Q&A With DEI Task Force

DEI Task Force Members:
Mariama Boney (MB)
Kelly Ann Gull (KG)
Tom Hardiman (TH)
Bob Hudson (BH)
Bailey Kasten (BK)
Nicole McAllister (NM)
Sonnia Montemayor (SM)
Susan Park (SP)

Abby Tammen, Chair (AT)

Bruce Whitehurst, Vice Chair (BW)


We asked each DEI Task Force member questions about DEI and what their journey has been. Here are their responses:


What does Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) mean to you?

MB: DEI is the collective strength of individual cultural backgrounds, experiences, identities, perspectives, ideas, values, and talents coming together to make the whole better, thus achieving greater success and maximizing collective results for our community, industry, and the world. DEI provides the opportunity for us to be invited in and have access to leadership, advancement, better living, and learning together. DEI challenges us to partner and include the perspectives of those who can help us be better, achieve more, and feel like we matter and are valued.


KG: To me, DEI is about voices. Whose voice are you allowing into the conversation and valuing? When can you offer a healing voice? How do you raise your voice to lift others? When are you using your voice to educate and illuminate? Do you know when it is time to silence your voice, listen, and reap the words and wisdom an individual has to offer? Awareness of the power of a multitude of voices and experiences when confronting a problem, improving business practices, celebrating triumphs, or just plain existing with mutual understanding and reverence is always at the forefront of my mind.

TH: When I hear DEI, I think of treating people with fairness and respect. Listening and empathizing with their story rather than quickly offering my opinion on how to fix the problem.

BH: To me, DEI means creating environments where all individuals are welcomed and treated fairly.

BK: Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion are the principles we will use to form action plans to undo the systemic racism, sexism, ableism, and other forms of oppression that exist and oppress us all in our personal and professional lives. If we use DEI as a lens through which we view our work and the way that we lead and perform, then we are constantly assessing the way that we are interacting in relationships and evaluating the effects of our decisions, policies, and actions on all stakeholders. The focus on these principles gives us the framework and the diligence to keep in check our own privileges, particularly as leaders of organizations, and to participate in building a stronger society for us all.

SM: I heard this quote a few years ago and it resonated with me. “Diversity is being invited to the party. Inclusion is being asked to dance.” - Verna Myers, diversity and inclusion expert. It’s a good reminder that while it’s important to get people in the room that are different than us, that is just the first step. It is far more important that their voices be heard, and their experiences carry equal weight as those who have always been in the room. The latter is not always easy to accomplish despite the best of intentions.

SP: To me, DEI means not only that everyone in our community feel a sense of belonging, but also that our community is better for the inclusion of all.

AT: When an organization (or an individual) states a commitment to diversity, equity, and inclusion, they are sharing their commitment to thinking and acting beyond the needs and purpose of one individual or one segment of the group. There is a recognition that the contributions and active engagement from all members is important to the success of the organization.

BW: Inviting and welcoming everyone to the table, truly wanting everyone to be at the table and valuing everyone’s input equally.

Where are you on your DEI journey?

MB: After 20+ years of studying, traveling, teaching, and training in multiculturalism and DEI, I’m evolved in my DEI journey. So I recognize that I must challenge myself to continue to expand my experiences, plus stretch my own comfort level which helps me to continue growing, course correcting, and learning. I’m also revisiting foundational and traditional concepts that have been retired, shifted, or have new meaning for the present day and the path we pave for the future.

KG: Most of my 25 years in associations has been spent working with members employed by higher education, particularly in STEM recruitment and retention. Academia is a little ahead in advocating for accessibility and inclusion although there is still plenty to accomplish. My personal victory is helping my daughter persist and find success in an engineering profession. After what seems like plodding along in the DEI arena for years, it is satisfying to see social justice movements gain strength with open discussions taking place in professional and personal spaces. I am always learning from colleagues and friends as we have real and raw discussions and share best practices.

TH: If I’m being honest, I’d say I’m at the early stages of my journey. I’m at the point where I feel I need to listen to the life stories of others and try to learn from them.

BH: Throughout my life I have made it a point to be accepting because I have not always felt included.

BK: As an association professional, I’m using the same tools we develop for our own members including mentoring, courses, credentials, facilitation, and strategic planning to make sure that I’m doing my due diligence to be the leader I need to be to help my members bring the lens of DEI to their work and profession, and to lead my association and professional organizations with those principles. Having an accountability partner and lots of time spent learning how to talk about issues of race and privilege has been essential in being able to keep the work moving and not get stuck at the ideas stage. This journey won’t come to a conclusion or end in my lifetime, but I want to make the greatest impact and cause the least harm while on it.

NM: I strongly believe that gentle curiosity and empathy towards others is the key to creating an inclusive mindset. Sustaining and nourishing that mindset takes personal reflection, practice, and open dialogue, which are often not easy things to do. My DEI journey was one of quietly encouraging a culture of belonging and understanding but not always speaking up; a silent ally is not a very good one. Worries about causing insult or not using the right words kept me quiet. But as time has passed, I have learned that if we don’t ask, we don’t know and we can’t change, even if we really want to. On my journey now, I am asking. I am listening. I am changing because I really do want to.

SM: I will always be on a DEI journey. I have learned so much about life, career, people, etc. by listening to others’ personal experiences. Standing in someone else’s shoes to experience the world from their point of view is key to developing empathy. Empathy is a core competency of great leaders.

SP: I have been working on DEI issues with my organization for five years, but the more I learn, the more I recognize that I still have a lot to learn! I am lucky to have mentorship from experts in the field, as well as the opportunity to learn a lot from BIPOC people through their lived experiences.

AT: I routinely strive for the development of inclusive teams and events. In recent months, however, inclusivity has meant more to me than just capturing the participation of a wider audience. It means seeking out and building from the uniqueness of each audience member. It means employing more encompassing verbiage, actions, and policies.

BW: Learning every day and appreciating how much more I have to learn.

Where is your organization on its DEI journey?

MB: I serve as the interim Executive Director of Advocates for Children and Youth. We are in the midst of a long term commitment to DEI, while shifting the foundational elements to the next level of really operationalizing a new theory of change model and creating an equity framework. The staff and Board are engaged in this effort of visioning and implementation.

KG: It is well known that engineering is a predominately white, male profession and the challenges are many. At the National Society for Professional Engineers, the Board of Directors approved a strategic plan in which “Diversity and Tomorrow’s Engineers” is one of the four supporting pillars for success. Guiding ethical and position statements have been revised to address DEI issues. A DEI Advisory Committee was created, and committee and Board members were put to the test this past year as they debated changes to the 67-year-old Engineers’ Creed to make it more inclusive. The updates were approved and, although we are dealing with the consequences from members who disagree, having the discussion revealed the Board’s willingness to follow through with the strategic plan and, more importantly, the work that still needs to be done.

TH: Our biggest client is in the construction sector, an industry which itself has struggled with DEI. We are having Board level conversations about what DEI means and why it matters.


BH: Whether it be our associates, or the guests that we welcome, our hotel emphasizes DEI each day. I believe the journey never really ends.

BK: Design-Build itself is a construction delivery method based on the idea that the best innovation comes from diverse perspectives and active partnership amongst all stakeholders, so it’s not a big jump from the foundations of the industry to the principles of DEI. My association, Design-Build Institute of America (DBIA), is focused on preparing our members for the future by helping remove the stigmas around initiatives to advance minority-owned, woman-owned, and disadvantaged business enterprises, and helping build the value proposition for partnerships including these firms. DBIA also has a DEI Task Force that focuses on these initiatives, workforce development, and pathways to career success. The Task Force ensures that the work of the association is advancing DEI in its execution. The principles aren’t new to DBIA, but we will be focusing on a number of new projects to really put them into action for our members.

SM: My organization and the industry it represents are just beginning the DEI journey. There is still a lot of “we’ve always done it this way” to overcome. But the good news is that we’re making progress by partnering with like-minded groups on issues we know we can agree on and building new relationships with people outside of the usual cadre of decision makers.

SP: Coastal and Estuarine Research Federation identified diversity as one of its priorities in its strategic plan five years ago, and since then we have invested a great deal of energy in DEI initiatives. My proudest accomplishment is developing a program to support students--both financially and through mentorship--to participate in our biennial conference. This year will be our third cohort of the program.

AT: The Charlottesville Area Association of REALTORS®(CAAR) has recently formalized a Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) Council to integrate inclusive discussions and actions in all aspects of our organization. For instance, we are in the process of updating terminology in our Multiple Listing Service (MLS) platform to be more inclusive, we offer educational programs that invite difficult conversations in a safe space, and we are updating leadership recruitment efforts to be more transparent and inclusive. We want to be an organization that better represents the community we serve and have committed to learning and accomplishing this goal together.

BW: We started a DEI Council in early 2019 and have made DEI a major focus of our overall efforts ever since.

What do you hope to see the Task Force accomplish?

MB: I hope to see the Task Force on DEI develop a visionary and member-supported DEI statement of commitment, DEI principles, and a member survey about DEI priorities. All of these efforts will hopefully grow and be continually clarified. They will improve the organization by expanding the reach of VSAE as well as inviting members into the process of providing their feedback and sharing their success, challenges, and needs. Then, the real work begins for the Board to dig deep and shift!

KG: I am relatively new to VSAE and was impressed to see that the VSAE Board acted quickly to revisit their strategic plan and address DEI issues. It is my hope that the Task Force members can learn from each other, gather information about current member needs, and advise the Board in developing strategies to address challenges and metrics for success.

TH: I hope to learn some best practices and policies that we can share and implement within our management company and with our clients. I also hope to learn more about the individuals on the Task Force.

BH: I hope we are able to give input to help organizations to be aware of their own impression as they welcome members.

BK: I hope that the Task Force will create a DEI statement that describes the kind of organization that VSAE aspires to be and provides clarity and direction to the Board and Committees on how to move forward and make that vision a reality. I’d also hope that VSAE members will be able to feel connected to the process and feel energized to participate in the opportunities and offerings that follow the commitments made in the statement.

NM: My hope is that the DEI Task Force will be able to provide VSAE and its members with a shared understanding and direction for strategic planning and decision making across the association management landscape to achieve sustainable DEI.

SM: Aside from a moral standpoint, I see DEI as an extremely successful business strategy. We have all read the stories of associations, groups, and even industries dying on the vine because they couldn’t or wouldn’t adapt and embrace the inevitable future. It would give me great pleasure to see VSAE be a case study for DEI as a successful business strategy. I hope for a future where DEI initiatives don’t exist outside of normal SOPs and instead are the foundation of the organization and the perspective from which all decisions are made.

SP: I feel it is important that we see all aspects of VSAE through a diversity lens, so that it is not an afterthought or a separate activity, but incorporated into everything that VSAE does.

AT: The formalization of the Task Force showcases to the VSAE membership that we have not only a desire, but a commitment, to be an organization that thrives on the differences and uniqueness of each member. While we diversify and grow VSAE, our members will have a firsthand opportunity to utilize these same tools, programs, and policies within their own organization.

BW: Best practices and idea sharing for how associations can be great resources for and examples to their members.

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