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A Hard (Numbers) Thing to Talk About

When your copy of the November issue of Associations Now arrives in your mailbox this week, please do me a favor: Skip to the end. We've done some tweaking to our back-page feature, changing it from Back to You—a grab bag of statistics and anecdotes related to articles in that issue of the magazine—to Hard Numbers, a quick overview of statistics relating to a particular topic in association leadership. I'm eager to hear what you think. (Of course, once you're done with the back page, it'd be great if you could go back and read the rest of the articles too.)

The first topic I wanted to focus on in Hard Numbers is diversity, largely because it's a topic that doesn't get discussed often enough, be it in the pages of a magazine or in the larger association community. There are good reasons to keep bringing it up: One data point in Hard Numbers notes that just 14 percent of nonprofit board members are people of color.

That's a striking statistic, but what can organizations do about it? (That's the problem with just laying out numbers, of course; they can point out the urgency of something, but they do little good in terms of helping you design a strategy.) As it happens, over the weekend a former colleague of mine delivered some straight talk on the matter. Dylan Tweney, editor of the website VentureBeat, wrote a blog post titled "How to fix Silicon Valley's race problem: A 4-step program for white guys."

As the title suggests, the focus is on high-tech entrepreneurship, but much of what he says applies to other arenas, and it's rare to see such an article explicitly directed to the white male leaders of organizations who are empowered to fix the problem. The whole post is worth reading, but I was particularly struck by what Tweney says about the transformative power of talking about race in the first place, and how silence doesn't fix the problem. "[W]hen you refuse to talk about racism and race, whether from fear of embarrassment or out of ignorance, you can't learn," he writes. "If you pretend that it's just a meritocracy, or that the problem is too mysterious to be addressed, or that you yourself are not racist, you can't learn."

Needless to say, some commenters on the post are questioning whether racism in the Valley exists to the degree Tweney says it does. That, at least, opens up the discussion. But what conversations work beyond just a blog post? What can associations do within their offices and among their members to bring the discussion about diversity—and especially diverse association leadership—out into the open, with a goal of making leadership more diverse?

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