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The Power of an Organizational Focus on Women
In today’s global marketplace, diversity of thought and leadership is increasingly becoming a strategic imperative. As associations look to grow and evolve, successful ones are embracing different types of people, cultures, generations, ideas and thinking to attract new members, increase the perceived value of existing members, gain new perspectives and build a pipeline of passionate leaders.

Dr. Teresita Bellido and her efforts as a long-time member of the American Society for Bone and Mineral Research (ASBMR) perfectly exemplify this point. Almost 25 years ago, Bellido was finishing her Ph.D. in Argentina and preparing to move to the United States, where she would work as a scientist focused on advancing research for bone and mineral diseases such as osteoporosis. For Bellido, joining ASBMR, the world’s largest association of researchers who focus on bone and mineral research, was high on her professional must-do list. She believed membership would be critical to building her network and advancing her career.

“I wanted to be the best scientist that I could be, and I wanted to be with the best professionals in my field,” she said about her initial motivation to join ASBMR. So she joined. And despite its various offerings (i.e., annual meeting and scientific training), Bellido described her first 10 years with ASBMR as average and uneventful in regards to mentoring and career development. “I did have mentors, and they were very passionate about science. But, they were men. Beyond the science, we did not have much in common. When I first started, there were not a lot of activities or opportunities for women.”

Although Bellido did not know it at the time, the ASBMR board of directors had recognized and was acting on the very dilemma that she was experiencing. In what had historically been a male-dominated field of research, the composition of the board and association leadership was likewise oriented primarily to men. Additionally, member feedback affirmed that the association’s existing program portfolio was not fully addressing the unique needs of female members such as Bellido.

Driven by proactive leadership and a sincere commitment to act on member feedback, the ASBMR board established a strategic objective: Invest in Our Future by Positioning Members for Success. One of its supporting tactics was to create a Women in Bone and Mineral Research Committee. The committee was charged with mentoring women for career advancement and academic promotions, navigating career and family issues, and promoting women for recognition within the scientific community. Bellido joined the new committee. And, in short order, her membership experience with ASBMR began to transform. Mentorship opportunities continued. But this time, she was mentored by as many as 10 other female scientists on the committee who could better connect with Bellido’s personal experiences.

“It is not because we are more or less talented,” Bellido said. “It is because we bring a different perspective. Women are resourceful and look for alternative ways to have careers. Beyond their passion for science, as women, they are able to give me something more. They tell me that I can do anything that I want in this field of research. And they have either done it before me, or they are doing it with me now. They give me encouragement, advice and perspective I would not receive otherwise. They are like a family."

Empowered by the ASBMR board, the Women in Bone and Mineral Research Committee began to set several mentoring and development goals, including:
  • Mentor women for other ASBMR committees and other leadership positions. (Bellido is one of them. She served as chair of the Education Committee from 2004-07 and on the ASBMR board from 2008-11. She is now chair of the Women in Bone and Mineral Research committee.)
  • Nominate more women for esteemed scientific awards.
  • Identify female leaders to serve as speakers, moderators and session chairs at the ASBMR Annual Meeting.
  • Select and mentor one woman per year from an emerging country to fully take advantage of ASBMR scientific networking.
  • Develop and maintain a blog and web page that serves as a resource for information related to women’s careers in biomedical science.
  • Organize a female-focused function at the ASBMR annual meeting to drive member value. (Several years ago, the Women in Bone and Mineral Research Committee organized an event called “speed networking,” where younger women scientists could interact with senior scientists from around the world. The program was so successful that young male scientists in ASBMR asked to participate in a similar networking, which led to such an opportunity for both women and men held by ASBMR last year.)
After a decade of momentum — most recently led by Bellido — ASBMR’s commitment to address the needs of its women members is bearing fruit. More women are joining ASBMR than they were 10 years ago when the committee was first established. Today, about 60 percent of ASBMR members are male and 40 percent are female. Even more encouraging, however, is that half of ASBMR’s current board is comprised of women and although only seven women have served as president of ASBMR since it was founded in 1979, five have served in the position during the last 10 years.

Bellido is so thankful for her experience with ASBMR that she now — as a senior scientist — is passionate about giving back. In addition to her drive to develop and mentor women, she is now also motivated to leverage the diversity of cultures, experiences and backgrounds of ASBMR’s international members — both women and men. Approximately half of ASBMR’s 4,000 members live outside of the United States. On behalf of ASBMR, Bellido recently travelled to China to foster new relationships with young scientists — and prospective ASBMR members — at several universities.

“Science is global by definition,” Bellido said. “And, like science, diversity is about embracing new perspectives. ASBMR's goal is to be global. So that means we need to be fully engaged with our international members, too. In the next 10 years, we need to do for them what we’ve already started to do for our women.”

As an experienced board member, Bellido has three suggestions for associations that are willing to take an honest look at their commitment to the diversity of their members:
  1. Ask a simple question at a board meeting: Does the makeup of the board mirror the makeup of the association’s membership?
    "A good board must represent its members. If it is not proportionate, then the board should address it. We women feel like we have a voice and now an advocate at ASBMR,” Bellido said.
  2. Conduct a member needs assessment.
    “It takes honest people to be working on boards,” Bellido said. “So, ask your members what they need from the association and whether they are getting it. Put everything on the table, prioritize what matters most to the members and then go after it.”
  3. Establish committees to implement the plan.
    As ASBMR did, establish committees with leaders who are passionate for change and empower them to go after your strategic priorities one by one.
Had ASBMR’s board not made a commitment 10 years ago to embrace and empower the diversity of its women members, Bellido might still describe her membership experience as uneventful. Even worse, she may have left the society in search of another organization that provided Bellido and her peers with a voice and empowered them to lead. Instead, ASBMR positively impacted Bellido and countless other women within the organization and profession.
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Board Forward is published 10 times a year by SmithBucklin, the association management and services company more organizations turn to than any other. SmithBucklin has served volunteer board members for 70 years.


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