Over the past several years many organizations have begun to address the composition of their memberships. Every CEO who oversees a public institution should be closely reviewing their structure. So too, should the organization’s board of directors. In fact, any meaningful effort to be introspective should begin at the very top of the organization: it’s board composition. Who makes up your membership? Are they your audience? How do you define diversity in your community and the members you represent and serve?
Each organization is unique as are the communities they serve. There is no single, effective approach that will work for all, but there are some basics that I recommend for all.
- The CEO or Chief Administrative Staff Member should be the person who begins the conversation with his/her board leadership. If you don’t have board buy in, you are burning a lot of energy with little chance of a successful process.
- Provide your leadership with some basic statistical facts that relate to your organization. Examples: what are the demographics for your region? How do they compare to the demographics for your own organization? If they are closely aligned, you are already ahead of the game. More than likely, they are not. It is up to the CEO to demonstrate the importance of improving the diversity of the organization if the leadership wants to remain relevant to its membership and the greater community at large.
- The good news is that some great work has already been done in this arena. Reach out to your industry colleagues, associations and affiliations to seek out best practices. The US Chamber is a great resource as is the Association of Chamber of Commerce Executives (ACCE). The ACCE has an operating division, Diversity and Inclusion, which was launched through its Chamber 2020 Initiative.
Chambers of Commerce in particular, should not only be mindful of the importance of this critical societal shift, in my opinion, they must be the agents for change in their communities. In most urban areas, the Chambers of Commerce are the “go to” organization for sound, responsible public policy, education initiatives, economic development and a host of other focus areas essential to economic vitality of their regions.
If you are a Chamber professional, you already know that every function your Chamber performs affects all other operations and none more so than membership. People join Chambers of Commerce for a host of reasons that we will discuss in a future blog. Near the top of the list is a sense of belonging to something important. If the professional and social environment in your organization does not provide a genuine atmosphere that is welcoming to all or is not accepting of diverse viewpoints, recruiting new members and retaining your base becomes a major challenge. If these aren’t reasons enough to motivate your leadership to lead the way, here is one more thing to consider.
SOMEONE ELSE WILL!