The Association Diversity Challenge

Nominate your inspirational women in trade associations by the 6th February 2023!

Diversity for many associations is still a challenge, particularly for those who represent traditionally male-dominated sectors.

Traditional associations derive their activists, volunteers and often their staff teams from their members, with individuals often moving to and from associations and their member businesses.

The diversity of an association therefore often reflects the diversity of their sector.

In many ways this is inevitable. Associations need to be experts in their sectors, they need to understand how it works both in detail and in practice. They need to understand all the nooks and crannies, the people, the culture and the industry politics too.

So, in many ways, associations need to overcompensate with their focus on diversity, encouraging unrepresented groups to participate in the association, and also actively seeking diverse candidates into appropriate roles. 

The current labour market has proved challenging on this front, our member benchmarking survey published in November last year, showed that associations are struggling to recruit, and are concerned about retaining talent.

The Trade Association Forum as the ‘association of associations’ wants to play our part as well. 

We exist to bring members together, develop communities and encourage the sharing of best practice. There are some great examples of associations leading the way to encourage their sectors to be more diverse. Including the two associations shortlisted for ‘Diversity Initiative of the Year’ for this year’s Trade Associations Awards:

  • The British Beer and Pub Association launched the first-ever Diversity and Inclusion Charter for breweries and pubs; a sector-wide commitment to embed practices throughout members’ businesses from boardroom to the bar. 
  • RenewableUK launched a Switch List, an industry-sourced list of women in the industry specialists in their field, ready and able to participate in panels, be speakers, keynotes or roundtable representatives. The list is open-access and for use by the whole energy industry and trade bodies to ensure that there can never be the excuse that ‘there aren’t any women who know about this topic’. 

These are great initiatives that we are proud to celebrate with our awards, but we want to use our platform to highlight other stories as well.

This is why we have launched a new initiative with the FSB and the CBI to celebrate women in Associations. We are building the Women in Trade Association Powerlist to publish on International Women’s Day, and bringing together for the first time inspirational women from across the sector to act as a demonstration of the incredible female talent we are lucky enough to have. To coin a phrase, “You can’t be it if you can’t see it.”

We also want to encourage associations to attract and recruit from a wider pool of candidates, which is why we are working to promote associations as a great place to grow and develop your career. We are currently reviewing our training and development offer, and working with our recruitment partners Membership Bespoke and Ellwood Atfield to develop best practice around recruitment and retention.

We are also working with other partners including the Chartered Institute of Public Relations (CIPR)  to build networks of PR and Public Affairs and communications professionals in associations to champion the work that they do.

In the future, we think that TAF should be the place where anyone working in or looking to work in an association goes when they need professional support and advice about how to build and develop their career in Associations.

You can play your part too.  

Nominate your inspirational women in association by the 6th February:

Your hands are already full to overflowing with the endless pressures, demands and responsibilities of a workplace where everything needed to be done yesterday. So, it’s unsurprising that you quite simply don’t have time to think about D&I (diversity and inclusion) in your business. Or, you might think it’s for bigger companies with massive resources, and that it doesn’t apply to you at the smaller end of the scale.

In truth, there are many and varied narratives around D&I in small businesses all over the country.

Perhaps you’d love to get fully behind D&I, but you’re too time-poor to make any serious headway. Or, do you fall in to the “Why bother?” camp. You might not yet know enough about D&I to understand the benefits to your businesses and to society. So, you choose to sidestep it.

Do any of these scenarios resonate? If so, you’re in the right place. Read on.

Why D&I Matters So Much

Sitting comfortably? Good.

Take a second and visualise the people who hold power and authority in society. Hold that thought.

Now, take a closer look at them.

  • Which groups are overrepresented and which groups are underrepresented?

Move in a little bit closer still.

  • How many women are in that picture?
  • How many black women?
  • How many gay, black women?
  • How many gay, black women with disabilities are there?

Fact check: This distributional skew isn’t because one group of people is more capable or has a higher IQ than other groups. It’s because conventional systems and structures favour some groups of people more than others, and create more barriers for some groups than others.

It’s the byproduct of historical and structural inequalities and racism. They’ve been ingrained in to society for centuries, at an individual, organisational and structural level, interwoven into our –

  • Systems
  • Processes
  • Policies
  • Behaviour
  • Language
  • Culture

You might be surprised to learn that all of these combined influences make you biased at some level, even if you aren’t aware of it. It’s the result of a lifetime of absorbed stereotypes, culture, gender, society, family and life experiences.

The good news about bias- whether you’re aware of having any or not – is that there’s plenty you can do to mitigate it, because the brain is malleable and capable of positive change.

What’s D&I Got to Do with Your Business?

As a leader, it’s your responsibility to identify any bias that exists and to implement interventions to mitigate it. Otherwise, it’s unlikely that you’re providing equal access to opportunities to everybody. There aren’t any brownie points to be scored for doing it. It’s simply the right thing to do in contemporary and progressive society.

It might be challenging to think about bias in this way. But if it makes you feel uncomfortable or threatens you, it’s probably because you’re used to privilege. That’s why providing equity for others can subconsciously feel like something’s being taken away from you.  

So, how can you shift your mindset?

In truth, levelling the playing field and promoting equity takes a lot more than education. It takes positive and accelerated action. This is 2022, after all! The days are long gone of waiting for those at the top of the tree to wake up and smell the coffee, with a drip feed of improvement from one generation to the next.  

Does this ruffle your feathers or make you feel defensive? If so, that’s not a bad sign. In fact, it’s a plum opportunity to reframe your attitude and consider why you feel like this.

But D&I is so much more than the morally right thing to do. In addition, can supercharge your competitive edge, because diversity of thought and input empowers businesses to –

  • Innovate
  • Be more competitive
  • Boost profitability
  • Enhance employee satisfaction
  • Increase productivity
  • Improve staff retention

There are whole rafts of research that demonstrate how well-managed diverse teams outperform well-managed homogeneous teams. Do a quick Google search on McKinsey, Deloitte or Hall & Partners, and get stuck in!

Or, if you don’t need any further convincing, then stay tuned for my Top 10 D&I hacks coming soon in the next article.

For more information and tips to help you get started with D&I, please contact Shelley Green at EDI Connect.

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