DEI and Association Governance Practices

Are Association Boards Embracing DEI? Practices and Plans for Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion in Governance

Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion

Defining Effective Practices 

Research Report (Anticipated release Spring 2022)
Are Association Boards Embracing DEI? Practices and Plans for Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion in Governance

Research Objectives
In 2021, ASAE Research Foundation commissioned a study to examine DEI in professional and trade association board governance practices, specifically board composition, performance, and effectiveness; the current state of board DEI practices in governance; and the ways in which DEI strategies are established and measured. Importantly, this research examined how DEI practices in governance influence—such as benefits, drawbacks, and obstacles—the organization and the industry, profession, or discipline served.

This research effort was designed to answer these questions:

  • What effective strategies and actions have associations implemented to sustain DEI practices at the governance level?
  • What metrics have associations used to evaluate the success of these strategies and actions?
  • What obstacles inhibit greater success in accomplishing governance DEI goals?
  • How does an organization’s culture influence its board-level DEI strategies, actions, and goals?
  • To what degree do current association practices align or diverge with recommended nonprofit and board-level DEI practices? 

This study was conducted by Trifecta Research in three phases. Learnings from the first two phases were used to inform the phase three quantitative questionnaire.

1. Review of published literature. An exhaustive review and analysis of published content was conducted to investigate and identify:

  • Definitions for diversity, equity, and inclusion
  • Recommended DEI practices in nonprofit and association boards
  • Benefits of these practices
  • Perceived drawbacks and obstacles of sustaining board DEI practices.

2. Qualitative data collection: subject matter expert interviews. DEI experts (authors, consultants, speakers, academics, analysts, journalists, etc.) were identified, vetted, recruited, and engaged to corroborate hypotheses and refine the preliminary understanding of recommended practices identified in phase one.

3. Quantitative data collection: association professional and board member survey. An online survey of association leaders and their board members was completed to establish a benchmark of board governance, board composition, and DEI practices, as well as to measure alignment with recommended practices and perceived benefits.

Key Takeaways

  • Traditional Current State With Signs of Change. Traditional board recruiting practices result in respectful, or polite, cultures, but do not necessarily bring forth new ideas or strategic foresight. Efforts to recruit specific demographics lead to dramatic success that will not happen on its own. Change will not happen immediately, as board seats do not turn over often.
  • Diversity Gets the Attention. Diversity is the most established of the DEI elements, garners the most attention, and is the most often measured. Equity is a nascent aspect to many governance DEI practices and is in a foundational phase for those beginning to focus on it. Many boards lack a sense of urgency in addressing inclusion, likely believing current practices are sufficient.
  • Successful Practices Result in Rich Benefits. Common themes emerge for DEI practices considered most successful, including accountability to others, making a financial commitment, and aligning on important concepts for DEI.
  • Measurement is Challenging. Association boards may not be recognizing the value of setting goals and measuring results of their governance DEI practices. Meaningful metrics may be challenging to determine and are not sufficient alone—they must be tied to goals. Boards that have goals in place and track metrics are significantly more likely to realize every benefit associated with DEI in their governance practices.

Additional Resources

DEI & Governance Practices Expert Panel Q&A (Video) May 2021

Project Partners and External Project Team Members

Trifecta Research
Lynn Adelmund, MBA, Vice President
Daniel C. Arnold, MA, Managing Partner
Sharon Kinberg, Senior Research Director
Linda MacKenzie, Vice President, Client Solutions
Gabrielle Rosenfeld, MLIS, Vice President

Project Advisory Group
Cie Armstead, MPA, DBA (advisory group chair), Diversity Director, American College of Surgeons
Lowell Aplebaum, FASAE, CPF, CAE, CEO & Strategy Catalyst, Vista Cova
Karen Beverly-Ducker, MA, CAE, Director, Multicultural Resources, American Speech Language Hearing Association
Jeff De Cagna, FRSA, FASAE, Executive Advisor, Foresight First LLC
Randy Fisher, Executive Director/Chief Executive Officer, American Geophysical Union
Brian J. Haney, CLTC, CFS, CFBS, LACP, CAE, Founder and Vice President, The Haney Company
Enid-Mai Jones, MA, MSEd, CDE, ASAE DELP Scholar, Senior Vice President, Beacon Institute, Lifespan Network
Frank Krause, MBA, CAE, Executive Director and CEO, Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology
Debra N. McGuire, MBA, IOM, CAE, Executive Director, International Association of Assessing Officers
Jeffers Miruka, ASAE DELP Scholar, CEO, African Association of Agricultural Economists; President, African Society of Association Executives
Silvia Quevedo, CCP/SLP, CAE, Director of Practice Guidance and Research, Association for Professionals in Infection Control and Epidemiology
Lawrence D. Sloan, MBA, FASAE, CAE, Chief Executive Officer, American Industrial Hygiene Association‚ÄĮ
Wendy-Jo Toyama, MBA, FASAE, CAE, Chief Executive Officer, American Academy of Hospice and Palliative Medicine