Practice Applications President’s Page| Volume 115, ISSUE 10, P1559, October 2015

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Diversity Strengthens Our Academy and Profession

Published:September 27, 2015DOI:
      Part of my vision as president is to broaden the ranks of our membership while maintaining our ethical values, embracing change, and reflecting the communities where we live and practice. I am especially proud to personally represent our continued diversity, as the first African American to serve as the Academy’s president.
      African Americans comprise 3% of registered dietitian nutritionists in our country, 4% are Hispanic, 5% are Asian, a very small number of our members are Native Americans, and about 3% are men. In a demographically changing nation, and in an increasingly interconnected world, I believe we must keep working toward greater diversification in our Academy and our beloved profession.
      Identifying, recruiting, mentoring, and retaining members—especially young members—from diverse backgrounds is an Academy-wide priority as well. It is one of the five Academy values identified in our Strategic Plan. Through our Diversity value, we “Recognize and respect differences in culture, ethnicity, age, gender, race, creed, religion, sexual orientation, physical ability, politics and socioeconomic characteristics.”
      Increasing the diversity of the nutrition and dietetics profession is also one of the outcomes and measures that the Academy has identified to help meet our Strategic Plan’s Goal #3: “Members and Prospective Members View the Academy as Vital to Professional Success.”

      Why Diversity?

      Recently an Academy leader said to me, “We are spending too much time on diversity.” While I may disagree with this viewpoint, those of us who seek change within our Academy should be prepared to explain why we believe a diverse profession is a stronger and more effective one.
      For her unique insights, I turned to an expert: Academy member Karen Lechowich, MBA, MS, RD, former vice president and interim executive director and chief executive officer of the Academy. Lechowich served as the head of the Academy’s diversity initiative for many years. I asked Karen to outline the history and purpose of diversity efforts within the Academy:Understanding, respect, and inclusiveness are values important to building a strong diverse culture. UNESCO has stated: “We live in a world in which isolation is no longer possible. We live in a time of unprecedented mobility of peoples and intermingling of cultures. We are all interdependent and share an inescapable responsibility for the well-being of the entire world.”

      UNESCO. Declaration on the role of religion in the promotion of a culture of peace. Published 1994. Accessed August 3, 2015.

      In recent years, the Academy has built cultural awareness programs and projects. Member interest has grown, and the success of Member Interest Groups and culturally-sensitive continuing education programs shows members want to explore similarities and differences to enhance their personal knowledge portfolio. These members know cultural food and nutrition knowledge is important in successful client care, business opportunities, and program development.Without increasing ethnic and gender diversity in the membership and nurturing these leaders within the organization, the promise of a strong diverse culture could be unsuccessful. Each organizational component—local, state, and national—must look around the table and make sure underrepresented group members are a part of discussions. Inclusiveness at the program level will drive an increase of diverse leaders in visible positions.The Academy’s Diversity Leaders Program is a model program that focuses on members’ professional interests and how they can enhance their leadership and mentorship skills. The program encourages involvement in professional programs and issues at all levels of the organization. Mark Twain said: “…really great [people] make you feel that you, too, can become great.”
      • MacLaren G.Z.
      Morally We Roll Along.
      Mentoring all members to increase their participation in the profession’s leadership benefits everyone.

      Who Are Our Leaders?

      The world looks to the Academy for strong leadership regarding food and nutrition issues. They also look at who are the leaders who represent our profession. The greater the diversity of the Academy’s voice, the more our organization will be seen as responsive to our values of respect and inclusiveness.
      In a future President’s Page, I’ll write more about the Academy’s current plans and initiatives related to diversity in the nutrition and dietetics profession. For more information or to become involved with diversity efforts at the Academy, please e-mail Lilliane Smothers at [email protected]


      1. UNESCO. Declaration on the role of religion in the promotion of a culture of peace. Published 1994. Accessed August 3, 2015.

        • MacLaren G.Z.
        Morally We Roll Along.
        Boston, MA: Little, Brown and Company. 1938; 66