Why Professional Associations Are Undervalued

The best advice my mentor gave me years ago was to join professional associations. I’ve since joined several, and they have contributed tremendously to my career success. Many colleagues I’ve talked to feel the same.

So, it amazes me that more chief diversity officers don’t encourage the next generation of women and minority leaders to join diversity professional associations, especially when I hear many complain they don’t have sufficient representation of women and minority leaders within their firms. Associations are a source for future leaders because they are often dedicated to their members’ growth.

Granted, nothing beats practical experience, and internal leadership development programs have become more effective in their efforts to prepare employees for the challenges they face in roles of greater responsibility. However, an examination of four key professional association benefits should convince CDOs to utilize them to improve their diverse talent pipeline.

Professional development: Associations provide professional development offerings so members advance their knowledge, learn new capabilities and gain a valuable external business perspective. Tiered offerings ensure programs cater to the different development needs of members at different levels of their careers.

Ascend, a nonprofit association for Pan-Asians, has professional development programs designed for executives, managers and individual contributors.

Leadership experience: Associations often have chapters across the U.S. run by volunteer members. These chapters provide a chance for members to assume leadership roles. Chapter leaders are given valuable opportunities to develop action plans, manage budgets, recruit members, oversee programs, secure sponsorships and lead teams. This type of hands-on experience is critical to develop the next generation of leaders.

ALPFA, a Latino professional association, has 40 professional chapters across the country. Some chapters have more than 2,500 members. Running these chapters can be invaluable for members and has helped many move up the corporate ladder more quickly because they are building capabilities that provide an advantage over their competitors for internal promotions.

National networks: Professional associations have a national presence, and they gather their members for an annual convention. Conventions allow members to connect and network with executives, scholars and business leaders from across the country. Having a strong network of colleagues and mentors allows members to build relationships that will serve them well as they advance their careers and need to rely on their network to facilitate business ventures and establish partnerships.

Biannually, the Executive Leadership Council, an association for African-American corporate business leaders, hosts a Women Manager’s Symposium to bring together top managers from across the country for off-the-record discussions between leaders and proteges to help establish future sponsorship relationships.

Governance proficiency: Professional associations have a national board of directors. The directors consist of the most senior association members, who are often leaders within their organizations. As board directors, they learn how to properly govern an organization, gaining proficiency in long-term strategic planning by evaluating the performance of the chief executive and auditing financial reports.

The board of directors of the Human Rights Campaign, an organization that advocates on behalf of LGBT Americans, is responsible for making policy, overseeing finances and establishing the organization’s long-term mission. Serving on the Human Rights Campaign board provides a solid foundation that prepares members for consideration for corporate boards.

Chief diversity officers often see the value in leveraging diversity professional associations to help recruit more women and minority professionals. But they undervalue the associations’ ability to help accelerate the professional growth and development for women and minority professionals.

Robert Rodriguez is president of DRR Advisors LLC, a management and diversity consulting firm, and author of Latino Talent. He can be reached at editor@diversity-executive.com.