Why affinity groups matter.Association staff, members, and volunteer leaders are increasingly making requests - and sometimes demands - to form or join special-interest, advocacy, or professional-development groups based on race, age, physical ability, ethnicity, sexual orientation sexual orientation
The direction of one's sexual interest toward members of the same, opposite, or both sexes, especially a direction seen to be dictated by physiologic rather than sociologic forces. , and gender. In this highly charged environment of political correctness politically correct
adj. Abbr. PC
1. Of, relating to, or supporting broad social, political, and educational change, especially to redress historical injustices in matters such as race, class, gender, and sexual orientation. , how should association executives respond? And what is the value of such groups to our own associations and to us as individuals?
When my colleague requested support to join a national professional association, she was unprepared for her boss's reaction. The organization she wanted to join? The National Association of Black Accountants, Greenbelt, Maryland Greenbelt is a city in Prince George's County, Maryland, United States. Contained within today's City of Greenbelt is the historic, planned community now known locally as "Old Greenbelt." Greenbelt's population was 21,456 at the 2000 census. . Her boss's reaction? "That's ridiculous," he said. "Why don't you join the regular association for accountants? You don't see us having an association for white accountants, do you? We're just accountants," he said.
His reaction isn't that unique. "Let's get beyond these differences and all get along" is most usually heard from the majority culture, notes Leslie Smith Leslie Charles Smith, OBE (6 March 1918 – 26 May, 2005), was a co-founder of Lesney Products, the company famous for making Matchbox cars. Biography
Smith was born in Enfield, Middlesex, left school at the age of 14, and was working as an export buyer in London when , associate director of the National Association for Female Executives This article or section is written like an .
Please help [ rewrite this article] from a neutral point of view.
Mark blatant advertising for , using . (NAFE NAFE National Association for Female Executives
NAFE National Association of Forensic Economics
NAFE National Academy of Forensic Engineers
NAFE Non-Advanced Further Education (UK) ), New York City New York City: see New York, city.
New York City
City (pop., 2000: 8,008,278), southeastern New York, at the mouth of the Hudson River. The largest city in the U.S. .
This attitude is not reason for blame, but instead underscores the need for education and awareness. While most of us are too politically correct politically correct Politically sensitive adjective Referring to language reflecting awareness and sensitivity to another person's physical, mental, cultural, or other disadvantages or deviations from a norm; a person is not mentally retarded, but to verbalize it, some of us wonder if groups based on diversity dimensions such as race, age, physical ability, ethnicity, sexual orientation, and gender actually heal society or break it apart. We fear alienating other constituents or diluting our mission if we form internal groups or collaborate with external groups based on these criteria.
Association executives can navigate these sometimes turbulent waters by
1. acknowledging and not diminishing our stakeholders' needs for community;
2. developing principles to guide the discussion of affiliation requests;
3. ensuring that there are business rationales for group formation or membership;
4. checking our own assumptions about core identity groups and acknowledging the responsibility we have because of our "power" to approve or disapprove of group validity;
5. recognizing the value that these affiliations may bring to our own association; and
6. entering into dialogue with minority-focused associations or employee and special-interest groups in our own industry.
What are we afraid of?
Many of us who react negatively to the formation of groups that represent a segment of our population may do so out of fear, either spoken or unspoken. We wonder what "they" are talking about when "they" meet, and we worry about the demands "they" may bring to the association. We may also be fearful of the drain on limited staff and financial resources needed to administer such groups. We may feel somehow threatened by "them." More likely, we just don't know Don't know (DK, DKed)
"Don't know the trade." A Street expression used whenever one party lacks knowledge of a trade or receives conflicting instructions from the other party. how to respond.
Roosevelt Thomas, author of Beyond Race and Gender (AMACOM AMACOM American Management Association Books, 1991) and Redefining Diversity (AMACOM Books, 1996) is founding president of the American Institute for Managing Diversity, Atlanta, and now chief executive officer of Atlanta-based R. Thomas Consulting and Training. Network groups "may start off as aggressive and assertive, and I've seen people worry about them," he says, "but I've never seen one that declares, 'We're trying to undo the organization.'"
While such groups may form because they perceive that the organization lacks a supportive environment for them, their mission is typically positive, not negative as we may fear. Sometimes, as Smith notes, we anticipate that there's some great revolution afoot, but "that's not what's going on What's Going On is a record by American soul singer Marvin Gaye. Released on May 21, 1971 (see 1971 in music), What's Going On reflected the beginning of a new trend in soul music. at these meetings." NAFE meetings are focused on "very practical, how-to information. We're not plotting to overthrow the capitalist structure," she laughs.
Community and validation
Anita Rowe, co-author of Managing Diversity: A Complete Desk Reference and Planning Guide (Irwin Professional Publishing, 1993) reminds us that as humans we have "such a critical need to feel validated." By belonging to a group of individuals like yourself or who have undergone similar experiences, "you can put your own experience in a larger context," says Rowe, a partner in the Los Angeles-based consulting firm Noun 1. consulting firm - a firm of experts providing professional advice to an organization for a fee
business firm, firm, house - the members of a business organization that owns or operates one or more establishments; "he worked for a Gardenswartz and Rowe. "When you're a part of a little group within a larger whole, you always feel like it's your job to adapt."
She tells of a hospital in which English-only rules were being debated. One Filipino nurse remarkerd, "You just don't know how hard it is to speak a second language all day, and what a relief it is to be able to sink back into the comfort of my first language." Rowe maintains that we all need to be able to "sink back into the comfort of our first language" and, she says, "that's what That's What is one of the more idiosyncratic releases by solo steel-string guitar artist Leo Kottke. It is distinctive in it's jazzy nature and "talking" songs ("Buzzby" and "Husbandry"). we're doing when we seek out people like ourselves to form these affinity groups." This is a tenet on which the very concept of associations is based, whether our "language" is engineering, accounting, or being Asian-American.
Are we splintering?
This is separatism and it's tearing us apart, says Frederick R. Lynch, author of The Diversity Machine (Free Press, 1997). Lynch says that emphasizing race and gender doesn't help us achieve our goal of a color-blind col·or·blind or col·or-blind
1. Partially or totally unable to distinguish certain colors.
a. Not subject to racial prejudices.
b. and gender neutral society. Rather, he asserts, it reaffirms separatism and takes us further from our goal. "We're at a turning point," says Lynch. "Forming groups or associations on the basis of race and gender is in danger of taking us further away" from those ideals, he notes. Some may disagree, but an increasing number of Americans echo his views.
Why affinity groups exist
While affinity groups may be called divisive by Lynch and others, Eugene Wiggins, executive director of the National Black Association for Speech Language and Hearing (NBASLH), Washington, D.C., says the "reason minority associations exist is not because they're sticking their tongues out at the major white associations." Rather, he says, many of them exist to identify the critical issues facing their own populations and to address issues that might only be a small blip on the radar screen of larger associations.
NBASLH's national conference on at-risk children is one example of this need. "It's not that ASHA [the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association The American Speech-Language-Hearing Association (ASHA) is a professional association for speech-language pathologists, audiologists, and speech, language, and hearing scientists in the United States and internationally. , Rockville, Maryland] wouldn't have thought of it eventually," he says, but NBASLH provided the impetus for dealing with the issue. The result? "ASHA realized the importance of that conference and co-sponsored the second one."
Creating valuable networks
Some minority-focused associations formed because at the time their members weren't able to join the white association that represented their profession. The African-American members of the National Bar Association (NBA NBA
1. National Basketball Association
2. National Boxing Association
NBA (US) n abbr (= National Basketball Association) → Basketball-Dachverband (= ), Washington, D.C., couldn't join the American Bar Association American Bar Association (ABA), voluntary organization of lawyers admitted to the bar of any state. Founded (1878) largely through the efforts of the Connecticut Bar Association, it is devoted to improving the administration of justice, seeking uniformity of law in 1925 when the NBA was formed. Why don't they disband dis·band
v. dis·band·ed, dis·band·ing, dis·bands
To dissolve the organization of (a corporation, for example).
1. now that membership in the ABA is open to them? "Just because they let you in," says Executive Director John Crump, "[doesn't mean] you burn your own house down."
Smith contemplates a similar scenario. "Even if there's a day when there's no glass ceiling and women have achieved parity in the workplace, I think NAFE would still exist because human beings have a need to bond with people like themselves," she muses.
Michele Fantt Harris, director of human resources for the Association of American Medical Colleges Association of American Medical Colleges,
n.pr a nonprofit organization founded in 1876 to reform medical education and represent medical schools, major teaching hospitals, scientific and academic faculty, medical students, and residents. , is past president of both the Human Resource Association of the National Capital Area (formerly the Washington Personnel Association) and the Black Human Resources Network (BHRN BHRN Balkan Human Rights Network ) - all of Washington, D.C. At present, she serves on the national board of directors of the Society for Human Resource Management This article or section is written like an .
Please help [ rewrite this article] from a neutral point of view.
Mark blatant advertising for , using . (SHRM SHRM Society for Human Resource Management
SHRM Saw Horse Roof Mount (construction) ), based in Alexandria, Virginia. So she has experienced the issue of "belonging" from several vantage points.
Harris says that BHRN provides her with "something lacking in other groups." It answers "my need as an African-American professional," she says, and allows me to "bond with those who are like me, facing the same things," whether being the only minority in your department or the subtle racism that only people of color Noun 1. people of color - a race with skin pigmentation different from the white race (especially Blacks)
people of colour, colour, color
race - people who are believed to belong to the same genetic stock; "some biologists doubt that there are important can really see.
What are the three main benefits BHRN offers its members? Harris ticks them off easily: "a sense of community in which to talk about common issues; networking and sharing of job opportunities; and good, solid professional development."
Devonne Bilal, manager of CHEMSTA_R Services for the Chemical Manufacturers Association, Arlington, Virginia, says she needs the connection with other people of color, but in a social rather than a professional context. "My parents always asked me," she says, "are you striving to be the best African-American or the best?"
In fact, NAFE's Smith suggests that it's best for one's personal and professional development not to limit networking to one group. Rather, she maintains, we all need to seek at least four kinds of networking groups. Her examples: 1) people who do what we do for a living; 2) mixed industry, groups; 3) groups of the opposite gender; and 4) a volunteer network.
Keith J. Greene, SHRM's director of chapter and professional emphasis group relations, says that the association's professional emphasis groups are based only on function or industry. "We've made a philosophical decision not to establish PEGs based on any other diversity dimension," he explains, adding that SHRM's goal "is to represent the interests of the profession. We don't think that physical characteristics or personal preferences are relevant to that professionalism." Greene doesn't apologize for the decision: "You have to be prepared to take a position and defend it," he says.
At American Express Financial Advisors (AEFA AEFA American Express Financial Advisors
AEFA Asociación Española de Farmacéuticos Analistas
AEFA Average Emission Factor Approach
AEFA Advanced Engineering Flight Activity
AEFA Fleet Replenishment Ship (Royal Navy) ), Minneapolis, groups that want recognition must represent one of the core dimensions of diversity recognized by the company: race, age, gender, ethnicity, sexual orientation, or physical ability. AEFA, and many other organizations, adhere to a definition of diversity in which these "primary'" or immutable IMMUTABLE. What cannot be removed, what is unchangeable. The laws of God being perfect, are immutable, but no human law can be so considered. dimensions of diversity are distinguished from "secondary" dimensions of diversity, such as education level, parental status, religion, marital status marital status,
n the legal standing of a person in regard to his or her marriage state. , or geographic location, among others. Richard Gaskins gas·kin
1. The part of the hind leg of a horse or related animal between the stifle and the hock.
2. gaskins Obsolete Galligaskins.
[Probably short for galligaskins.] , vice president of the Diversity Resource Center at AEFA, says the organization has made a business decision to focus on the primary dimensions of diversity first. It is, he says, a question of available resources. Because of that, a request to form a group based on religion, for example, would be denied at present. As Thomas noted, "It's acceptable to say no" if you're clear about the reasons for saying no.
Terrence Simmons, president of Simmons Associates, Inc., New Hope, Pennsylvania New Hope, formerly Coryell's Ferry, is a borough in Bucks County, Pennsylvania, USA. The population was 2,252 at the 2000 census. Geography
New Hope is located at (40.360312, -74.957203)GR1. , suggests that when employees or members ask for recognition as a group, we should compare their mission and purpose against the organization's core values. "If their focus is in concert with your values," he says, "the decision becomes easier."
The greater good
Gay and lesbian members of ASHA were organized before they were formally recognized as L'GASP L'GASP Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Audiologists and Speech-Languate Pathologists (Lesbian and Gay Audiologists and Speech-Language Pathologists). At some point in their evolution, ASHA invited the group's leaders to share their list of concerns. Like the other groups that comprise the ASHA coalition of minority concerns, they were able to successfully articulate their concerns in a way that meshed with the larger organization's mission.
Having a broad constituency to serve is an issue that Vicki Deal-Williams can relate to in her position as associate director of multicultural affairs for ASHA. She knows that if 20 proposals are on the table at ASHA, the question will be, "How far-reaching are the effects of this particular proposal?" Leadership must concentrate first on those programs that will have the greatest effect for the greatest good. But, she acknowledges, we "need to pay attention to these smaller groups. Their size doesn't make their issues any less important for the people who are affected by them."
With rapid demographic changes occurring in the United States, minority- and majority-focused associations may find even more need for collaboration in the future. As Thomas says, "In the midst Adv. 1. in the midst - the middle or central part or point; "in the midst of the forest"; "could he walk out in the midst of his piece?"
midmost of the differences, we can pursue collective objectives."
Notes Deal-Williams, "We got a call from a member suddenly faced with a child who speaks among, and without a clue what to do." She will no doubt turn to one of ASHA's Asian caucuses for help. "It has to be a joint effort, or it won't work," she observes.
Wiggins offers a similar observation on NBASLH's relationship with ASHA: "This is not a one-way street. There is a great deal of mutual respect." Krista Martin, publisher for the National Society of Black Engineers National Society of Black Engineers (commonly known as NSBE), founded in 1975 at Purdue University, is one of the largest student-run organizations in the US, centered on improving the recruitment and retention of African-American engineering students. , notes of the relationship between NSBE NSBE National Society of Black Engineers and the larger National Society of Professional Engineers The National Society of Professional Engineers (NSPE) is a professional engineering organization in the United States. From their press releases:
- both of Alexandria, Virginia - that "NSPE NSPE National Society of Professional Engineers
NSPE Nova Scotia Provincial Exhibition (Truro, Nova Scotia)
NSPE Navy Senior Procurement Executive does wonderful things, but they can't do what we do as well as we do it, and we can't do what they do as well as they do it."
Addressing the sometimes emotional issues surrounding affinity groups is an incremental process and requires a long-term strategy that calls for personal awareness and organizational flexibility.
Consider the following six action steps:
1. Join an association in which you have shared interests but in which you will be a minority. You will gain interesting insight into what it feels like to be in the minority at meetings and conferences as well as into the professional concerns of your peers. This awareness will help you in your efforts to make your own organization more inclusive.
2. Gain an understanding of the business reasons for group membership. If staff requests your support of their membership in groups that undergird their personal and professional identity, ask them to provide the business reasons for joining and don't belittle be·lit·tle
tr.v. be·lit·tled, be·lit·tling, be·lit·tles
1. To represent or speak of as contemptibly small or unimportant; disparage: a person who belittled our efforts to do the job right. their desire to join that network. Ask them to provide information to enhance your own association's understanding of the particular needs and interests of that group.
3. Develop process guidelines so that you will be ready if asked to formally recognize an employee or member group. Ask the group to present its mission and business plan and compare it with the mission and core values of the association. If they don't mesh, say no and explain why. If they do mesh, explore together ways to work together - as partners, not as "big brother."
4. Explore other associations and groups in your industry and forge relationships with them as peers. Acknowledge their existence; offer collaboration on mutual issues; take their lead on the type of assistance they may be seeking, if any; and invite their leadership to your own meetings.
5. Recognize that addressing diversity issues is an evolutionary and incremental process, not a static one. ASHA's office of multicultural affairs began 30 years ago as the office of urban and ethnic affairs. Somewhere in between it was called the office of minority concerns. Its focus has evolved just as its name has.
6. If you're unsure how to relate to an employee group or minorityfocused association, ask. Our attention to diversity offers unlimited opportunities for communication - and, unfortunately, for judgment. We need collaboration and dialogue on sometimes uncomfortable or awkward issues. We can't afford to let language get in the way.
Seeking a common language
Someone once told me the story of a man who walked into a campus cafeteria where he immediately noticed the segregation of students. At one table, he saw all African-American students. At the next, all Hispanic students, and at the next, all white students.
Dismayed, he was delighted to see a table of students of all races at the back of the cafeteria. As he got closer, he realized that they were all speaking to each other in sign language. They, too, had found a community in which they felt comfortable and in which they shared - in this case, literally - a common language.
Patricia Digh is a Washington D.C.-based writer and consultant focusing on workplace globalization globalization
Process by which the experience of everyday life, marked by the diffusion of commodities and ideas, is becoming standardized around the world. Factors that have contributed to globalization include increasingly sophisticated communications and transportation and diversity. She currently serves as vice chair of the ASAE ASAE American Society of Association Executives
ASAE American Society of Agricultural Engineers (Society for Engineering in Agricultural, Food, and Biological Systems)
ASAE Alkali-Sulfite-Anthraquinone-Ethanol Diversity Committee and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.