Why do you invest your time & efforts in association work?
Association work centres around people – helping members, connecting with them, finding ways, both large and small, to make a difference. This makes it an inspiring and dynamic environment
My experience of international associations is that they tend to draw open-minded people who are keen on working in an international environment. In my case, I was also drawn by the vision and mission around sustainability and enjoy working with like-minded people.
What are the top three success factors of impactful association work?
My secret to driving change is ensuring that all decisions are in line with our core values.
Sometimes the easiest way of doing things is not the right way of doing things, and it takes courage to stay the course. With a strong mission at the centre of my association, this is very important. It is an investment because members and staff feel it when your values shine through.
Being not-for-profit, the finances are not the driving factor behind our decisions. This is sometimes hard because we must be financially sustainable, but it is also a luxury. It allows us to choose impact over profit, and this can often be the thing which allows us to really make a difference.
What should we #ChooseToChallenge when it comes to association work?
Associations are full of women working in roles such as communication, marketing, events and administration. But if you look at the top decision-makers, in my experience it is still extremely male dominated.So the first challenge is to acknowledge this, acknowledge that we should seek gender balance at top management level, and create policy to allow this.
Secondly, in my experience male members tend to me more engaged than female members (my sector, public transport, is itself male dominated). But we know our service portfolio is designed to suit men, not women. Having women in mind when designing and redesigning services is really key in order to attract them.
Thirdly, we must give a platform to the female members and leaders who are engaged, making sure they are visible and involved, to hopefully inspire their successors.
Fourth, manels (man-only panels) should frankly be illegal and it still amazes me how many of them I see! But you need to provide tools to your staff to build gender-balanced panels until it becomes second nature because it’s amazing how quickly they forget…
Lastly, unconscious bias is alive and kicking and needs to be addressed through awareness raising and training!
Oh and one final thing – men are not the enemy, but neither should they sit back and let the women drive this issue for fear of interfering. Without the men actively making space for women and supporting change, it will not happen.
How is the association sector dealing with diversity and inclusion? Has it changed?
This is a real hot topic right now. Our Executive Board of members has gone from fully male just a few years ago to 20% women. Up for renewal this year, we are potentially going to double this percentage.
This does not happen by accident: awareness raising, policy and actively inviting women to get involved has helped drive this improvement. We recently set up a Diversity & Inclusion working group and were blown away by the response. Every activity we do in this area gets huge attention and engagement.
So my advice would be to get out there and beat the drum – it is proven beyond doubt that diversity in all its forms is always positive in the work place, but it needs constant attention and policy to bring about change. You also need a champion – find a Board member or Director who supports the cause and you will go much further, much quicker.
And also, you might need to review your usual ways of working. We are learning that women want shorter, more focused events, are less interested in networking but more interested in techniques such as small break-out sessions. Ask them – they will tell you what they want.