Movement Maker Spotlight: Alexia Clayborne, Microsoft
Redefining Event Accessibility, Diversity, and Inclusion with Microsoft
In this article, we'll take a closer look at the diversity, inclusion, and accessibility (D&IA) work the Microsoft Events team is driving. We’ll explore their Events D&IA Partner Pass Initiative, a first step in a community engagement model developed by Alexia Clayborne and the Events D&IA team. The model focuses on co-creation that disrupts exclusionary systems of the old and builds an alliance ecosystem with communities everywhere, prioritizing the most under-represented.
Microsoft is committed to bridging the disability divide to create a more accessible world. Through the years, they have designed and developed inclusive technology that empowers everyone to participate and thrive.
Beyond their technology products, Microsoft is proud to be a thought leader showcasing their accessibility commitment during Microsoft Events. Their standard digital and in-person accessibility accommodations allow for event attendees from diverse disability communities to more fully engage in the experience. These accommodations often have large use and benefit from those outside of the disability community, like closed captions, audio descriptions, and in-person venues and layouts that are designed with accessibility at the forefront. Events include talent, content, and innovation tailored towards the disability community. As a company, Microsoft is doubling down on accessibility with steps to expand accessibility in technology, the workforce and workplace.
An idea at the core of these efforts is this:
True accessibility, at every level, creates a world in which everyone can innovate, create, and design.
Their approach to building a better future—one that is more inclusive and trusted for everyone—starts with understanding the issues, leading with transparency, and partnering with the people closest to the issues for greater impact.
Microsoft does this by equipping Changemakers, i.e., nonprofits, entrepreneurs, and humanitarian organizations that are addressing the world’s most pressing challenges, with technology that is available and affordable through impactful initiatives like the Racial Equity Initiative. They also recognize that when it comes to technology events like Microsoft Ignite and Ability Summit, there are targeted communities who do not have full access to attend and be a part of the conversation.
Cue the Microsoft Events D&I and Accessibility Partner Pass Initiative.Designed and implemented by Alexia Clayborne, J.D., Director, Inclusion and Accessibility, and her team at Microsoft, the D&IA Partner Pass Initiative provides a first-of-its-kind attendee pass for influential yet underrepresented local, national, and global community leaders.
The initiative debuted at Microsoft Ignite 2022, an annual event for developers and IT professionals, where Microsoft not only invited underrepresented community-leading organizations, but enabled them to attend by covering all associated costs such as travel, accommodations, meals, and conference passes. Further, Microsoft shone a spotlight on these organizations to encourage connection and collaboration among all organizations present to build a more equitable future in technology.
The big picture? Facilitating deeper connections between those already at the table and those who should be at the table. Because when community-trusted leaders have access to events that help them grow, everybody wins, and co-creation thrives.
I had the opportunity to speak with Alexia one-on-one to get a better understanding of how the D&IA Partner Pass Initiative operates in action and ways that brands and suppliers can implement similar initiatives to create meaningful opportunities for underrepresented communities to attend and participate in events that drive change.
Q&A With Alexia Clayborne, J.D., Director, Inclusion & Accessibility, Global Events, Studios, and Communities, at Microsoft:
- Fill me in on the Microsoft Events D&I and Accessibility Partner Pass Initiative. In your own words, what is the initiative trying to accomplish?
Simply put, its initial goals are access and representation. The partner pass provides a first-of-its-kind in-person attendee pass that expands the event invite list to targeted under-represented communities and their recognized leaders. These attendees utilize Microsoft products to change the world and have significant community trust, influence, and decision-making ability for core community assets.
By giving them access to these events, we are facilitating human and business connections between those already at the table and those who should be at the table to make our future more inclusive. And from there, the possibilities grow and expand into the second stage of our community engagement model which is about network activation that empowers the community and grows Microsoft’s brand love with targeted demographics.
- What is your role in this initiative?
I oversee the initiative and that often means I “roll up my sleeves” and support what needs supporting. At the strategic level, I develop and maintain engagements with internal and external stakeholders. I then strategically advance shared goals with the support of the entire events organization and holistically co-create towards impact. A key driver of my work is to model, scale, and further innovate this approach within our ecosystem. Like we are doing with Opus Agency.
At the beginning of any conversation I have about equity and accessibility is my ten-year-old daughter, Eleanor Marie. Eleanor is the reason I am such a champion for inclusion and accessibility. When you live in a world where you care for someone in the disability community with high-support needs, you quickly understand that the world is not made for the one-in-four people who have or will have a disability in their lifetime. Eleanor’s journey is thus always at the forefront of the work I do, and it has led me to better understand and identify with my own disabilities as well as grow my empathy for others.
- Your initial objective with the D&IA Partner Pass was to increase representation and provide equitable access to under-represented community leaders. What does equitable access mean?
When we debuted the initiative at Ignite 2022, we understood that often, under-represented community leaders are a part of nonprofit organizations without the same financial means for access as for-profit partners.To bridge this systemic blocker to participation where an invite exists, the Microsoft Events team funds in-person partner passes, pays for travel and expense with a per diem for meals, and sets up its partners for success in what often are new spaces. Ensuring our partners have equitable access leads to unbelievable progress in so many areas.
One of our first partners was 1687 Club, a social good company partnering with Civil Rights Heroes (who were present at Ignite 2022) to digitize over 1.8 million historic and iconic American and International images for preservation. Among their representation are founders with disabilities intersecting largely within the Black/African American community. They are early on with their digital accessibility journey, but committed to a growth mindset already apparent on their website.
Executive Directors and family members of The Withers Collection & Gallery, The Emmett Till Legacy Foundation, and the Medgar and Myrlie Evers Institute were present, along with Black Girls CODE, the Friendship Circle of Washington, and Africatown Central District. Each of these community organizations has a mission that intersects with Microsoft’s technology and our mission to empower everyone.
- The idea of “co-creation” is central to the initiative's success. How does co-creation fit into your engagement strategy?
Co-creation is the collaborative process where two or more parties work together to create value by sharing knowledge, skills, and resources to achieve shared goals. It results in an outcome that is more innovative, effective, and tailored to the needs of all parties involved.
When we introduce this idea at our events, we see innovations and groundbreaking experiences take place in real-time on a massively impactful platform with global reach. It’s crucial to acknowledge that co-creation must be driven by mutually beneficial terms and long-term relationships for the impact and benefit of everyone.
- If you had a word of advice for companies looking to bring real representation and opportunity to their events, what would it be?
The Microsoft Events team has led a strategic effort in the last couple of years to strengthen the foundation of our work around equitable principles, which is a key first step in building a meaningful model. Microsoft's global D&I team defines equity as: “The full and equal access to opportunities, power and resources so that all people achieve their full potential and thrive. Equity is an ardent journey toward well-being as defined by those most negatively affected."
My advice for organizations taking on community engagement work would be to train and model strategies and teams to support equity goals like we are doing at Microsoft. We’ve done this by listening to and relying on advisory councils, external partnerships, Microsoft Employee Resource Groups, and guidance from global D&IA teams. We’ve taken components from all of these foundations and modeled the impact on a large scale.
Context setting is also essential. Through initiatives like the D&IA Partner Pass, people are experiencing systems change in a big way. Our goal is to engage with audiences and communities in an even-kilter, shoulder-to-shoulder way, which can be shocking to some until they see the impact unfold. Like anything new, strategic messaging makes all the difference.
- What’s next for the Microsoft Events D&I and Accessibility Partner Pass Initiative?
We’re just getting started. Everyone involved in the initiative at its debut at Ignite 2022 agrees — we piloted a first of its kind model. So, what’s next? Seeing how this movement expands post-event, inside real communities. We have some community engagement campaigns in the pipeline, with the first one taking place in Memphis, TN, during the Ability Summit on March 8. We’ll continue to engage our ecosystem of diverse suppliers, and I believe the next phase of this model will be incredibly impactful, so stay tuned. Register and join us for this community campaign.
Special thank you to Bob Bejan, CVP Global Events, Studios, and Communities; the entire Microsoft Events team; our #OneMicrosoft partners; and the communities trusting us as partners on our collective inclusion journeys. Like Bob says, “onwards and upwards.”
Volume II of this story is coming soon, following a community engagement campaign in Memphis, TN. I’m thrilled to meet Alexia and her team onsite in Memphis to gain a deeper understanding of how this initiative continues to make an impact post-event. If you aren’t already, subscribe to our monthly XO newsletter to receive Vol. II directly to your inbox.
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