Creating an inclusive club culture


In order for a club to thrive, it’s important to cultivate an environment that’s welcoming to everyone, from current and future members to donors and guests. Sometimes we’re just not aware that things we do or say could hurt or exclude someone. Or we consider everyone to be welcome, but we don’t know how to show them that they are. Assessing our attitudes, practices, and culture and being open to changing them is difficult and can bring up complicated emotions. It is also rewarding, because ultimately it allows us to share what we get from Rotary with more people and to do more good.

As members of an organization that embraces The Four-Way Test, we want to act in a way that is fair to everyone. And we know that creating an inclusive club culture is the fair thing to do. Talking about diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) with your fellow club members is an important first step.

Remember that people will react differently to this conversation. For groups that have not historically experienced barriers to membership or leadership opportunities, discussing their real or perceived advantages can be uncomfortable. For people who have not had the same opportunities to become a Rotary member or leader, it can be important and empowering to voice their perspectives. And people of any background may experience a mix of emotions. Some will be energized by this discussion, while others may struggle to understand why it matters.

Diversity, equity, and inclusion are not political issues. Every member has the right to be treated with dignity and respect, to have equal opportunities for friendship and service, and to be given the same platforms for their voices to be heard.

Tips for talking about DEI

To make progress toward a common understanding, be prepared to have many discussions and don’t shy away from talking about difficult topics like race, religion, or gender. Empower members to speak respectfully but openly, honor each person’s experiences, and remember that you all share a goal.

Diversity –Diversity refers to differences among people’s backgrounds, experiences, and identities. It may be based on their culture, religion, ethnicity, race, color, age, abilities, learning style, socioeconomic status, marital status, languages spoken, sex, sexual orientation, or gender identity, as well as their ideas, thoughts, values, and beliefs.

Equality –Equality means that two or more things, people, or groups are the same or have the same worth, or that they are treated the same way. Treating people equally is right in some but not all situations. For example, giving everyone the same medicine for different illnesses, or offering the same assistance despite differences in people’s needs, may not be fair for all concerned.

Equity – Equity means providing differing resources, opportunities, and levels of support, according to people’s needs or circumstances. An equitable approach gives people what they need in order to have the same possibilities that everyone else has.

Inclusion –Inclusion makes everyone feel comfortable being themselves. No one has to hide part of their identity in an inclusive environment.

Tokenism –Tokenism is the practice of including one person or a few people from underrepresented groups (for example, by inviting them to join a Rotary club), mainly to appear inclusive or prevent criticism. People who are included in this way are known as tokens and are often expected to represent the perspective of their entire community.

Marginalized groups –Marginalized groups are those that experience social exclusion or discrimination because of unequal power relationships. Those who have historically experienced barriers to opportunities or whose rights have not been recognized, such as members of ethnic or racial minorities, women, older people, and people with disabilities, belong to marginalized groups.

If we aren’t intentionally inclusive, we are unintentionally exclusive.

Show members their value  Strive to make sure that all members know that they’re valuable to the club.

Take action   Here are some things your club can do:

  1. Document your club’s values and its commitment to being inclusive. Post them on your website and include them in your newsletters or printed club materials.

2.   If your club is not open to this process and your efforts don’t succeed, talk to your district leaders about joining a different club or starting a new one.

Readiness assessment

Clubs vary widely in their readiness to work on improving their diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI). Use the table below to track where your club is in the process, and take the Creating an Inclusive Club Culture course for guidance on each step.

Is your club ready to…? Yes/no next steps
Dedicate a series of meetings to discussing key DEI topics, including vocabulary, privilege, social identities, and unconscious bias?  Yes         No
Read Rotary’s DEI Code of Conduct and ask all members to agree to hold one another accountable to it and commit to diversity, equity, and inclusion? Yes         No
Appoint a committee to establish a plan to make your club more diverse, equitable, and inclusive? Yes         No
Invite someone from an underrepresented group to visit your club, observe it in action, and offer comments at a future meeting? Yes         No
Have your club’s DEI committee review your club’s bylaws to look for ways to adjust them to help the club become more equitable and inclusive? Yes         No
Consider your club’s current practices carefully, noting what works well and what changes could be helpful. Yes         No
Post Rotary’s DEI statement on your club website, in your newsletters, and on social media? Yes         No

Contact Erin Dobbins, District DEI Chair  for more information or counsel.

DEI Rotary Code of Conduct: rotary-diversity-equity-inclusion-code-of-conduct-en