The Complexities of Equity, Diversity & Inclusion in a Global Context

10th February 2023

Tracy Bury, Deputy CEO of World Physiotherapy, contextualizes the concept of Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion (EDI) the realm of globalization - a highly relevant subject, as many organizations are seeking to expand globally.

Equity, diversity, inclusion (EDI) and belonging, all terms that have become part of our everyday lives as association executives. We know we need to do more. We know we need to do better. We know we have responsibilities. But how do we frame our actions unless we reflect on our privileges, biases and assumptions, as individuals and as associations? 

We all have a frame of reference that is shaped by our beliefs and values, informed by our past experiences, our culture, our parents, our environment, our religion, and the media, among other influential people, places and experiences. These influences will have shaped our preferences for or against something – our biases. This can also translate into the association world where traditions and processes established over time have led us to where we are now. But, we need to build for the future we want and need it to be. One where privileges, biases and assumptions are challenged, where inequities are addressed and a more equitable inclusive association evolves.

When we have discussions and take actions to advance inclusion the domains of diversity that are most often highlighted are gender, sexuality, race, ability, age and ethnicity.  Some or all may appear on internal EDI audits and job applications. They may be taken into account when reviewing governance structures, such as boards and committees, as well as conference programmes. However, there are other factors that influence opportunities and inclusion, or serve to marginalise significant sectors of our membership, or potential membership, in associations.

What about language?

What about language as a barrier to participation? Just about all International and European associations use English as their language of business for all activities, publications and education.  It may be the most widely spoken language, but only if you include those for whom it is their second or even third language. Ask yourself, who is being excluded from participation in your association because language is a barrier? What does this mean for the perpetuation of privileges and power influencing opportunities that are accessible. Moving towards being a multilingual association will not be without its challenges, but translation tools are starting to provide cost effective solutions. Some associations work with volunteers to produce multilingual resources and others include simultaneous translation in support of some key activities, such as governance meetings. 

Did you know that there are more culturally diverse countries in Africa than in any other region and yet many of us would say we live in multi-cultural countries. In fact countries like Australia, Germany, Ireland, Norway, Portugal, Sweden, and the UK appear close to the bottom of the list reported by the Pew Research Center. How well can we understand cultural diversity or challenge assumptions and biases when we are not truly exposed to it, unless we are prepared to create opportunities to widen inclusion and learn? 

Does your passport give you freedom to travel? If you live in Pakistan there are only 31 countries you can access without a visa, in Nepal it is 38 and in Nigeria it is 45. This compares with over 180 countries for those of us who hold passports from Belgium, Germany, Sweden, UK, or USA. In fact, of the top 50 passports with the greatest mobility 35 are European countries. Not only do our communities in other parts of the world face additional costs associated with visa applications, but they also experience higher visa rejections, something that will be very familiar to those organising international conferences.  This impacts the ability for many to contribute or be invited as speakers.  It may also lead your association to consider visa barriers when making destination selections. 

Digital participation

Then another factor, that many have seized on as an answer to inclusion and climate change, is that of digital participation and online education. And yet there is significant disparity in internet connectivity across the world with the lowest levels in Sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia, according to our world in data. Some of these areas however have higher uptake of mobile phones, requiring education and information to be mobile friendly to participate. The digital divide persists and our association strategies for education and engagement need to reflect the technology infrastructure and device uptake that varies globally. 

There is a wealth of data to both challenge and support assumptions and personal biases, and human nature often makes us look for data to support rather than challenge us.  Intentional action is therefore required to explore the privileges, biases and assumptions held by volunteer leaders and staff. It can be uncomfortable and require hard reflective conversations. This reflection then enables action to follow that can result in a more equitable and inclusive association community, but we still have a long way to go. 

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