Inclusiveness isn’t about public relations. It’s not a strategy to avoid being called racist. Inclusiveness is about finding the qualities that you need in a member in people despite their “packaging.” It is about recruiting top quality candidates into your organization to your own benefit. It’s actually kinda selfish, but in a good way.

Think of your organization’s values. Is Virtue something that can only be found in a white people? Do only straight women want to “Do Good?” Is someone that uses a wheelchair not able to enjoy “The Great Joy of Serving Others?” Even groups with a cultural history can find members who believe in the mission despite lacking the personal heritage. The largest public Jewish event in Rowan University’s history was hosted by a sorority with Jewish heritage, but few Jewish members.

Inclusivity doesn’t happen accidentally, or even passively. It is an active pursuit, just as recruitment should be. I was reminded of the value of an inclusive recruitment plan while reading an interview in the Wall Street Journal with the president of the University of Southern California (http://www.wsj.com/articles/how-usc-became-a-leader-in-recruiting-minorities-1464660002). What used to be known as the “University of Spoiled Brats” has been transformed through a deliberate strategy and strategic efforts. A mindset shift alone wasn’t enough.

WSJ: You have nearly doubled the number of students from poor families in a very short time. How did you do it? 

MR. NIKIAS: We decided that we wanted to be very, very proactive in terms of recruiting students who are first generation [college students]. That wasn’t the case seven or eight years ago. We visit 2,000 high schools around the country and we promote USC programs. We do it twice a year, in the fall and spring. We’re not sitting back and whoever applies to USC, then we screen and decide. The second thing that we do is that we pay attention to the pipeline, because American higher education will only address the so-called diversity issue successfully if we pay attention to the pipeline. Without doing that, we’re kidding ourselves. There are three million kids every year who graduate from high school in the United States, and no more than 250,000 of them have the overall academic preparation to be considered by any of the top 50 universities in the country. And out of that 250,000, it’s only 11,000 African-Americans and 24,000 Latinos. So it becomes extremely important to build up the pipeline and prepare these kids for college.

Simply reviewing that applications that arrived differently wasn’t enough either – it was too passive. So, what did they do?

They learned more about the candidate pool & they engaged with high schools. USC knows how many students in their target population have the eligibility to attend. It helps to find what you want, when you know what it is.

Simple steps for making your recruitment plan more inclusive:

1. Establish public measurable, objective eligibility standards to join. (More than just a GPA) They publicly define your values, and can a clear signal that it is merit, not connections that makes someone eligible to join.

2. Have conversations with your members about the value of difference. Have them reflect on things they never would have learned if it were not for exposure to different people.

3. Look for messages that might signal a lack of acceptance. You might not realize that you are sending them through events, t-shirts, pictures on promotional material, in slide shows, or even whom your chapter Facebook page ‘likes’. This applies ALL YEAR LONG, not just in recruitment. Look for subtle signals of racism, heteronormative culture, and socio economic classism. Maybe there is an advisor or friend you can ask to look at things for you; and don’t just default to asking your gay friend if you’re being too “hetero.” A different set of eyes might catch some things you never noticed.

4. Actively recruit potential members, don’t passively hope people show up to your recruitment/informational events. When you actively use a Wish List you can insure that your pipeline reflects your recruitment goals.