Diversity & Inclusion Finally Driving Association Priorities

Because demographic forecasts are reasonably reliable, thanks to census data, every US association has at least talked for some time about the future majority minority nation.  Diversity and inclusion is at last moving from a topic of moderate commitment to a significant strategic priority.

Here’s a good U.S. Census recap of these demographic forecasts to keep handy.  We will have a majority minority nation by 2043—an earlier arrival of this shift than was first anticipated.  Non-Hispanic white population will peak in 2024 while one in three will be Hispanic Americans by 2060. And more of us will be older with one in five Americans over age 65.  

There used to be some organizations and communities sufficiently insulated from these changes to push diversity to the backburner.  You still hear remnants of “should do” thinking when earnest people talk about having to make the business or innovation case for diversity and inclusion. Hey, time’s up. The case you better be making is for relevance and survival. 

In our work, we saw associations whose members work with children wake up first.  Almost a decade ago the National Elementary School Principals in its Vision 2021 project got serious about educating a diverse and potentially less advantaged student population.  The elementary school principals embraced a vision of educating the whole child whoever and whatever each child might need.

When we examined the postsecondary education population in 2011 with the National Association for College Admission Counseling we saw the need for the traditional counseling role to change to serve “nontraditional” students who are more diverse and often older.  Helping their members serve an increasingly diverse and nontraditional student population influenced three of NACAC’s four strategic goals. The fundamentals of ethical counseling and effective preparation are critical to all students' ollege success

Other associations are finding diversity is a pressing workforce and societal priority.  To secure a good future for their members, these associations are working to close the gap between the demographic composition of their membership and that of society. They are stepping up their commitment to cultural competence through education and training. And as one current Signature i client is realizing, diversity has to be a top strategic goal to be relevant to the growing number of professionals and organizations responding now to these demographic shifts.

Even though more associations now have a “must do” priority for diversity and inclusion, we cannot underestimate the hard changes still ahead.   Nothing fights to preserve the status quo like privilege and power. These forces can slow down how quickly different people can move into governance seats and bring their life experiences to bear in identifying and leading the priorities and cultural changes that will keep associations relevant.

Profound societal changes always take more time than they we would prefer and this can be frustrating.  It is frustrating for futurists who share the forecasts with ample time for organizations to act.  It is frustrating for those who feel underserved or ignored.  We can be encouraged that diversity and inclusion is finally a serious priority for a growing number of associations.