Are you unlocking the full potential of your event? Inclusivity and diversity in events will make your event so much more interesting and throws your attendee base wide open.
I recently read a quote from Catrice M. Jackson (anti-racism speaker), that says,
“If you don’t have a plan for inclusivity, your plan is to be exclusive.”
In other words, you’re either in or you’re out. (A Yoda quote came to mind, but that on the side.)
My initial idea was that it sounded a bit heavy-handed.
But the quote stuck in my head and really made me pause. Interestingly, my conclusion was that it probably is true. If you don’t plan for inclusivity, you willingly cut people out and, by default … you plan to be exclusive. Including in the way we organise events.
I thought it was something worth exploring: How to make events more diverse? I mean REALLY diverse and inclusive?
Do you know?
Different is Good
Nobody will deny the fact that we’re all different.
We vary in age, gender, colour of skin, country of origin, language, educational background, physical ability, mental ability, sexual orientation, relationship status, cultural background, appearance, job description, workplace, seniority, pay scale, state of bank account, religion, life experiences, political affiliation, moral believes, ….
I could go on, but you get it.
What’s important is that diversity is an awesome thing. It makes the world more exciting; richer. It offers valuable perspectives, insights and experiences that we would otherwise miss out on. For business, it improves problem solving (Scientific American), and increases profit (McKinsey & Company).
Still with me?
Diversity in Events: Change is in the Air
I’m not telling any secrets if I say that business in general has long been a white boys’ club thing. In many ways, still is.
BUT times are a-changing. To Millennials and Gen-Z, diversity and inclusion are as important as their environmental concerns (Deloitte). That’s valuable information because it means you will not miss out on event registrations if you explicitly profile your event as inclusive; on the contrary.
See…for many organisations and companies, events are one of the most prominent and visible places to represent their ideas and visions. Having a diversity and inclusivity event plan has sort of become an unwritten rule, which, of course, is a good thing.
HOWEVER, it comes with a word of caution: it can’t be just lip-service; all facade. People see right through that and it won’t work.
A last-minute tabling of a female speaker, because well… you have to have a woman, is not being inclusive. In fact, it’ll be blatantly obvious what went on. Instead, inclusion and diversity need to be a part of your decision making every step of the event organising process. And it all starts at the table you ‘re sitting on at your very first event meeting.
So, looking at the meeting table for your next event, what does it look like? Diverse?
Want to Plan a Diverse Event? Start with the Organising Team
Organising a diverse and inclusive event doesn’t have to be as hard as you may think.
The easiest and most important thing you can do to whip up a truly diverse and inclusive event is to get a diverse and inclusive team around the table. Every subsequent step will flow naturally when the organising team brings their unique perspectives and connections.
Of course, this only works in a respectful environment and if your team and your workplace are totally on board with diversity and inclusion in the workplace. If that’s not the case, it will crush all the good intentions as well as any progress you envision.
Bonus tip: It can help to appoint a diversity guardian to remind everybody of their commitment towards inclusion every step of the way.
But of course starting with a diverse team is not the only thing you can do to inject diversity into events.
Attract Diverse Speakers, Hosts and Sponsors
Why else do people attend events other than to expand their knowledge and their horizons (apart from catching up with a few workmates who live on the other side of the country)? And how do you want to achieve this if you recruit speakers from the same little pool you frequent day in day out? Same ideas, same faces, year after year.
Cozy? Yep! Boring? I betcha! Enriching? Not a chance!
The thing is, talent, perspective and insight are found everywhere. Events are a perfect place to expose ourselves to what’s fresh and to expand our thinking.
On top of that, you’ll find that as soon as you broaden your speaker’s profile, you attract a wider audience. The speakers you engage will reflect the crowd you attract. Keep it narrow (same old same old) and you will attract a narrow (same old same old) audience.
The question is, where do you look when you have more diversity in events in mind?
- As mentioned above, a diverse event organising team is the ultimate place to start.
- Other than that, look beyond the team around the table and reach out to other people in your organisation who aren’t part of the event committee.
- If your network is limited to those who look and sound like you, reach out to a professional speakers’ bureau or a professional conference organiser. Both deal with a varied range of speakers all the time.
- Become inspired by what other conference hosts are doing.
- Post a request on LinkedIn asking for recommendations of speakers on a particular topic.
Of course, this doesn’t stop with your choice of speakers. There’s also the MC, the sponsors, and the partners for your event to consider.
Diversity in Events: The Need for Accessibility
But there’s even more you can do.
To make an event more inclusive, barriers need to be removed. In other words, the event needs to be accessible in all the ways you can think of. Accessibility is more than being able to go from A to B. It’s all about making it (as easy as) possible for somebody to attend the event.
Some simple ways you can improve accessibility are:
- Hosting your event in a wheelchair-accessible venue
- Hiring a sign language interpreter
- Having restrooms with hand bars
- Allowing service animals on the event premises
- Designing an accessible event website
- Choosing a venue that can easily be accessed by public transport
- Making sure the event is economically accessible by providing a hybrid event or providing sponsorship
How we communicate matters
Words matter. Communication matters. Often more than we know.
We may be absolutely convinced of the value of diversity in events, but diversity and inclusivity in events is about so much more than having a brown-skinned female member on the forum panel. All of our attempts to make our events more inclusive will feel moot unless we also look at the way we communicate.
So, take a moment and make sure the team’s focus on diversity also trickles through in the ways you communicate.
- Choose words with dignity when addressing people with a disability.
- Gather information that can help you in your choice of pronouns in your online registration form.
- Let the diverse team around the table screen your marketing material.
- Consider whether different languages would be appropriate.
- Consider the use of a sign language translator.
- If your aim is to attract a more diverse audience, your communication should reflect this.
- Use tools and technology that supports that diversity. (Yep, even that is communication)
Diversity in Events: Different People Have Different Needs
And then there are all the other ways we can acknowledge that people are different:
- Make nursing areas available
- Offer inclusive food choices
- Consider introvert-friendly networking options such as smaller work groups or hybrid events
- Appoint gender-neutral bathrooms
The list is only limited by our imagination, but that’s only because diversity is too.
And on that note, here’s a final word of wisdom: organising a more diverse and inclusive event is a process. It will require a certain amount of risk taking in order to figure out what works and what doesn’t. The thing is, that’s ok. We rarely get it spot-on from the first attempt, but that’s how we all learn and grow. And isn’t that what it’s all about?
I hope these tips will get you under way with designing an inclusive event. But of course, if you have questions or feels a bit intimidating, you can always reach out. We’d love to help you with your next steps toward a more inclusive event.