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Ten Strategies for Achieving a More Diverse Membership

Human resource professionals from California to Nebraska to New Jersey are aware of the challenges and opportunities the increasing numbers of immigrants, people of color, and women in the labor pool and the workplace hold for our human resource strategies. Creative approaches to meeting the needs of employees of diverse ages, backgrounds, and lifestyles are becoming a hallmark of the human resource profession.

The ten strategies highlighted here are designed to help SHRM chapter presidents, board members, and diversity committees enhance their efforts to recruit diverse professionals into the SHRM membership and leadership ranks. The strategies have been gleaned from research into corporate recruitment practices and the approaches that many of our chapters and other associations have used to diversify their membership to more closely reflect the demographics of their potential membership pool.

The Challenges of Recruiting Diverse Members

Chapter diversity is not an automatic corollary of demographic change. Unfortunately, several factors discourage potential members from joining an organization, including:

  • Failing to make the value clear to potential members. Unless individuals understand the value of joining SHRM or your chapter and what each has to offer, they are not apt to explore the possibility of joining.
  • Failing to be sensitive to potential feelings of social and professional discomfort. Even for the most assimilated of us, it is not always easy to join a new organization in which the personalities, culture, and rules are unknown. If you add to this the challenges of being a "minority" in a dominant culture, it is easy to understand an individual's reluctance to overcome what can be perceived as barriers to association membership.
  • Creating an environment or perception that discourages participation. As we will see below, there is much that chapters can do to open the door to diversity by creating environments that are receptive to and encouraging for members of all ethnicities, genders, and backgrounds.

Guidelines for Achieving Diversity

Achieving diversity requires a strategic effort. The following ten guidelines are designed to simplify the process and help chapter leaders create a member base that reflects the diversity of their communities and the profession. As you study these guidelines, bear in mind that the specific approach your chapter takes must reflect your particular demographic goals. While you may feel your chapter membership does not reflect the population of male human resource professionals in your area, others may be concerned with a lack of representative ethnicity or realize that the majority of professionals in their chapters are over--or under--the age of 40. Tailor your goals to your chapter and your demographic environment and keep them in mind as you review the following strategies.


  • Set up a diversity task force or committee.
  • Ask for volunteers who have an interest in the topic and who will bring the commitment and open-mindedness that are essential to the task.
  • Attempt to model diversity on the committee but never lose sight of the most important criteria----commitment and fair-mindedness.
  • Do not work in isolation: Benchmark. Call upon diversity committees in other chapters and in other organizations in order to learn from their mistakes and successes. After reviewing the chapter programs described in this guide, check the SHRM Diversity Webpage for additional suggestions.
  • Take time to get comfortable with each other before beginning work. This comfort will allow committee members to be more candid with their concerns and ideas, to risk more, and to, therefore, develop a more innovative and creative program. Choose a leader who understands the business imperative of diversity; who is supported by chapter leadership; who is strong, committed, and fair-minded; and, who is action-oriented.


  • Examine the demographics of your organization.
  • Using the guidance included in this toolkit for gathering demographic information, compile statistics on your chapter and your potential member pool. These numbers will vary from chapter to chapter based on geographical location and/or dominant local industry.
  • The particular categories of membership on which you focus will depend upon the needs of your chapter. For example, it may be appropriate to look at gender differences or differences in race and ethnicity. TIP: Do not rely entirely on a review of last names of your membership to verify ethnicity. Marriage, name changes, and ethnically-mixed families make it impossible to accurately determine ethnicity by name alone.


  • Develop written materials that visually reflect the diversity that you wish to attain.
  • Ensure the models and images in your newsletters and meeting materials reflect ethnic, racial, age, and gender diversity as well as people with disabilities. Do this even if your current membership is 100% homogenous. Viewing diversity can have a powerful effect on an individual's belief that he or she is welcomed into your organization. TIP: Use names that reflect diverse ethnic backgrounds as well.


  • Develop a diversity statement, set goals, and design diversity strategies.
  • Before designing your diversity statement, survey the perceptions and needs of your current membership. Without buy-in from the membership itself, any program will eventually fall apart.
  • Look at sample diversity mission statements in this toolkit or on the SHRM Diversity Website ( TIP: Design a mission statement that is appropriate to your specific chapter and that reflects its potential demographics, diversity philosophy, and member needs.
  • Be timely. No more than three or four meetings should be needed to design the statement. TIP: If there is a delay in moving forward, try to assess if the committee is afraid to reach a conclusion for fear of taking the wrong first step. Remind the committee that the first step does not have to be perfect. Even if the statement isn't perfect, any movement will provide the energy and knowledge necessary to move your efforts forward. Make your diversity initiative goals reasonable.
  • Be realistic.
  • Be concrete and measurable.
  • Build into your system key points at which you can stop, regroup, and modify the program to meet your current needs. Network with other chapters (a chapter contact list is included in this toolkit) and SHRM headquarters to learn new strategies.


  • Include articles on diversity in your publications and presentations on the topic at meetings.
  • This serves, as do all these strategies, to communicate your interest in and respect for both current and potential members of diverse backgrounds.
  • Present the topic of diversity in a practical and meaningful way. Suggestions for innovative programs and articles, include: flexible and cafeteria-style benefits; incentives appropriate to a diverse work force; strategies for maintaining harmony and productivity in a diverse work force; and, recruitment, interviewing, and retention approaches. TIP: Be creative. Look at the examples in this toolkit of how other chapters have addressed the topic and design your own chapter-specific approach.


  • Ensure that speakers and authors are aware of and respectful to diverse participants and readers.
  • Include in speaker and author instructions the importance of using examples and language that are pertinent and inoffensive to all listeners and readers. TIP: Avoid getting trapped into the excesses of "political correctness"- this can stifle speaker and author creativity, be patronizing to diverse members, and create resentment and backlash within the membership.
  • Share with authors and speakers any issues around diversity that are being faced by your chapter or profession so that they can be addressed with awareness, fairness, and sensitivity.
  • Seek out speakers who ask about the diversity of your audience and are prepared to tailor presentations to meet those needs.
  • Seek out diverse speakers! A list of speakers from the most recent SHRM Diversity Conference is included in this toolkit.


  • Design mentoring programs for potential members of all backgrounds.
  • An excellent goal for recruiting current HR professionals of different backgrounds is to involve young professionals who can move up the ranks and create diversity in the profession. Mentoring programs in which more experienced members are available to counsel and guide proteges are an excellent way to begin this process. The November/December 1997 issue of Mosaics has information on mentoring programs. Copies can be obtained through the Mosaics section of the SHRM Diversity Website at
  • Treat the mentoring program as a reward for excellence, not a charity or special treatment. TIP: Invite applicants to submit essays describing their work experiences and discussing why participation in the program would be meaningful to them.
  • Train member volunteers, and proteges, in the mentoring function. Corporations have learned the hard way that mentoring is not as easy as it looks. Proteges sometimes feel reluctant, for example, to ask certain questions for fear of appearing stupid; mentors fail to bring up key subjects because they do not want to patronize; and both parties feel overwhelmed by the amount of material to be covered. Instruct mentors and proteges in the importance of: setting mutually agreed upon goals; being open with fears and concerns; and, periodically taking stock of the protege's progress.


  • Reward the diversity efforts of each of your members.
  • Recognition is important. Reward individual member efforts to recruit and value diversity within their companies and within your chapter through chapter meetings and newsletters.
  • Present awards at meetings. Set aside specific meetings for the express purpose of discussing diversity, and recognize creative ways to recruit and value diverse employees.
  • Publicize the award widely. Send notice of it to SHRM Headquarters, mention it at state and area conferences and, of course, feature it prominently in your newsletter and meeting announcements.


  • Make your chapter visible in minority communities.
  • Participate in "minority" community activities, such as local business fairs, giving to community charities, or helping with fund raisers and other community efforts.
  • Network with local church leaders, ethnic newspaper editors, and community leaders. Invite them to speak at chapter meetings and discuss their communities in your newsletter.
  • Advertise in ethnic and foreign-language publications.
  • Get to know and cultivate relationships with professionals in "minority" associations in your field and related professions. TIP: The term "minority" is in quotes. Today the word is used less often. To some it connotes an air of powerlessness and inequality and in different parts of the country, it is inaccurate. It never hurts to be sensitive to the terms you use when seeking exposure into diverse communities. Check with several community leaders in order to get a variety of perspectives on what terminology will be accepted by the largest number.


  • Share your achievements with other chapters and with SHRM Headquarters.
  • When it comes to diversity efforts, many organizations are simultaneously reinventing the wheel. Arrange to meet with, conference call, or e-mail with colleagues in other chapters to discuss your successes, failures, and lessons learned. In addition, the SHRM Diversity Website Bulletin Board is a good forum for exchanging information on chapter experiences with diversity.
  • If you have a particularly successful program, write it up and submit it to SHRM for possible publication in Mosaics and inclusion on the SHRM Diversity Website.
  • Participate in any meetings of chapter diversity chairs scheduled for the SHRM Annual or Diversity Conferences to discuss chapter diversity efforts.

Conclusion: Making Diversity Work

Above all else, as you seek to recruit, retain, and involve a diverse membership, take special care to model the principles of diversity that are key to the success of any organization. These include:

  • Communicate openly and respectfully with each other and with your members of all backgrounds.
  • Be respectful of diversity and avoid the paralyzing and divisive effects of excessive reliance on the rules of "political correctness."
  • Never lower your standards -- a diverse membership is a quality membership.
  • Avoid the dangers of stereotyping populations and lumping people together into unrealistic, and unwanted, categories and groups.
  • Remember what diversity really means. Do not favor one group at the expense of another. The goal of your efforts is to create an organization that is hospitable to all professionals and that fairly reflects the demographics of your industry and locale.
  • Expect the best and enjoy the creativity, energy, and vitality that only a truly representative association can bring.

Ten Strategies for Achieving a More Diverse Membership was developed for SHRM in part by Sondra Thiederman, president of Cross Cultural Communications, a cultural diversity training firm. She is the author of several books on workplace diversity and has been a trainer, speaker and author on the topic for more than 15 years. She can be contacted at: Cross Cultural Communications, 4585 48th Street, San Diego, CA 92115, 1-800-858-4478, Fax: 1-619-583-0304.


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