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Press Release: Association Forum conducts historic diversity, equity & inclusion research in its Welcoming Environment® study

By Adam Natali posted 06-03-2020 17:12


CHICAGO (June 1, 2020)— Association Forum has embarked on the next phase of its Welcoming Environment initiative through completion of a national research study to validate practices and assumptions on diversity, equity and inclusion. A Welcoming Environment is part of Association Forum’s core values and defined as the creation of a sense of belonging and connectedness that engages individuals in an authentic manner in which uniqueness is valued, respected and supported through opportunities and interaction.

“A Welcoming Environment drives deeper engagement and increased participation within the association community and will ultimately increase revenue and build sustainable relationships,” says Michelle Mason, CEO of Association Forum.

Association Forum partnered with association consulting firm, McKinley Advisors, to conduct research and facilitate leadership discussions with an aim to understand the current state of equity and inclusion efforts in the association sector.

“We want to shed light on the tools, approaches, successes and challenges that associations are facing as they attempt to accelerate their programs in creating organizations that embody the tenets of Welcoming Environments,” Mason adds.

The research was supported by 12 co-sponsoring organizations, including: American Academy of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation; American Planning Association; American Society of Anesthesiologists; Apra; Association of Equipment Manufacturers; Association of Women’s Health, Obstetric and Neonatal Nurses; Illinois City/County Management Association; Institute of Real Estate Management; National Association of Personal Financial Advisors; National Society of Genetic Counselors; SmithBucklin; Society of Actuaries; and Wisconsin City/County Management Association.

The study would not have been possible without the support of these organizations. Ten organizations participated in member surveys, yielding more than 5,000 unique responses. Two organizations participated in staff surveys. In addition to electronic surveys, McKinley held interviews with key stakeholders and reviewed literature on diversity, equity and inclusion.


Key findings & further exploration

A full report on the findings will be distributed in July 2020 to coincide with Association Forum’s Virtual National Summit on Welcoming Environment on July 22, 2020. The survey focused on four key areas of exploration:

  1. Are associations representative of their industry or sector?
  2. What are the perceptions of association members and staff about how well the association is doing in terms of diversity, equity & inclusion?
  3. What challenges are associations facing in implementing action-oriented tactics to foster diversity, equity & inclusion?
  4. What diversity, equity & inclusion topics, areas or initiatives are most important to association members and/or staff?


The research found that generally, both members and staff have neutral opinions of the success their associations have with creating a Welcoming Environment. Furthermore, members and staff reported that their associations have not been successful at having diverse leadership or weaving inclusion into daily communications.

While there seems to be plenty of awareness around diversity, the struggle for most organizations is making inclusion a part of everyday operations. “This research reveals common challenges faced by associations integrating a Welcoming Environment,” noted Mason. “Given these findings, Association Forum can now provide the right tools to address these challenges and help push the entire association community toward a more inclusive space.”


About Association Forum 
Association Forum’s mission is to "advance the professional practice of association management." Founded in 1916, Association Forum serves 47,000 association professionals whose efforts serve more than 37 million members and generate $22 billion in global annual expenditures. For more information, visit