DEI in Associations - Perceptions and Progress



An overwhelming majority of association executives believe that DEI is extremely or very important to the success of their associations (81%). (An additional 15% say that DEI is somewhat important.) With such clarity around the significance of DEI, what do these efforts look like in associations, and what perceptions are guiding them? The DEI component of Association Laboratory's Looking Forward study set out to explore this. This week's blog is the last in a 3-part series examining the study and sharing highlights. 

Characteristics and Areas Lacking Diversity

The characteristics most DEI efforts are focused on include Race (77%), Ethnicity (69%), Gender (69%) or gender identity, and Age (49%). Leaders reported the most concern about an apparent lack of diversity in the following areas:

  • Committee members or committee leadership (93%)
  • Individual members or member company leadership (90%)
  • Senior volunteer leadership (89%)
  • Subject matter experts (speakers, authors, etc.) (86%)

About which aspects of diversity is your association most concerned?

Organizational Approaches to Improving DEI

Three out of four associations characterize their DEI efforts as holistic (the entirety of the association, from internal management to external programming and communication), and 21% describe their efforts as externally focused (membership engagement, programming, advocacy, etc.). When it comes to addressing concerns about the lack of diversity, more than half of associations have adopted a DEI policy, a third are currently working on a policy, and just over 10% have no plans to adopt a policy. Where is your association on this issue? Is your association exploring adopting a DEI policy?

Most Challenging Areas

Leaders reported that the apparent lack of diversity was particularly problematic as it relates to their ability to address workforce issues within their industry or profession (71%) and create positive awareness of their industry or profession (62%).

The study also assesses the relative success of DEI efforts in six different areas:

  • Association staff
  • Board of Directors
  • Volunteer leadership
  • Subject matter experts
  • Association members or member company representatives
  • Members of the profession or industry served

Association leaders reported the least progress in diversifying association membership and the industry or profession.  

Are you concerned about how diversity may be impacting the success of your association? How so? 

DEI Resources 

If you're looking to explore any of these issues with your board of directors or leadership team, excellent resources are available.

In addition to the full report, discussion guides and a customizable Dashboard are available on 
Association Laboratory's website

MSAE member Advancing Organizational Excellence has done considerable work in this area. The AOE DEI Practice Group provides a data-driven solution to associations seeking to investigate and implement more effective DEI policies and procedures. For more information, contact Kimberly Kayler at

Last but not least, the Michigan League for Public Policy has information and resources available to help organizations and individuals committed to equity.