Association Management

How Association Leaders Can Be More Inclusive

By Trevor Mitchell • November 22, 2022

In a modern workplace, leaders need to do more than just give out paychecks and tasks. They need to set an example for their people and take initiative to ensure they are happy and comfortable in the workplace. Being a leader of an association today is a hard job to balance. But, when done correctly, leaders can create a better and more inclusive environment for their staff, volunteers, and members. 

Why Association Leaders Need to Show Empathy

When leaders set out to create a more inclusive environment at their association, empathy is a crucial aspect. Since diversity is more ubiquitous, understanding and supporting employees, volunteers, and members through their problems is now mission-critical. Leaders need to attempt to empathize with their individuals, regardless of the situation. It can be challenging when it’s an unfamiliar scenario, but empathy can help alleviate stress points. It can also help leaders understand a different point of view, even if they have never experienced it.

Leaders can use three statements to be more empathetic:

  • I feel with you.
  • I put myself in your shoes.
  • I will stand with you without fixing it.

Empathy comes down to understanding individuals for who they are and creating an environment of trust and mutual respect. Working together requires staff, volunteers and members to be engaged and focused on including others and sharing experiences and opinions to create the best possible outcome. As a leader, you are responsible for facilitating these dialogs to ensure that this occurs and is continually nurtured.

6 Skills Leaders Need to Have in Today’s Business World

While empathy goes a long way, there is more to being a successful leader in today’s world. I have found there are six specific traits leaders should attempt to develop in order to create a more inclusive environment. 

  1. Commitment. Being committed to diversity and inclusion, rooted in a belief in the business, takes time and energy. However, when done correctly over time, the diversity of ideas across an association can yield great results for associations. 
  2. Courage. This is a challenging one, as displaying courage can sometimes cause personal risk-taking and showing of flaws. However, speaking up and challenging the status quo can make leaders more relatable and allow employees to feel more comfortable in their environment. 
  3. Cognizance of bias. Leaders who are aware of their biases can help reduce or prevent decisions that are unfair or irrational. When leaders are self-aware, they will realize that there are other ideologies or philosophies besides their own, thus reducing their bias to self-clone – creating a structure that only thinks the way they do. 
  4. Curiosity. Being curious is allowing your mind to be open to other viewpoints and methodologies that can be beneficial to “complete the picture.” Leaders should ask discovery-style questions to uncover new perspectives and actively listen to the results. These are core skills leaders can utilize to explore curiosity.
  5. Cultural intelligence. Inclusive leaders adapt to the different cultures that may be present in the same workplace. It is crucial to deepen their cultural understanding and learn about other cultures without viewing them as inferior to their own. It is important to adapt to different cultures but not lose sight of their goals by overcompensating for cultural demands.
  6. Collaboration. More often than not, collaboration produces the best results because it relies on group intelligence. This is the practice of building upon each other’s ideas to produce something or solve a problem. An inclusive leader would understand that it is crucial for diverse ideas to be shared for collaboration to be successful.

If a leader can build upon these six skills, their association will greatly benefit because it creates the best environment for all of their employees to succeed. 

How Do Association Leaders Build an Inclusive Environment?

Trust and mutual respect for one another are the foundations of an inclusive environment for volunteers and staff. Working in a collaborative environment is important for the success of an association, so it is just as important for leaders to build trust in their team. When staff and volunteers have trust and respect for their fellow staff, volunteers and leaders, they are comfortable sharing their ideas and perspectives, thus, allowing for the best results possible. One way to find out different viewpoints is to have employees complete a Meyers Briggs test or use an assessment such as the Predictive Index. These assessments give insight into how individuals will behave and gravitate to the work that needs to be done to achieve a common goal. 

Leaders must be at the forefront of creating an inclusive environment in order for it to have a positive effect. From the hiring processes to holidays, promotions and beyond, creating a fair and inclusive environment that allows for collaboration will spell success for the association.      

About The Author

Trevor Mitchell, MBA, FASAE, CAE, CDP is the Executive Director and CEO of American Mensa, Ltd. and the Mensa Foundation. His focus is on helping leaders and associations create a strategic vision for the future and working to achieve it. Trevor has been involved in association management for over 15 years and has contributed to the profession through speaking, writing, and volunteering. He is currently the chair of the American Society of Association Executives (ASAE) Diversity and Inclusion Advisory Committee and Chair-elect for the Texas Society of Association Executives (TSAE).