Building Inclusivity into your Association and Events

Building Inclusivity into your Association and Events

By Jamal Turner, MJ MSA, Manager, Education and Diversity Initiatives

An inclusive environment promotes continual reflection, opportunities for growth, and helps individuals feel welcomed. Most importantly, participants are able to be themselves. Do your members feel a sense of inclusion within your association?

Individuals that join professional associations want to experience a sense of belonging which requires mutual respect throughout the organization. Creating a safe space where difficult conversations occur is an important step toward creating an organization where people feel free and open to discuss differences in a respectful manner. Differences can relate to age, gender identification, race, occupation, and so much more.

Imagine being invited to an event where nobody interacts with you. If members feel excluded, this will have a negative impact and create challenges with member recruitment, engagement, and retention. Once members feel included and connected, they’re more likely to share information and actively offer their time by volunteering and participating. Another positive outcome of an inclusive environment is that different thoughts and perspectives are accepted, often resulting in innovative and uncharted thinking.

How Your Organization Can Create a More Inclusive Environment

During the recent Joint Annual Assembly of the American Academy of Hospice and Palliative Medicine (AAHPM) and the Hospice and Palliative Nurses Association (HPNA), staff and volunteer leaders fostered a spirit of inclusiveness through a unique interactive community experience. The Diversity and Inclusion Committee wanted to create a space where everyone could share their thoughts in non-biased atmosphere. This space was called the Who “I AM” wall; and served as a place where everyone, regardless of background or origin, could express themselves freely. In the end, it helped attendees recognize how similar they are to each other and also reminded them that they have unique attributes that are very important on their own, to the association community, and the world.

Creating Your Who “I AM” Wall

  1. Find a space that will be heavily traveled by attendees and will allow for maximum visibility.
  2. Determine the material that will be used for the wall. We used a pressure sensitive vinyl (PSV), printable graphic adhesive material ordered through our event services provider that measured 4’ high x 33’ wide, and applied it to a wall. If purchasing the material is not feasible, the wall can be constructed with multicolor 8x11 construction paper taped to a wall in the format of a brick wall pattern.
  3. In the center of the space, construct the phrase “ I AM”  

I AM wall

  1. Have an explanation of the wall and clear instructions nearby for attendees.

 i am wall

  1. Place appropriate supplies on table near wall location: small tip markers in various colors, construction paper, and tape.
  2. As an additional option, place a diversity and inclusion suggestion box or basket to capture feedback from your members about ways to advance inclusion efforts.
  3. Prior to your event, promote the experience in onsite materials and via social media.

Individuals that participated at the Joint Annual Assembly discussed their heritage, home life, family, feelings, societal views, identity, and even shared some creative drawings. Our attendee’s I AM statements were thoughtful and thought-provoking. Here are a few they left behind:

  • I AM “Looking at my own biases & working to change my thinking.”
  • I AM “Using a camera to make patients’ lives better.”
  • I AM “Proud of who I’ve become and what I can do to help our patients.”
  • I AM “A cycling junkie.”
  • I AM “A mom with sons who have darker skin than me. I am worried about how they & others will be treated and what they will face.”
  • I AM “Lesbian Liberal Christian social worker with a great life.”

Attendees enjoy reading the comments and learning about others. The wall communicates the message to attendees that they are valued, respected, supported, and celebrated.

i am wall

Looking to build an inclusive environment within your organization? Host an “I AM” wall at your next meeting. If you have questions, I can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .

Jamal Turner, MJ MSA is the manager of diversity and inclusion for the American Academy of Hospice and Palliative Medicine and was recently named a member of ASAE’s 2017-2019 Diversity Executive Leadership Program.

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