Bringing the all-stars to bat

It’s rare that I do two AAC posts in one week, but the discussion that has developed since Jeffrey Cufaude’s post Getting More Players on the All-Star Team has struck a chord with me.  It’s a subject I know all too well and wanted to offer a slightly different perspective on it.

I am a 37 year-old african-american female association lobbyist.  Now, name five of your colleagues who fall into this same category.  Even better, name five of your colleagues of the same age, race and gender who do education or meeting planning or information technology.  Challenging right?  Dare I say, impossible?  Obviously, we have colleagues who are my age, race, and gender who work for associations.  But you don’t see many of them.  And sadly, neither do I. 

There are many reasons why we’re not that visible.  Some of us choose not to be.  Some of us are just trying to keep our heads afloat in the office.  Some of us have priorities outside the association community.  But what about those of us who want to make an impact?  Is it a matter of waiting for an opportunity to come along or creating one for ourselves? 

The one reason I constantly talk about DELP is because, quite frankly, very few people do.  This program serves as a training ground for developing today’s association leaders.  DELP scholars represent different races, ethnicities, ages, physical abilities, sexual orientation, gender, and geographical areas.   We serve on boards and committees. We’re mid and senior level professionals.  A few are executive directors.  Many have earned the CAE.  In fact, in my class of 2008-2009, 7 of the 10 scholars are CAEs.  A number of DELP scholars have been recognized by their local associations for their leadership.  In most cases, serving as the first minority to gain such recognition. 

And yet, for all of that success, no one knows who the hell we are. 

It doesn’t matter why that is.  What matters is how do we increase the visibility of DELP scholars?  Making progress in addressing issues of diversity and inclusion is a two-way street.  It’s great to be asked to be part of a superstar panel, but what if that opportunity doesn’t exists?  What am I going to do to create the opportunity if one isn’t offered to me?  As DELP scholars, we have been challenged to put ourselves out there.  To let people know we are here and ready to work even if it’s not always desirable.  Is DELP the end-all, be-all to diversity and inclusion?  Absolutely not.  We only represent a tiny segment of a small, but growing population of association professionals.  However, you’re not going to find a better pool of thought leaders than our little family.

Today I challenge my association colleagues and DELP scholars to look at your network and ask yourself, “Is this the extent of my all-star team?”  We can all benefit by differences in thought and culture.  It’s time we all expand our universe.


11 thoughts on “Bringing the all-stars to bat

  1. So glad you jumped into the conversation and brought another perspective to it. Increasing visibility—of the talent in our midst, of the opportunities available, of an individual’s willingness to get involved or to collaborate, and much more— really is a critical part of what will produce different results. And the great thing is that nowadays the opportunities to create your own volunteer contribution opportunity are pretty endless. It just takes some initiative.

  2. Just as I am glad for all you write, I am especially glad for this post. I saw and commented on Jeffrey’s post ( ) and think the conversation is an important one.

    In what I wrote to Jeffrey’s blog was that we need to make DELP scholars, present and past, more visible and to provide real opportunities for leadership. I wrote there and repeat here:
    >>DELP: I asked ASAE why there wasn’t a DELP scholar on every council and committee. Not a “diversity” seat; rather a seat for DELP scholars who are promised mentors and leadershp opportunities. Matching Scholars interests and having new voices makes a difference. I hope this can be done for the future.<<

    Diverse opinions and experiences bring a richness to any conversation. As Jeffrey wrote above, it takes some initiative. We have that. What do we do with it?

    (btw: I can easily name 30-something African-American female meeting planners.)

  3. @Jeffrey – Thank you for writing that post. I know it wasn’t easy given the slight backlash you endured. Hopefully, with ASAE taking a renewed interest in diversity and inclusion with its 2012-2014 strategic plan, this will begin the journey to finally acknowledging our challenges with this issue and finding real solutions.

    @Joan – I knew you wouldn’t have trouble with names, but you’re the exception, not the rule. I saw your comment on Jeffrey’s post and glad you brought it up here. I would love to have DELP scholars serve every council or committee. It should a require for all DELPers as part of our leadership development. If a guaranteed seat is not possible/desirable/appropriate, I’d like to see the chairs outreach to DELP prior to the ASAE call for volunteers to encourage their participation. We’re strongly encouraged (but not required) to participate in the call for volunteers within our network, but it would be great to also have that come from the committees themselves.

  4. Well said Stef! I also want to thank Jeff Cufaude for getting the conversation started. As one of your DELP colleagues, I hope we can help move this conversation forward and do our part to bring about a higher level of awareness and acceptance. it ain’t gonna be easy but you know I’m ready to ride “shot gun” on this journey!

  5. Nice post Stephanie. I know we feel the same way on this which leads me to a question for Jeffrey and Joan and others for that matter. Since when did a difference in race or any other difference maker mean you have a diversity of thought? I know numerous african-americans who think the same as me and caucasians who think much differently than me on issues of association management, meeting planning and governance and even life in general. I don’t think diversity in ethnic groups always means you have diversity of thought.

    Again, I raise the issue I also wrote in Jeffrey’s post… groups forming committees and panels need to make sure they make the offering to “everyone” and give “everyone” the opportunity to serve in those capacities. Just as important is groups like DELP need to step up and step forward to serve in those capacities which is exciting to hear Stephanie say they are. As I also said in that post, I’ll be first in line to address any group on firing them up for stepping up and stepping out.

  6. Tom: As you note, people who may look different on the outside, may think similarly on some issues. And people who may share common external characteristics still have great diversity between them. You seem to assert Joan and I are making generalizations, but how is the language that “numerous African-Americans think like me” any different? You may share some views in common, but are you suggesting there is no diversity of opinion between you on anything?

    My original post focused on two elements: (1) the all-white makeup of the panel and its 4-1 ratio of men-women, and (2) the fact that all of us invited to present are well-known players in the association arena who are regularly heard from.

    I believe that it is important to try to ensure that the front of the room (who is speaking at a conference) in some way reflects the rest of the room and the profession, both in its present composition and its unfolding future. You may not.

    But whether you like it or not, one of the ways people look to determine if an organization is a place where they will feel welcome relates to its overall composition and what they see in front of them at any given moment. Every community has multiple defining elements to it. If what someone sees are the same faces they already see and people who on the outside may not look like them, it could … repeat again, could … make them wonder if they are going to feel welcome and included.

    That doesn’t mean we only associate with people who look like us or think like us, but one of the ways people connect are around elements of identity that are important to them and that they share with others. I’ve spoken at conferences dominated by industry types where the small number of academics sought each other out to bond based on that commonality even though there was tremendous diversity even within that one shared characteristic (different sizes of schools, different courses of study, different positions on campus, etc.).

  7. This is a conversation in which I wish the Board and staff of ASAE were involved — and other professional organizations serving the meetings/hospitality/association/foundation communities as well. This is about diversity of who the “faces of an association” are, about a particular panel, about DELP scholars and the mentoring (both ways), and so much more.

    My suggestion to have a “DELP seat” (and a “Emerging Professionals” – or YAP – or whatever the current name is seat) on each ASAE committee or council was because I want DELP scholars and younger voices to be represented. Of course there are DELP scholars, regardless of religous or gender identity, abilities, race, national origin, sexual orientation, who are “like me.” Dare I say that a number of former scholars are some of my dearest friends – personal and professional?

    For years, I’ve asked how we can involve DELP scholars more, living the paper commitment. I specifically asked someone w/ influence on the Div. Cmte. last year to ask the scholars to apply for the Ethics Cmte. No one did.

    Like with other issues (ethics, social responsibility) it is easy to say there is a commitment.. as long as it’s funded. The core of an organization needs to reflect who we are and who we want to be – echoing what Jeffrey said.

    Oh if I had copies of the ASAE (PCMA, MPI) evals I completed for years that said “no more only old white men” on the stage!

    Diversity and more, inclusion, have been my life. I know what it’s like to be an ‘outsider’ even on ASAE’s Diversity Committee. I want these conversations to continue.

    Other than unfurling a big banner at an ASAE meeting with some catchy saying about these issues, what more should we do? Do we know if anyone from ASAE’s staff or Board are reading these comments? Have they been invited in?

    1. Joan, I’ll take your last question first. Yes, there are ASAE staffers who read my blog. Not sure about board members. Haven’t heard from anyone yet, but hopeful that some will be sparked by the conversation started by Jeffrey.

      As far as committees, in the future, I would ask a DELPer to push that message about considering committees other than the diversity and inclusion committee. Nothing against the D&I committee, but the best influence is peer to peer. This year, we did a virtual idea swap for DELP on volunteering. If we do that again in 2012, I will suggest having a few of the chairs talk about their committee work in hopes of getting more participation from DELP.

  8. Ok Tom – I’ll bite since I guess I can be classified under “others…”

    “Offering to everyone” doesn’t automatically equate to “everyone stepping up.” This line of reasoning is a false equivalency.

    These are systemic issues that we are grappling with, which are not limited to ASAE but go all the way to the heart of the broader social context in which we live and operate. Nobody has claimed that “diversity in race” means “diversity in thought.” The question doesn’t even come down to “how good are we at reaching out” because that can be insulting as well if you think about it. The question is, what kind of systemic changes are needed to create the ideal and what kind of personal responsibility do we have to attempt to make a change in our environment.

    Associations need to actively engage in thoughtful debate regarding broader systemic inequalities before they can claim the banner of inclusion.

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