Diversity Structure & Planning

Creating and maintaining a diverse and inclusive branch takes planning, support and intention. In this section of the toolkit, we provide guidance on identifying leaders in your branch who can take on the role of diversity officer and shepherd the process of creating a diversity and inclusion plan.

Appointing a Diversity Officer

As your branch embarks on diversity and inclusion work, it will be helpful to identify one person who can lead the charge. It’s important to fill this role with someone who is passionate about diversity and inclusion and who demonstrates a radical yet respectful curiosity to embrace change.

The Diversity Officer will be responsible for sponsoring the branch’s strategic initiatives to support the recruitment and retention of diverse members. The successful individual will be comfortable in specific area(s) of diversity and will establish a strong working relationship with AAUW’s Inclusion & Equity committee, enabling them to help increase overall representation, engagement and, in turn, your branch results. This role will also manage external diversity partnerships and will serve as the diversity liaison to various internal entities.

Core Responsibilities:

  • Applies in-depth knowledge of diversity principles and practices to deliver solutions in areas such as inclusion, member engagement, training and communication
  • Serves as key contact for all external diversity partnerships
  • Partners with internal AAUW entities to set annual strategies
  • Serves as the diversity liaison with key partners: Branch, State, National
  • Takes on other diversity projects as assigned

Recommended Characteristics:

  • Knowledgeable or interested in diversity and inclusion
  • Previously engaged in work related to diversity and inclusion issues in AAUW or elsewhere
  • Active participant in AAUW
  • Energetic, enthusiastic and willing to complete the work
  • Able and willing to collaborate with members of the branch board and the national Inclusion and Equity Committee
  • Able to create buy-in and lead others
  • Open to new ideas and willing to think outside the box

If you are unable to find someone who possesses all these characteristics, the most important thing is to find someone who is eager to learn and willing to do the work.

Remember this person will not be working alone. Your branch board should work together to make plans for diversity and inclusion and support the execution of this work.


Creating a Diversity and Inclusion Committee

The diversity and inclusion officer should lead the charge with the support of the branch board. However, creating a committee of actively engaged members who have an interest and enthusiasm for the work can help move initiatives forward, support the leadership and create member engagement.

Each branch should consider creating a committee of two to four additional members to assist the branch diversity officer. These committee members can assist with program development and planning, as well as coordinating events.

How to Create a Diversity and Inclusion Plan

The steps below outline the process of creating a diversity and inclusion plan. We recommend creating a diversity and inclusion plan to help shape and guide your efforts. A plan will help you ensure that your efforts are well thought-out, organized, and in alignment with the broader goals for your branch.

This process is best completed with your board or leadership to build group buy-in for carrying out the plan.

Remember that a diversity plan is meant to serve as a guide to help organize your programming and efforts to maximize the results. Even after going through this process, you may have to adjust your plan to account for things that worked, as well as things that didn’t – and that’s okay. Treat this as a flexible rather than a rigid plan.

Before you start planning, you need an understanding of where you are. To create this environmental scan, start by asking your branch leaders to gather the following information about your branch:

  1. In the last two calendar years, have you actively recruited new members?
  2. How many new members have you recruited in that timeframe?
  3. What is the current demographic makeup of your membership? Of your leadership?
  4. What is the retention rate of members? Do you know why members who were not retained left?
  5. What’s been working in helping to create an inclusive environment?
  6. What types of programs has your branch organized in the past two years?
  7. Who was the target audience? What was the goal of the program (it’s helpful to bring the list of programs from the last two years, the locations, audiences and any feedback from the programs)?
  8. How is diversity incorporated into the program calendar?
  9. What has been your branch’s strategy for reaching a broader audience? (it’s helpful to bring the communication plan or list of how information is disseminated to the membership and externally with you to facilitate this discussion).

Remember that diversifying your membership is only one aspect of this work. It’s equally important (in the environmental scan and throughout this process) to think about the culture of your branch and how welcoming it is to diverse individuals. Successfully recruiting diverse members is only one step in this process: You also need to create an environment where all members fell included, engaged and valued.

While it’s great to think big and want to change the world, remember to keep your goals realistic and achievable. Creating a diverse branch requires not only attracting new diverse members, but also creating an inclusive environment that keeps new members engaged and interested in coming back. That takes time and requires you to really think about how this plan will engage all constituents.

Use this as an opportunity to establish 3-5 key goals that you can achieve in your timeline and remember that there is always opportunity to continue to develop and evolve this plan over time.

Speaking of time, it’s important to think about your timeline for achieving the goals you lay out. Are these short-term goals – six months or less? Long-term goals such as one to two years? To maximize the effectiveness of this plan, think about your timeline and invest time into evaluating your progress, adjusting your goals and revising your strategy, if necessary.

Now that we’ve done all the necessary pre-work to creating your diversity and inclusion plan it’s time to get started.

  • Lots of time (at least 3 hours)
  • Organizational Inclusiveness stages handout (one per participant)
  • Flip chart paper
  • Markers
  • Projector and computer (optional)
  • Facilitator

Who should facilitate this session? If you already have selected a diversity officer, that person should facilitate. If you do not yet have a diversity officer, find someone experienced in facilitating conversations with empathy and committed to the process of creating the plan to facilitate.

Activity Instructions

The facilitator should first welcome participants and introduce any other facilitator assisting with this session. Second, the facilitator should provide an overview of what they will be doing during the session.

Because of the nature of this work, it’s important to take steps to ensure that you create a safe space. The facilitator should review the community agreements before beginning the diversity and inclusion planning process.

As an organization, AAUW is striving for a culture of inclusiveness. An inclusive culture is a space where people with different backgrounds, origins and thought processes can work more efficiently and effectively together. When we create spaces that allow different perspectives, opinions and voices to be heard, we enable them to contribute meaningfully to the continued growth and development of our organization. To get there, we must examine how we are doing and how we set goals to help us move forward.

Pass out the Organizational Inclusiveness Stages handout.

This tool can help your branch understand what an open, inclusive organizational culture looks like compared with a closed, exclusive culture. Having an inclusive culture is not only about who becomes an AAUW member and who remains active as a member, but also about how people become leaders or insiders within AAUW once they have joined.

Remind the group that while a branch might not actively seek to exclude certain individuals or groups; actively examining the following aspects of recruitment, retention, programming, etc. can uncover unconscious biases that impact the branch. We must always operate with intent.

Have the group spend a couple of minutes looking over the chart silently. After a few minutes review the stages and ask people to think about where your branch falls. Do not engage in a discussion about it yet – just ask people to think about it. The discussion will come a bit later.

Lead a discussion with the group about your current work in each of the categories below. Use the sample questions to prompt the discussion. This will help you identify the stage you are currently in. As you move through each category, record answers on a flip chart or a Word document projected onto a screen.

  • Recruitment
    • How do we currently recruit new members?
    • What are the typical identities of the people we recruit?
  • Retention
    • What do we do to welcome new people to our branch?
    • Who stays and who does not return?
    • Why do you think that is?
    • What is the identity makeup of our branch?
  • Programming
    • Who is our programming intended for?
    • Who does our current programming typically attract?
    • Why do we think that is?
    • How accessible are our programs in terms of location, date and time and more?
  • Communication
    • What methods do we use to communicate upcoming programs and news for our branch?
    • Who uses or does not use these methods?
    • What methods are we not using?
  • Leadership development/succession
    • How do we get new board members?
    • What do we do to encourage and support members to become leaders?
    • Who do we encourage, and who do we not encourage?
    • What is the makeup of our leadership?
    • Does our leadership reflect the diversity of our branch?
  • Planning and decision making
    • Who is involved in planning for our branch?
    • What does the process entail?
    • How transparent is this process?

Now that you have discussed how your branch functions in each category, ask the group to reflect on what stage of the organizational inclusiveness chart they feel the branch is currently in for each of the branch functions. It is possible to be more inclusive in certain categories than others. Then make sure to determine one stage overall.

Remind them that your branch is not competing to be as far along the continuum as possible. The purpose of this is to honestly assess where you are currently so you can build a diversity plan that meets your needs and allows you to track future progress against that plan.

With the knowledge of where you currently stand as a branch, you are now ready to figure out what you can do to become more inclusive. Facilitate a discussion around this question: “If we want to move forward on this continuum, what do we need to do differently in each of these categories?” Return to each category discussed in step three of this exercise and brainstorm clear, actionable changes that your branch can implement to become more inclusive. Help the group choose actions that are achievable within a certain frame, such as a year, instead of more lofty long-term goals. Use SMART goals to write down what your branch intends to do. Record the actions on the flip chart or in a Word document.

After you have completed your action plan, determine owners for each category, the immediate next steps after the meeting and when you will return as a group to check progress.

Each category should have one primary owner who will usher along the progress. The owner is not necessarily responsible for accomplishing the actions but rather is simply in charge of making sure the work is delegated and that your branch is moving forward.

Immediate next steps include who will type up the notes (if applicable), how the notes will be shared with the full group and where the document will live to be accessible to everyone.

Regular progress check-ins should be established to determine how often you will revisit this action plan and to determine how you’re doing. Identify one person to be responsible for making sure these check-ins occur.

Sample actions plans: