The American Association for Access, Equity, and Diversity (AAAED) is a nonprofit advocacy organization that develops training programs in an effort to promote support for and understanding of affirmative action, equal opportunity, and diversity. The association also offers expert guidance in regard to federal legislation and current events related to access and inclusion.
Founded in 1974 as the American Association for Affirmative Action (AAAA) by higher education leaders hoping to further this important work, the association updated its name in 2014. This change was designed to better reflect the association’s mission to “nurture understanding of and offer advice on affirmative action to enhance access and equity in employment, economic, and educational opportunities,” according to AAAED’s website.
“The debate about affirmative action continues to rage in the public square,” says AAAED Executive Director Shirley J. Wilcher, JD. “[Our members’ titles] are now more likely to be equity and diversity officers [than affirmative action officers]. We also wanted to reach out to more of the Title IX community, so we thought it made sense to change our name to reflect what our tagline has been for many years: ‘access, equity, and diversity.’”
Wilcher, a graduate of Harvard Law School, says her passion for equality is deep-rooted. “I inherited the genes of my father’s brother, who was an activist,” says Wilcher; she also credits her dedication to inclusion to a year spent studying abroad in Paris, where she says social justice was highly revered. Spurred by this passion, Wilcher has worked for several agencies over the years that are associated with civil rights, including the National Women’s Law Center; the U.S. Department of Labor’s Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs (OFCCP), where she served as deputy assistant secretary from 1994 to 2001; and the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). And in 2001, she founded her own diversity consulting firm, Wilcher Global, LLC. However, much of her time is spent furthering AAAED’s mission.
The oldest operating association of professionals in the equal opportunity profession, AAAED offers a plethora of professional development resources and services for its approximately 1,000 members who are engaged in the fields of diversity and inclusion; about 45 percent of the membership are individuals, and 55 percent are organizations. The AAAED Professional Development and Training Institute (PDTI), which was launched in 1991, administers a range of programs aimed at ensuring participants are current on policies and laws related to affirmative action and equal opportunity.
Classroom training, one element of the PDTI, is held a few times a year at conference centers and higher education institutions across the U.S. Anyone who wants to deepen his or her knowledge of diversity can attend. This 48-hour course, spanning six days, examines specific equal employment opportunity (EEO) and affirmative action laws, as well as explains how to handle complaint resolution and develop an affirmative action plan for underrepresented groups. Participants who complete the rigorous course earn the Certified Affirmative Action Professional (CAAP) credential. Many employers encourage their employees to participate in the training.
In 2012, the PDTI began offering a Senior CAAP course — a one-day workshop held during AAAED’s National Conference and Annual Meeting each year—for professionals with more than 10 years of EEO and affirmative action experience. “At this level, we discuss how to get [your affirmative action plan] recognized and implemented, as well as how to form partnerships in your organization with others who are involved in this [area], such as human resources professionals and diversity officers,” says Wilcher.
For those who are unable to attend classroom training but wish to learn more about issues around diversity and inclusion, the AAAED offers monthly 60- to 90-minute webinars that provide information on current legal, policy, and regulatory matters in a condensed format. Topics covered range from workplace safety and disability issues in higher education to recruiting and retaining faculty of color. Recordings and PowerPoint presentations are also available online.
Additionally, the association provides a refresher course for federal EEO counselors and investigators, who are required by the EEOC to complete eight hours of education annually. This training reviews EEO best practices and covers the latest policy updates. Participants receive an AAAED Certificate of Completion at the end of the course, which is typically held at AAAED’s National Office in Washington, D.C.
Furthermore, the AAAED’s National Conference and Annual Meeting features workshops on affirmative action and EEO compliance, as well as diversity and inclusion, and provides professional development and networking opportunities for participants. The 43rd National Conference and Annual Meeting will be held June 7-9 in Scottsdale, Ariz. “Our annual meeting is one of the best places where individuals in our field can get a panoply of exposure to events, workshops, policymakers, and experts in the field,” Wilcher says.
AAAED also provides a range of online resources, including compensation data and analyses; links to relevant federal agencies’ websites, such as the EEOC and the OFCCP; EEO tips, which are distributed weekly to AAAED members via the association’s listserv; and a job board for diversity professionals. Some of these resources are free to the public; however, members have access to more detailed information.
In the public arena, the association works to inform policies and legislation via amicus, or “friend of the court,” briefs to provide supplemental information to aid causes it supports. According to Wilcher, AAAED submitted amicus briefs to the U.S. Supreme Court regarding Fisher v. University of Texas at Austin, a case that challenged the university’s consideration of race in admissions decisions. The court ultimately ruled in favor of the university, stating that such practices are constitutional—a big win for affirmative action advocates like the AAAED.
Myron Anderson, PhD, the president of AAAED, believes his work with the association has strengthened his diversity and inclusion expertise; he is also the chief diversity officer for Metropolitan State University of Denver. “I needed to know more about equal opportunity, as well as better understand equity on a national stage in terms of the effect on our country,” Anderson says, explaining his decision to join the association 10 years ago. “The AAAED was the best way to get that knowledge. It helps me to be a better professional.”
A subsidiary of AAAED, the Fund for Leadership, Equity, Access, and Diversity (LEAD Fund) is a research organization created in 2011 as a “think and do tank” that advances new diversity knowledge and tested strategies in an effort to mitigate inequity, according to Wilcher, who serves as CEO of the project.
“[The LEAD Fund] has just begun to work on issues related to campus security,” Wilcher says. “We’re also doing research on developing a diversity tool kit and other programs that will be of service to members of the diversity community.”
A 501(c)(3) charitable organization, the LEAD Fund is able to apply for grants, unlike the AAAED, which is a 501(c)(6) membership organization.
“The AAAED and LEAD Fund have a symbiotic relationship, as we are both looking to promote access and equity on a national stage,” Anderson says. “The grants are used to help promote … the [AAAED] agenda. [The LEAD Fund] is an organization within an organization, if you will, that gives us enough latitude to push the envelope in regards to equity.”
Together, Anderson says, the AAAED and LEAD Fund are working to “level the playing field and create equal access for all.”●
Lauren Healey is a contributing writer for INSIGHT Into Diversity. AAAED is a partner of INSIGHT Into Diversity. Shirley Wilcher is a member of the INSIGHT Into Diversity Editorial Board. For more information, visit aaaed.org.