How Event Professionals Should Approach Diversity and Inclusion

In the workplace, in events, and in life, diversity and inclusion are more important than ever before. Here are some tips to help ensure a welcoming event for everyone.

Honoring diversity means more than simply including people from different backgrounds – it means making sure that every voice is valued and has an equal opportunity to be heard. In event management and beyond, this trend toward diversity benefits attendees and brands alike.

Companies that embrace diversity outperform companies that do not. In fact, organizations with ethnically diverse executive teams are 33% more likely to have greater profitability than their peers, and companies in the upper quartile of executive diversity had 53% higher return on equity than companies in the bottom quartile. Diverse companies enjoy a variety of advantages, including reduced employee turnover, higher innovation, and better company reputation.

In the professional world, there are clear benefits of diversity and inclusion. These benefits directly apply to event management, as well. Event attendees interact with brands in a variety of different ways, and this creates the opportunity to position a company as a leader in this space. In fact, attendees have increasingly little patience for lack of diversity.

On a global level, seven out of 10 event speakers are male. There are multiple online petitions against “manels,” or all-male panels. Internet articles rapidly criticize events for lacking gender diversity, like RSA, with 19 male keynote speakers and only one female. PayPal will never live down its panel on workplace gender equality that only featured male speakers. There’s even a Twitter account called “Congrats, you have an all-male panel!” Lack of racial diversity is similarly criticized, with articles pointing out missteps at the New York Advertising Week’s panel on diversity and inclusion and an all-white 24-speaker lineup at The Presentation Summit.

How can I make my event more diverse and inclusive?

Honoring diversity means more than simply ensuring some speakers are women or people of color. Promoting inclusion includes making sure that everyone can participate and that every voice can be heard – not just speakers, but also attendees, staff, and sponsors.

Event management is a complex industry, and each brand and event have different needs. It may seem impossible to tailor an event to every attendee while also making sure that all minority groups are represented. Inclusion doesn’t have to be a strict benchmark; it should be a philosophy to work toward. Hosting a diverse event will mean different things depending on your industry, event, and location, but these guiding questions will help you put together your individualized plan:

Is everyone able to join in?

Basic accessibility arrangements, like wheelchair ramps, mother’s rooms, captions or assisted listening devices, and service animal-friendly venues are likely already a part of your event strategy. This classic reference site is a comprehensive resource on the ADA considerations of events and covers everything from selecting a venue to planning a presentation that avoids common PTSD triggers.

Depending on your target audiences, there are ways to go above and beyond that your attendees will appreciate and that will help to foster diversity. Older guests or people with limited mobility could have trouble navigating a very large venue and may not feel comfortable attending without plenty of benches, motorized scooters to borrow, or a small transport shuttle. Some cities or regions have an increased risk of violence against LGBTQ+ people or other minorities, and hosting an event in those areas may make those audiences reconsider attending. Consider creating a scholarship program or discounted tickets available to increase the chance that guests from different education levels and socioeconomic statuses can participate.

Is everyone represented?

Go beyond making sure that speaker lineups include people of color, women, and other minorities. Representation should be diverse among everyone at the event: attendees, speakers, other onstage presenters, sponsors, and staff. Start by making sure that the event management team is as diverse as possible or consider appointing a staff member who will be responsible for ensuring inclusion and measuring diversity.

During the event, make sure that minority speakers are given opportunities to talk about their areas of expertise, not just about their experience as a minority. If your industry or region has a low percentage of diverse speakers or subject matter experts, look in other regions and similar industries, or liaise with community organizations that represent minorities.

What can be measured and adjusted for the future?

Diversity is contextual – some industries tend to have more women or a greater range of audience ages, and some regions have a naturally higher level of cultural diversity. Identify the audiences that are typically underrepresented in your event, then work toward reducing any barriers to entry they face.

The registration process is a good time to gather demographic information for your event, as is the post-event survey. Delve into other measurements for the event that may provide insight on diverse audiences, such as food and beverage amounts (were vegetarian, kosher, or halal options popular?), number of accessible rooms reserved, and requests for alternative formats for communications (such as hard-copy or large-print materials).

Carefully collect and analyze this data and use it to inform future events. And be sure to share these results and your plans for improvement with attendees. When you honor diversity and value inclusion, everyone will feel more welcome at your event.

Want to read more? Check out Opus Agency’s How to Harness Cultural Trends for More Successful Event Management whitepaper (PDF link), which identifies the increasing shift toward diversity as well as other trends to watch for.

Image courtesy of TalentLyft