How to Build DEI into Your Association’s Educational Strategy

DEI is a business imperative that’s not going anywhere. But it calls for intentional, strategic thinking and action. You can’t just throw the jargon around. You must internalize DEI principles and understand how to apply them in your daily work.

The theme of Leading Learning’s recent Learning Business Summit was “revenue, reach, impact.” In her session, Using Data-Driven DEI Strategies to Develop Products with Greater Reach, Miranda McKie, founder and CEO of McKie Consultants, explained how to harness DEI to enhance learning programs.

When DEI is baked into your association’s culture and educational strategy, the value you create reaches, resonates with, and impacts new audiences—and grows your revenue too.

A quick reminder about DEI

D is for Diversity. McKie said diversity is “what makes us us”. Diversity goes beyond race and gender. For example, an A for accessibility is often tagged onto the end of DEI, making it DEIA. But you must also consider and understand audience segments with different economic and educational backgrounds, nationalities and heritages, religions, sexual orientation, caregiver status, and thoughts and perspectives.

E is for Equity. Foster an environment where everyone has an equal opportunity and access to the tools they need to succeed.

I is for Inclusion. Make everyone feel welcome. They’re not only invited to the table, but they’re part of the conversation. They know their voice is valued.

In professional development, consider the different needs of your diverse audience. Make sure they all have equal access to your offerings. All learners should feel supported and included. They should feel like they belong. If you embed DEI in your strategy and actions, you’ll bring in diverse perspectives and unlock innovation.

Common pitfalls when implementing DEI

McKie described practices that can derail your DEI strategy.

Check-the-box approach. DEI must become integrated into the core values of your organization. It’s not a static checklist to complete. Most likely, you’ll have to change traditional practices to embed these principles into your organization’s culture. You’ll probably have to rethink how you do things, even if those processes appear to work.

DEI is not tied to ROI. If people lose interest when the spotlight is no longer on DEI, it’s probably because they don’t understand the value it delivers. Make this connection for them.

Accountability. Everyone might agree DEI is important, but if no one is held accountable or given ownership to implement and measure its success, you won’t get far. Consider tying DEI to team performance goals and report on those goals each quarter.

Connect DEI to organizational strategies and metrics. When DEI is attached to the organization’s direction, not just a position, it becomes sustainable.

Internal processes or policies. Existing processes are often difficult to change, like speaker or subject matter expert selection. Sometimes you have to look at the practices that feed into the process you want to change, so you know how deep the change must go.

four people meeting to discuss how to build DEI into educational strategy

How to build DEI into your association’s educational strategy

Understand the diversity of your market

Develop learner personas that represent different segments so you can plot and understand their journey from search to registration to program completion and beyond.

Only create as many personas as your resources can handle. Remember, you’ll need to tailor content and marketing campaigns for these personas and support each one of their journeys. The average number of personas, according to the session chat participants, is five.  

Research the persona’s emotional and psychological drivers and barriers. Collect qualitative data through interviews and open-ended survey responses, and quantitative data, such as demographic, behavioral, and performance data.

In the session, we did an online design thinking exercise using Miro to better understand personas. The combination of solo work, posting ideas on the board, and discussion was fruitful.

Here are McKie’s prompts for reflection and discussion about each learner persona:

•    Capture potential thoughts, opinions, or comments this persona might have about the current learning program.
•    Reflecting on those insights, describe what this persona would require in terms of people, processes, and technology to derive greater value from your program. 
•    Considering the solutions you’ve devised, delineate key metrics essential for tracking and evaluating the success of your solutions.

Establish DEI goals

Start with a manageable objective. Don’t spend an entire year crafting a DEI strategy. How can you integrate DEI into some of your routine practices tomorrow? You might have to collect new data to move forward.

The professional development team at the American Speech–Language–Hearing Association worked with their multicultural affairs team and the board to establish three ongoing team goals related to DEI. They report on DEI metrics at every board meeting. Once a month, they have a team meeting conversation about DEI goals. This approach keeps sustained attention on DEI accountability.

When setting goals, for example, more women enrolling in a program, consider the targets you need to set in other areas—marketing, sales, membership, etc.—that will support the program target.

Use data to embed DEI in product design, development, and delivery

Data helps you understand existing DEI issues and make more informed choices when creating and delivering learning programs. Everyone on the extended professional development team can use data to integrate DEI into their work.

Instructional designers

•    Create adaptive content. Look at completion rates and performance scores and compare that to qualitative data.
•    Design with empathy. Collect stories and experiences that will help designers create content that resonates with a diverse audience.
•    Enhance accessibility. Review usage metrics to see which accessibility features are being used. Get feedback to learn if any other tools are necessary.


•    Tailor engagement strategies. Use attendance and engagement metrics, along with learner feedback. 
•    Understand the cultural composition of learners
•    Offer support networks. Identify at-risk learners through performance data. Offer mentoring and office hours.


•    Craft targeted campaigns. Segment audiences and tailor messaging. Share learner testimonials of interest to each persona.
•    Build inclusive communities. Create loyal learners by keeping them in post-program nurture campaigns.
•    Develop feedback loops. Collect satisfaction and impact data. Gather learner insight to inform future marketing.

Benchmark data and track demographic shifts so your programs remain relevant. Ask your community how you’re doing. Keep an eye on how the competition is changing too. Your DEI plan must evolve with your audience. You want to stay one step ahead in meeting learner needs and anticipating future trends.

When the economy is tough, DEI is often forgotten unless it’s tied to business strategy, goals, and ROI. If you make strategic investments in DEI and truly embed it in your culture and programs, you will see its business value. 

diversity, equity and inclusion
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