DONNA S. HEIDEL, CIH, FAIHA, is principal industrial hygienist at Amazon.
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Embracing Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion
Early this year, AIHA engaged an outside governance consultant—Association Management Center (AMC), which has also assisted us with our strategic planning—to review our efforts to promote diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) among the Board of Directors. This topic was a major area of discussion at the July Board meeting in Phoenix, where we adopted AMC’s recommended changes to some of the practices of our Board Nominating Committee. In addition, during both this meeting and the one prior, the Board engaged in conversation as to what each element of DEI means to us and how we can further infuse these elements throughout the organization. DEI AT AIHA The American Society for Association Executives (ASAE) defines diversity as the recognition and celebration of differences, equity as the provision of equal access to resources, and inclusion as the practice of creating a space where individuals can not only be seen and heard but valued. The sense of AIHA’s Board is that we have made more progress toward diversity than we have toward equity and inclusion. AMC’s recommendations are intended to help us achieve all three.
Perhaps the most effective way to foster DEI at the Board level is to institute it among the Board Nominating Committee, which identifies potential candidates for AIHA offices. As specified in our bylaws, the Board Nominating Committee comprises the past president, the vice president, an AIHA director, and four at-large members. Based on AMC’s recommendation, we are instituting two-year terms for two of the at-large members to create greater continuity on the Board Nominating Committee and help sustain DEI efforts that we implement year over year. If you’re interested in serving, visit AIHA's website to review the call for applicants.
Although DEI is a relatively new term, its values have always been an integral part of our jobs.
AMC also recommended changes to the questions the Board Nominating Committee asks during interviews with potential candidates. One recommendation was to ask how they have advanced DEI in their own careers. Such a question incentivizes the type of change desired on the Board and throughout the association. AMC also encouraged us to promote inclusion by recognizing that multiple pathways to leadership exist within AIHA. In this light, asking candidates primarily about their work on AIHA committees may unintentionally exclude members who have developed their leadership potential in other ways.
Finally, AMC suggested that the Board can be more inclusive by actively soliciting the opinions of quieter Board members, instituting time limits on discussions, and prohibiting members from speaking a second time until everyone has had an opportunity to contribute.
As part of the Board’s commitment to DEI, I’m pleased to report that we have approved the formation of a new LGBTQ+ special interest group, the PR(IH)DE SIG. The goals of this new volunteer group are to provide mentorship and support for professionals belonging to the LGBTQ+ community; advocate for research related to the health, safety, and well-being of LGBTQ+ community members in the workplace; and develop strategic partnerships with other AIHA volunteer groups. All AIHA members are eligible to join. Visit AIHA's website for more information.
DEI AND THE OEHS PROFESSION It's crucial for OEHS professionals to realize that DEI issues present new challenges we must overcome to be successful. By now, most AIHA members are aware of the new initiatives we launched last year to help advance OEHS science and improve OEHS practice. We might not be able to achieve progress in moving our workplace OEHS programs toward the state of the art without first addressing DEI issues.
But it’s also important to recognize that although DEI is a relatively new term, its values have always been an integral part of our jobs. For example, we have long advocated for workers whose safety and health are potentially compromised by language and cultural barriers. Concerns about equity and inclusion are what motivate our efforts to communicate safety data sheet information to immigrant workers who have a limited understanding of English. In this context, embracing DEI is squarely within the tradition of OEHS.