE, chief executive officer of the Michigan Veterinary Medical Association, also emphasized considering the business case. “This can help to push people over the finish line who may be apprehensive or skeptical,” he said. “Simply put, businesses that put resources behind DEI and who make a point to make it a priority also do better financially.”

While it might seem challenging to drive change when you are in a mid- or entry-level role, you do have the power to take action. By educating yourself about DEI culture, leading through inclusive behavior, and communicating with your colleagues about new opportunities, you can help create a move diverse and inclusive culture at your own association. 

Katie Baumer, CAE

Katie Baumer, CAE, is director of marketing and communications at the American Autoimmune Related Diseases Association in Clinton Township, Michigan.