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RWA Needs a Reboot. And DEI needs to be the foundation. Full Stop.

Updated: Apr 4, 2020

This post was originally a Tweet I unleashed during the #RWAShitShow scandal in Dec 2019.

It is very well known in the D&I community of strategists and practitioners that inclusion HAS to be integrated in the very foundation of your organization in order for change to happen.  This can't just be a facelift--Everything from how the board functions, how the members are treated, the policies and procedures...all of it has to be reviewed, scrutinized and changed to fit the values of RWA's new inclusive culture. This doesn't happen overnight, but it's how you make systemic changes.

And yes, having just one individual to manage the whole process is simply not scalable. Our org is too big and has far too much diversity debt. Sure, you bring in a consultant to help build a strategy and action plan for the year, everything from helping set up the advisory committee, communication plan, and guiding principles, but the BOARD and everyone  (including staff) at the top needs to participate building all of this too. It is everyone's responsibility and this is ongoing work. There's not one DEI leader I've met that has done all the initial work and said, "Welp, my work is done here." It doesn't work that way--this is for the long haul and you gotta hit some milestones to keep up trust and momentum.

All the board needs to be educated and do the work on their own biases and set an example as being an inclusive leader. My colleague, Karen Fleshman, Esq, does executive coaching and anti-racist discussions through her Racy Conversations program. Tell her I sent ya. She's fantastic. Jessica Brown also has a great book on how to be an inclusive leader and it's helped me greatly. I encourage all leaders to give it a read.

The Code of Ethics needs to have the subtext of inclusion, a deeper definition of harassment and written in plain language instead of confusing legalese. What do we stand for? What will we not allow? From how we hold our events, our conferences, the accessibility of our meetings--all of that speaks to the culture of inclusion. 

Basically, IMO, if these things below aren't happening, RWA is failing at their promise of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion:

  1. Did we build a mission statement to define why we as an org recognize this as an important foundation of our trade organization? You can say it all you want in your memos and Twitter, but until it is in writing integrated with our org's mission statement, it's just "aspirational"

  2. Stop putting discussions on inclusion in silos! This is the anti-thesis of inclusion! If this is truly a part of RWA's foundational values (as it should be), don't treat it like a side project. All forums should be able to speak on it because it should be in everything we do! Compartmentalizing talks like these perpetuate the idea that this is something "additional" to our culture. IS the culture.

  3. Have you armed your DEI Advisory board with resources and information to take the reigns after the DEI consultant leaves?  As I said, this takes a village and the consultant is only here for a short time. They need money to hold engagement surveys, help get accommodations in place for events and update policies and procedures so they align with our inclusive culture. Most DEI leaders will tell you that often they are hired, but set up for failure because the whole DEI initiative is just to "check the box" and say the org "tried."  Give them what they need to succeed. Our dues pay for it!

  4. Do you have a diversity planning process to identify and prioritize critical issues? If not, you're trying to boil the ocean and most of your tasks will fail because this takes a lot of work and you can't have your committee working on everything at once. You may have to build subcommittees depending on the level of effort on an issue. Build a timeline or roadmap to figure out what issues will be tackled first and when. And then SHARE it, so there's accountability. If not, you'll fail because you'll lose trust that anything is happening. Trust me, some issues take a long time to resolve and if you're silent, we'll assume you're doing nothing. 

  5. Do you have a communication plan? Something that will ensure that internal and external stakeholders and members understand the diversity planning process and its goals, objectives, roadmap, key decisions, and overall impact? If not, you're failing (See previous point above)

  6. Are you collecting data and analyzing to see if the changes you're making are moving the needle on loyalty, culture and member retention? If not, how will you know if anything you're doing is making a difference?  If you don't collect feedback from your members as a baseline, how will you know where you stand when you impose changes?

Now, I have no idea if any of these things were being worked on, but these are pretty big items that mean a LOT in a real strategy for creating an inclusive org. The biggest mistake companies and orgs do is underestimate how much work and time this takes to do this right.  It's easy to create some changes to badges to make them more inclusive, but ensuring all aspects of governance, events, policies, and procedures are created with inclusive values in mind, isn't a quick feelgood fix.

You are improving your culture, but the changes are part mindset, part organization. It can be done, but not without the full support of the RWA staff and board. I know a WHOLE community of DEI strategists and practitioners who can potentially help. But I'll tell RWA now--they don't work for free and they will tell you like I just told you: You better be ready to go all in. No facelift work here.

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