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How to get ahead on implementing Rotary's new Diversity, Equity and Inclusion policy.

Written by Katey Halliday

The recently adopted Diversity, Equity and Inclusion policy sends a strong message that Rotary International embraces a culture of inclusion which celebrates the contributions of people of diverse backgrounds, regardless of age, ethnicity, race, colour, abilities, religion, socioeconomic status, culture, sex, sexual orientation, and gender identity.

The benefits of diverse organisations are well documented, with diverse organisations outperforming homogenous organisations in areas including service, productivity, recruitment and retention. This is attributed to the diversity in perspectives brought by groups of people who think differently, and have different experiences from one another, which creates more considered and innovative outcomes.

Rotary is already diverse in a lot of ways. Rotary Clubs exist all over the world and we reach a broad range of people through our service projects. Our youth programs are second to none, with RYLA in particular being a life changing experience for many of those fortunate enough to attend. Rotaract clubs are made up of motivated young members wanting to make a difference to their local and international community, yet less than 5% of Rotaractors go on to join a Rotary club after their Rotaract journey has ended. So while Rotary is diverse in what it does and the people it connects with, that diversity is not translating into a diverse membership base.

Inclusion is the key to cultivating a diverse culture and we cannot benefit from diversity without an inclusive culture. Diversity and Inclusion expert Verna Myers said “diversity is being invited to the party, inclusion is being asked to dance”. In the Rotary membership context, what this means is that it is not enough for us to simply invite people of diverse backgrounds to our meetings and events. Even those who do join will not stay for long if they do not feel included in club planning and decision making as they will feel undervalued and the benefits of their diverse experience will be lost.

To capitalise on the variety of ideas that diversity brings, and get a head start on implementing the new diversity, equity and inclusion policy approved by Rotary International, below are some ideas for ensuring all members (new and existing) feel included within the club environment:

1. Accessibility is the first step to inclusion. Consider:

a. Is your meeting venue in a convenient location? If not, change it. Does every meeting have to be at the same venue? If people can’t attend, how do they find out the information they’ve missed out on? It can be a challenge to find a new venue that suits all needs but persevere and try several options until you find something, and consider your options for providing information digitally (online attendance, live recordings, regular newsletters, etc.)

b. Is the time of your meeting accessible to the demographic you are trying to attract? Consider providing options, e.g. some morning meetings and some evening meetings. Note – meetings don’t need to be centred around a meal (i.e. ‘breakfast’ or ‘dinner’ meetings) which brings me to my next point;

c. Are there any unnecessary obligatory costs to attend your club meeting, such as a meal? Dietary requirements are common and being able to choose what you eat from a whole menu, rather than a limited choice, is preferred, but also to have the option of not eating at all. Some may choose to just have a drink, while some may opt for the gourmet delicacy! Options are important for including everyone.

d. For a small premium, can your club annual fees be paid on a monthly or quarterly basis instead of annually, for those who would manage better this way?

2. Ensure all members, and potential new members in particular, have something to do that is meaningful to them.

This requires club leaders to gain an understanding of what each individual member is there for and some consideration as to how this person can contribute to an activity that would fulfil their purpose for being there. It is sometimes easier to do certain activities ourselves if we have been doing them for years, but handing over the task to someone new is a great way to include them, even if it requires more effort in explaining what to do than just doing it yourself.

3. Invest in your club members doing some form of diversity and inclusion awareness exercise.

Through various district consultations about membership, and many anecdotal conversations with my Rotaract peers, there has been consistent feedback that some people are hesitant to join Rotary because of some of the inappropriate comments and behaviours they have been exposed to. Ageist and sexist comments and attitudes which may have been acceptable 20-30 years ago are no longer acceptable in our evolving society, and for good reason. Sexist ‘jokes’ for example, while not ill-intended, create a culture of normalised behaviour and attitudes towards people depending on their gender or sexual orientation. To create an awareness of diversity and inclusion, consider having a speaker or training on one of the following topics:

a. Inclusive language – learn about the effects our words have on creating a culture of normalised behaviour. Gendered language for instance, is a barrier towards achieving gender equality, and to achieve the goal of having 30% women in Rotary and in Rotary leadership positions by June 2023, we need to take positive action in this arena.

b. Unconscious bias and discrimination awareness training, and more importantly, strategies to avoid treating people unfairly because of a personal characteristic that they have.

c. Gain an appreciation of the significant impact that the ‘me too’ movement has had on tackling sexual harassment, and why it is so important to continue to press for progress.

d. Bystander awareness training and the different strategies available to call out inappropriate behaviours when we see or hear it. After all, ‘the standard you walk past is the standard you accept’ (David Morrison, retired Lieutenant General of the Australian Army, and current chair of Diversity Council Australia).

e. Participate in the celebration of significant dates that celebrate different diversity groups such as International Women’s Day, Harmony Day, and your local Pride celebrations.

The strategies that could be employed to increase diversity and inclusion within Rotary are endless. But for any of these strategies to work, it must be accepted that change is necessary for the success of our clubs and the continuation of Rotary into the future. Rotary International’s stance on this in approving the Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Policy is admirable, though implementing and filtering it down to a club level will be a challenge. However, the benefits gained by diverse and inclusive organisations are well documented and as such, those clubs who engage in inclusive practices will be the clubs that are still around to see the success of this policy in the future.

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