A Guide for Advancing Diversity, Equity and Inclusion in Veterinary Medicine

Stage 3 – Making the Commitment

Video Introductions

Journey Overview

Introduction to Stage 3

3.1: The Board's Role

Any good association initiative needs to start with support from the Board of Directors. And when it comes to DEI, it’s one thing to talk the talk – but it’s another to walk the walk. The board needs to not just provide lip service to the initiative, it needs to back it up with actions. In this section, the board’s role will be explored and how it can set the tone for the journey.

3.2: Set Guidelines for Safe Dialog

Setting community guidelines is crucial for establishing a safe space for conversation and exploration. A few tips to get started – acknowledge personal biases, be open to feedback, provide context in communication, be aware of tendencies to interrupt, uphold confidentiality, and don’t stress over unplanned guests. It’s important to create a safe place to foster open, honest and transparent communication. To explore these tips in more detail, click here.

During these initial discussions, one may encounter a board member who is resistant to change when it comes to DEI. This is common and it shouldn’t be feared. These board members will represent at least a portion of an association’s overall membership, so plan to talk about their resistance, their concerns and any alternative ideas they may have. Techniques and tools for getting everyone on board with DEI changes include:

  • Avoid coercion and control tactics, instead frame efforts more positively by engaging resistant board members to help solve DEI challenges within the organization, increasing their on-the-job contact with underrepresented members and constituents, and promoting social accountability.
  • When utilizing resources, avoid negative messaging (“company pays price for discrimination” as threats and coercion won’t help your case). Listen to the concerns of the board and/or members and try to address them. Oftentimes, members just want to be heard and have a say in the process.
  • Ask for and listen to feedback from all board members; emphasize that there is room for everyone and develop an organizational mindset of learning. It’s important in this case to not take “silence as agreement.” Be sure everyone has the opportunity to speak and be heard. Everyone’s opinion, thoughts, and ideas matter when it comes to DEI, so be sure to ask for those if not voluntarily offered.
3.3: Convene Dialog to Inform Strategy

Having DEI discussions with the board can be uncomfortable if one is not prepared and the board doesn’t know what to expect. It’s important to create a space where the dialog can help to inform strategy. What are the current issues facing the association when it comes to DEI? Does the board represent the diversity of the membership? How does the board plan to address power and privilege?

To answer these questions, it’s important to understand the problems and where the potential gaps may exist. In addition to the prior questions, additional dialogue with the board can be undertaken. Some questions to consider include:

  • What is our VMA’s role in tackling the DEI crisis in veterinary medicine?
  • If we don’t act, who will?
  • Where does DEI best fit in our strategic framework?
  • How might we apply and embrace DEI into our daily operations?
  • How can we make our board more diverse and inclusive?
  • How can we most effectively help turn awareness of the problem into concrete actions?
  • What opportunities will we miss if we remain homogenous?
  • How might we engage VMA volunteers in our DEI plan?
  • How many resources should our VMA allocate to this crisis?

The resources below will help to facilitate a meaningful conversation with the board as the assessment of the association is conducted.

How the association executive and the board answer these questions will determine how best to proceed. Every journey is different, so choose the path that works best for the association and the membership.

3.4: Create an Authorizing Environment

To take the next step and get the board to authorize a DEI initiative, it’s important to build capacity and get buy-in from board members. So how does one build the case? The following resources should be shared with the board so everyone in the association understands the problem and begins to work toward solutions. The board should review all materials and then have an open and honest discussion about them.

  • Identifying systemic racism in the veterinary profession. Just because someone hasn’t personally experienced racial discrimination in veterinary medicine, it doesn’t mean it didn’t occur. This seven-minute video contains real stories and experiences from those who have been discriminated against in the veterinary profession based upon their race.
  • Demand for DEI initiatives continues to grow in the profession. As a board and as an organization, it’s important to listen to voices of those who have experienced systemic racism in veterinary medicine and how everyone can work together to combat it.
  •  What are other associations in veterinary medicine doing to address the issue? Where have they seen success and where are there opportunities to grow? Are there opportunities to partner with similar organizations to make a greater impact? Find out how others are taking action. And here is an article from ASAE highlighting some common challenges to Board diversity and 10 practical actions to consider.
3.5: Develop Policy and Position Statements

Every association should have an anti-discrimination policy as well as a proactive DEI policy to share with all members and staff. The staff policy should be given to all employees, signed by each employee, and returned to human resources. The policy should also extend to members and all staff interactions with them. Every member should feel valued and included in all the work of the organization.

3.6: Empanel a DEI Committee

Developing and implementing DEI goals should be the work of a DEI committee. This section will highlight how to get started with a committee and how to ensure its success. The DEI committee should regularly report on progress to the Board of Directors, and should also be given authority to set goals and make decisions.

The first step is to adopt a DEI committee charge. What is the point of the DEI committee? Why does it exist? These questions need to be answered and more as the DEI committee charge is developed. Review the examples below to aid in the creation of a charge that works best for the association.

It’s important on this journey to start wherever the VMA is with regard to DEI. Every association is different and the best way to gauge the starting point is to survey the membership. The survey should be comprehensive and allow participants to share comments and experiences. The survey should also collect demographic information so there’s a clearer idea of the makeup of the membership. The Michigan Veterinary Medical Association has a sample survey that can assist in putting one together.

3.7: Conduct the Organizational Assessment

It’s crucial to monitor goals as the association continues the journey. The VMAE DEI Committee has developed an assessment specifically for VMAs to use. It allows executives and their associations to easily monitor progress, identify potential gaps in the plan, and identify barriers along the journey. The assessment can be found here; see sections 4.1-4.4 for context.

Another example to explore is from The National Alliance of Mental Health. NAMH developed a self-assessment that will not only help the executive and the association determine where the association is, but how to chart a path forward. Other examples are also included below:

3.8: Develop the Action Plan

Now that goals have been determined, it’s time to figure out how to achieve them. Putting together an action plan will help everyone to stay on task, measure and evaluate success, and ensure the right people are in the right positions to move the association forward. Throughout the journey, it may be discovered that different people are needed at different phases of the initiative. To optimize output, it may be necessary to adjust committee composition through the transition from strategy to implementation.

As the action plan is considered, VMAE has developed a menu of action plan goals and tactics to help generate ideas; see section 4.7 for background and the action plan menu. The American Academy of Hospice and Palliative Medicine has a sample strategic plan that may also be of benefit when putting a plan together.

3.9: Approve the Action Plan and Allocate Resources

Once the plan is finalized, it’s necessary to strategically allocate resources in order to make it a reality. Budgeting for monetary expenses as well as staff time will build understanding about the scope of the work and the resources that are necessary for success. When building dialog with the board, the executive will need to have an honest conversation about the resources needed for implementation. If a solid plan is developed but there are not any resources behind it, it’s nothing more than a wish list.

Allocating resources is crucial to making progress and ensuring the plan is implemented as intended. The Minnesota Society of Association Executives plan lays out the organization’s DEI goals and the resources needed, and may serve as a model for articulating resource requirements within the organization.

3.10: Define Expected Outcomes and Measures

How will success be evaluated and measured? Are there key metrics in place? Do the board and the organization’s staff agree on those metrics? Are they easily defined and measurable? The plan should include these items and both the board and staff should understand the expectations of the project. Below are some examples to measure outcomes in a way that brings about real change.