We Are a Rich Tapestry

Diversity, inclusion and the next steps to move our community forward

By Michelle Mason, FASAE, CAE

FRM SepOct Perspective

Michelle Mason, FASAE, CAE President & CEO, Association Forum

“We all should know that diversity makes for a rich tapestry, and we must understand that all the threads of the tapestry are equal in value no matter what their color.” —Maya Angelou

The September/October issue of FORUM is one of my favorites. Its primary focus is on Welcoming Environment®. Over the years, we have engaged members and stakeholders in our Welcoming Environment initiative. It started organically and has evolved into a movement of belonging and connectedness in the association community. Members want to be respected, valued and have their voices heard. The environment we create communicates our beliefs about the people we serve. This environment and the way we treat each other, as well as the way we offer services, are critical aspects of our work to increase access to all who are passionate about associations.

Association Forum has always understood that we are an organization where the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. That is the fundamental purpose for inclusion — to optimize for the maximum benefit of the whole. We work well together as a community because of our differences, not despite them. Through this, we leverage our collective potential to impact society.

As we think about our role in the race-relations dialogue, we have a call to action. The global dialogue on racial injustice has accelerated us to be held more accountable for supporting the eradication of racism in America and viewing this as a corporate social responsibility. Associations touch every aspect of society: from the trades to supply chains to standards to healthcare and more. Associations advance the world. How will we leverage this moment?

The next generation is developing in one of the most diverse and technologically advanced times in modern history. These leaders are telling us through their behaviors — protest and advocacy — that they want change and expect our actions to demonstrate that today. We will not always be perfect in our pursuit of racial accord; however, we must continue to have the uncomfortable and transparent conversations on implicit and unconscious bias, racial inequity and diversity on leadership teams and boards of directors. These conversations must lead to change.

What actions can we take together?

A start is to create a Welcoming Environment, where your staff, members and stakeholders feel comfortable addressing tough issues and expressing opinions that honor their uniqueness and stretch you to think in a different way. Diversity and inclusion are linked, however, not the same. You can’t excel in one while ignoring the other. Diversity points to the traits and characteristics that make us unique, and inclusion is the behaviors and social norms that allow us to feel welcomed.

We learned in our Welcoming Environment research (released in July) that members and staff reported their associations have not been successful at having diverse leadership and weaving inclusion into daily communications. Members and staff both responded “least likely to agree” when asked if their associations create opportunities for inclusion-focused events and that inclusion is integrated into everyday behaviors in the association.

I’m curious, how do you think your members and staff will respond to this key finding?  

What is a Welcoming Environment®?
Association Forum defines a Welcoming Environment as an environment that installs a sense of belonging and connectedness and engages individuals in an authentic manner. An environment in which uniqueness is valued, respected and supported through opportunities and interaction. By welcoming the thoughts and ideas of those from diverse backgrounds, we can approach the challenges of tomorrow in new and creative ways.

About the Author

Michelle Mason, FASAE, CAE, is the president and CEO of Association Forum.

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