An Association EDI Journey for a Better World

Associations take on big journeys. The journey toward stronger membership services. The journey that navigates strategic planning and new partnerships. The journey of rebranding and marketing automation. All are examples of long and valuable roads, but perhaps nothing reaches further into the future as the association journeys that are destined to brighten humanity.

“Humans showing up for humans,” is how Sharon Portelli, CAE, reflects on the catalyst that empowered her association membership, staff, and board of directors in an inspiring new journey; the pursuit of policy and action to support Equality, Diversity, and Inclusion.

As the Executive Director of the Association of Registered Interior Designers of Ontario (ARIDO), Sharon has a team motivated to be a champion of change for the overlooked and underrepresented. Their focus on Equality, Diversity, and Inclusion (EDI) sets an example for associations that are also committed to make progress for society in terms of promoting fairness and respect while making a statement about inequity and injustice.

Sharon said the ARIDO membership was already gently nudging the association forward on Equality, Diversity, and Inclusion initiatives at the time of the murder of George Floyd and the outcry expressed by the Black Lives Matter (#BLM) movement in June 2020.

“Our members were directly asking what we were going to do in response. So while the Board and staff knew this was important, that was the signal to us to start taking action.”

The ARIDO process – or journey as Sharon refers to it – started with a Board statement of commitment to addressing EDI, followed by the creation of a core committee and then a decision to bring in a consultant with expertise leading EDI development.

“The consultant has been key to our journey,” says Sharon. “Without that guidance, we would have missed out on opportunities for real discovery and growth. We never would have gone as deep into our learning, which means we would have missed the mark on what we are trying to accomplish.”

ARIDO also participated in “terminology training” and has recently developed a survey to gain EDI insights from its membership. While the research and training are helpful in forming a basis of understanding, they are just the beginning of the process.

Sharon warns that associations could find themselves wrapped up in the misconception that the EDI journey has a finish line, resulting in policies or communication strategies, but this work goes deeper.

“It’s important to drop any notion that this is a race toward an end goal. You need to be okay with not knowing where you are going to land or what the result of the journey will produce. Letting go of control is a leadership growth opportunity.”

Sharon advises, “Stop the cut and paste. The EDI journey involves more than watching what other organizations are doing, and trying to replicate someone else’s communications techniques. What we see other organizations do for their members, doesn’t mean it will resonate for our members.”

With nearly 25 years of association experience (and having earned her CAE designation in 2009), Sharon recognizes that an EDI initiative of any magnitude could be a daunting journey for any organization. However, she emphasizes the importance of taking that journey.

“By changing how we approach EDI in our associations we are opening the doors to new collaborations, new voices and new members. A valuable outcome for all.

“The next generation of our members are socially aware and place value on a human approach to business. They view themselves as humans first and professionals second, which is how we should be operating as well,” said Sharon.

No matter the size of any membership or capacity of its staff, an association’s network is its best resource, she said. Making progress towards creating an inclusive and diverse association can happen at any budget by using the resources around us and asking for help from others.

“Engage the membership to be open because a big signal of inclusivity is a place where people know that their voice is being heard. Humans showing up for humans – it’s changing the attitude of doing business because it’s changing the world.”

Co-written by Cathy Bouwers & Robert Pye, CSAE members and volunteers of the FORUM committee. Cathy is the Communications Manager for Canadian Society for Medical Laboratory Science. Robert is Business Development & Corporate Messaging Manager for the Ontario Federation of Anglers and Hunters.