How to Make the Events Industry More Inclusive and Diverse

Inclusion and diversity have been major topics of discussion in recent months. The senseless death of George Floyd at the hands of police that was captured on camera and broadcast around the world has forced leaders, business owners and industry to face an ugly truth — we live in a society that is plagued with injustice and inequality. This ‘new’ learning (for some) has prompted many figureheads to take a verbal stance, displaying their allyship to black and minority communities. Some have even put their ‘money where their mouth is’ and started to invest in improving these age-old issues.

On a micro level, changing the status quo may seem like a daunting task. However, there are tangible steps that can be taken to improve both the diversity and inclusivity of your company, and the events industry as a whole.

Make Time (and Room) for Change
Real change doesn’t happen overnight. Set aside time to think about inclusion and diversity, and how you can make an impact. Then, decide on a cadence for touch point meetings with your team or colleagues to discuss measurements of success and strategies for enhancing inclusion and diversity in your business and/or the industry.

Start by meeting once a week. This will help all participants become accustomed to the new considerations. Once everyone is able to habitually keep these top of mind, gradually adjust the cadence of the conversation to a quarterly basis. (If necessary, maintain brief bi-weekly touch points.)

Like any new learning curve, there will be growing pains — uncomfortable conversations and significant growth experiences. But once you are able to build these fundamentals into your daily strategy, it will become second nature and may no longer require frequent and lengthy conversation.

Develop a Diversity Rider
Create a checklist of non-negotiables for your agreements with clients, other teams and/or vendors. Must-haves may be that all groups provide their inclusion and diversity strategy prior to signing an agreement or 40 per cent of all vendors must be minority or black-owned businesses.

Think of this process as the creation of a rider. A rider is a list of requests that a host/entertainer sets as criteria for their job/performance. Some speakers have now made it a requirement that the businesses hiring them must ensure there is equitable representation at the event or someone of colour must have also been considered for the job. Developing a rider (or checklist) that is reviewed alongside your agreements will help hold you and your partners accountable to actual measurable goals.

Put Together a Steering Committee
Develop a team with experts and allies that will hold you and your business accountable to your goals. Determine how often you’ll meet and the goal of each meeting to ensure you are working as efficiently and effectively as possible. Consider inviting outsiders to join or visit your meeting. There is so much value in bringing an expert in to share recommendations and alternative opinions. Leverage the vendors you know (or you’d like to know) to get their thoughts on how you can collectively work together to achieve your goals and ensure they are impactful.

When developing a steering committee, think through the purpose of the team, what you’d like to achieve and how each member can contribute. Don’t just select a black employee or minority person because of the colour of their skin. That’s tokenism and no visible minority wants to fill a seat because they ‘fit the look.’ They want to be involved because they are the right person for the position, based on their experience and credentials.

Improve Representation
Representation does not simply mean selecting a speaker or model that visibly depicts diversity. While it’s a form of representation, there are many other ways to ensure diversity in your projects.

When planning an event, think about who in your network would be a great fit. Reach out to colleagues for recommendations to ensure you are looking at multiple options. Leverage the Internet, and research vendors and creative professionals. Consider taking a chance on someone you may not know but still has the background, experience and brand that is needed to successfully fill the role.

Try to expand on the type of speakers included in an event and normalize diversity in these spaces. Instead of hiring the person that physically ‘fits the bill’ for a topic, use someone out of the norm. For example, invite a black woman to speak about financial literacy or someone over the age of 50 to talk about the importance of social media.

Create Internal Resources
Establish your own resources for your team like an etiquette kit or a list of best practices for, and solutions to, typical diversity issues that may arise. This provides a go-to place to address a challenge that may become an issue down the line. If time is an issue, hire an external party to develop this for you.

Alicia Jenelle is creative director and lead event producer for Alicia Jenelle Events, a full-service corporate and social event planning firm based in Toronto. She can be reached at [email protected] or 647-772-2050.


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