Mary Kate Cunningham, CAE is the Senior Vice President of Public Policy at ASAE: The Center for Association Leadership. Mary Kate serves as the chief advocate for ASAE’s 45,000 members before Congress and policy stakeholders. She has grown an effective, results-oriented advocacy team; garnered bipartisan support for association issues on the Hill; and expanded ASAE’s grassroots network. 

Mary Kate Cunningham
Senior Vice President Public Policy, ASAE

What inspired you to work in the international association sector? Would you recommend this career to others?  

I was inspired to work in associations as I wanted an action-oriented career. It’s amazing to see how associations bring together diverse stakeholders, often fierce competitors, and get amazing work done. I recommend association work to anyone who will listen, as it’s a special community where if you are smart and work hard, there is no limit to your career.

How do you #EmbraceEquity? Does giving a voice and a space to diverse groups make for better results?  

ASAE has been on the frontlines of embracing equity and striving to help organizations unlock the full potential of a diverse workforce and membership. For more than 20 years, ASAE has managed our Diversity Executive Leadership Program (DELP), a two-year program that supports individuals from under-represented identity groups to advance into the ranks of leadership in the association management profession. 

More broadly, ASAE’s Conscious Inclusion strategy is an action-oriented framework to help associations cultivate organizational diversity, inclusion, and belonging. ASAE Research Foundation’s work also highlights how we #EmbraceEquity. 

Four drivers of change with corresponding action briefs are: Dismantling Systemic Racism; Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion; Empowered Women; and Immigration-Driven Demography.

How important are diversity, equity, and inclusion for the future success of associations? What initiatives, projects and ideas can you share that help other understand the real value of DEI? 

It’s critical for the future success of associations that we embrace DEI on a larger scale. We know that diverse teams are smarter than homogeneous teams. Diversity in teams offers broader perspectives and gets people out of their comfort zone. 

To highlight the value of DEI in advocacy, ASAE’s ‘Fly In’ will have a panel discussion on this topic for the second year in a row. Last year this was our highest-rated panel at our legislative conference. The business case for diversity is critical in order for our message to be received well.