Creating Welcoming and Inclusive Organizations
Working to make your branch welcoming and inclusive is a critical component of diversifying your branch. It is not uncommon to recruit new members only to see them not return after the first or second event. This problem can be a symptom of an organizational culture that does not feel welcoming or inclusive to new people, especially those who have identities that are different from the majority of members. Learn what being an inclusive branch means and steps your branch can take.
What Is an Inclusive Branch?
An inclusive branch has an “organizational environment that allows people with multiple backgrounds, mindsets, and ways of thinking to work effectively together. … In such an environment voices are respected and heard, diverse viewpoints, perspectives, and approaches are valued, and everyone is encouraged to make a unique and meaningful contribution” (Pless & Maak, 2004).
An inclusive branch actively works to eliminate all forms of discrimination and openly values diversity. It responds quickly and proactively to address exclusion and discrimination.
In an inclusive branch, current leaders and members actively recruit and welcome newcomers. They are willing to change themselves and the culture of the branch to make room for new people with diverse perspectives, ideas, and ways of working together.
Steps to Become More Welcoming and Inclusive
Read through the list below and mark the things that you do as a branch. Then identify things that you will prioritize improving.
When Planning Meetings and Programs
- Create and enforce a policy that meetings and events must be held in locations that are easily accessible for people with disabilities and comfortable for people of different backgrounds and religions. Consider alternating locations to accommodate different commuting distances.
- Plan events that are free. If this is not possible, consider having a sliding scale or suggested donation.
- Schedule meetings and events to avoid conflicts with religious and cultural holidays for different groups.
- Offer food and refreshment options that meet varied religious, dietary, and personal preferences.
During Meetings and Programs
- Encourage members to sit with and get to know people they don’t already know. Discourage cliques. Consider having a greeter to connect new participants with members as they enter.
- Make your room setup welcoming. Have enough chairs for participants, and arrange them in a circle if possible.
- Start meetings with introductions, and ask participants to share their preferred names and gender pronouns. Respect gender pronouns and gently correct others who make mistakes.
- Encourage equitable participation in discussions. Do not allow certain groups or individuals to dominate discussions at meetings and events.
- Discourage and interrupt prejudiced and derogatory language, as well as assumptions about people with certain identities.
- Use inclusive language, and encourage others to do so. For example, tell members that they are encouraged to bring their “partners” to the event instead of “husbands.”
- Diversify guest speakers. Invite speakers who are able to speak to a plurality of experiences and do not just represent the narrative of the majority of your membership. For more information on planning programs that include diverse speakers, read the Six Steps to Diverse, Engaging Programs.
- Engage the branch in activities to explore issues of diversity and inclusion. For activities, see AAUW’s diversity and inclusion activities.
- Create opportunities for members to identify and share their similarities and differences.
- Coordinate activities and events to celebrate the branch’s diversity, such as a heritage day.
Engagement and Leadership
- Conduct orientation sessions for new members or have special events so that new members feel welcomed and included.
- Provide all members with a clear pathway to developing as leaders.
- Encourage new members to become involved in activities and pursue leadership opportunities, but be flexible in accommodating personal responsibilities and other time commitments outside of the branch.
- Make decisions collaboratively when appropriate, and ensure that decision-making processes are transparent.
- Give members the opportunity to provide input in the priorities and programs of the branch.
- Include the AAUW diversity statement in branch publications and on your website.
- Take steps to make sure that marketing materials represent diverse identities and use inclusive and inviting language.
- Diversify your marketing strategy. Promote events through multiple channels, including flyers, e-mail, word of mouth, and social media. For more information on marketing your programs, read our Six Steps to Diverse, Engaging Programs.
- Regularly evaluate efforts to create and maintain an inclusive and welcoming environment and adjust plans.
- Follow up with new participants after they attend their first program to find out their impressions and how welcome they felt. Use this feedback to make adjustments where necessary.
Are you tired of holding the same programs year after year? Are you wondering what programs can invigorate your branch and diversify your membership base? Read this guide for some fresh ideas!
Sometimes branches lose new members after only one meeting. This can be a symptom of an organizational culture that does not feel welcoming to new people.
To continue to grow and thrive, we must be responsive to changes in our demographics and include individuals with diverse backgrounds and perspectives. Use this tool kit to help you get started.