In one of the most defining moments of our country’s recent history, protests and activism for the Black Lives Matter and #blackouttuesday movements have gained momentum and generated unprecedented exposure for the collective cause of social justice and anti-racism.
This time, the outcry has struck a chord with many leaders of industry—our collective expectations for ourselves and others are on the rise. And giant corporations and small businesses alike have felt due pressure to re-evaluate and double down on their own effort to improve diversity and inclusion in the spaces they create. Certainly, any company that is hosting events or seeking to engage audiences can assume a new degree of internal and external scrutiny on their event content and experience.
Authetic Events That Embrace Inclusivity and Diversity
Event strategists are commonly mindful of the diversity of thought and content representative of audiences’ job titles, interests, and expertise. And many within (and without) the industry have brought the need for thoughtful representation of race, ethnic heritage, gender identity, sexual orientation, and physical ability into our collective dialogue, but for a variety of reasons, there has been relatively low traction on implementing diversity and inclusion at scale in corporate events.
So, in this new chapter, how can we advance? What can event teams do to facilitate positive change, support inclusion, and build events and engagement strategies that help many more of us feel welcome, participate fully, and engage with our ideas, teams, and technologies?
While there is much work to be done in every direction, there are four main commitments your team can make to advance and build an event that engages and represents your audiences fully. Read on for our recommendations.
"Going forward, your company’s event will be evaluated both on the offered content and experience, as well as who is NOT at the table. It is time for us to see the many ways that we all win by coming together to connect, partner, engage, and work."
1. Gather Your Stakeholders and Commit to Diversity & Inclusion
Event teams work hard to align many stakeholders—from corporate leadership to suppliers and vendors, sponsors, exhibitors, media partners, event participants, and, of course, the audience. Building inclusive, diverse events can be challenging and require everyone to be working from the same playbook.
Include key stakeholders as you outline your commitments, reflecting first on the diversity represented in your working team, then on the makeup of your event team more broadly. Diverse organizations and teams are better equipped to build inclusive strategies and event experiences.
Lastly, share your commitments broadly to your team and audiences, perhaps as a “Code of Conduct,” as AlterConf has done here. Building an air of inclusivity starts with a very public gesture and commitment to creating and keeping a space inclusive, and it will continue through marketing communications and other outreach. Making changes and taking swift action may also be required, as both Cisco Live 2020 and PS5 event teams learned when they postponed virtual events to stand in solidarity with #BlackOutTuesday and the Black Lives Matter movement.
2. Commit to Speaker Diversity
Audiences connect to an event when they feel represented in it—when their own experiences, questions, challenges and ideas are captured by the headlining and breakout speakers that are seeking to engage with them. Collaborate with speakers who are as collectively diverse as your event audience...and more so. Event participants are seeking out knowledge, information, new ideas and analysis, deep understanding—something that they’ll gain from a diversity of perspectives.
3. Commit to an Inclusive Event Experience
The Impact Point Group event strategists are often walking our clients through empathy mapping and audience journey exercises, to build effective, more engaging pathways of participation. These exercises require teams to think outside of their own experiences and mental framework, to expand and make space for others. Your diverse event team will be able to tap into a wide range of ideas, tackling obstacles (including racism and other social constructs) that would otherwise negatively impact the audience's experience.
It is clearer than ever that inequality is pervasive in all industries, geographies, and organizations. Providing facilitated conversations or panel discussions on equity, diversity, and inclusion and how it shows up in the spaces your company inhabits will communicate to participants that their experience matters and makes good on your overall commitments. Often, diverse groups are seeking to expand their personal communities by attending larger industry events, as they’re often underrepresented within those industries. Create tracks that allow niche groups to network and share ideas, like that LGBTQ+ in Engineering affinity group session offered within the 2019 American Society of Engineering Education Annual Conference. In our recent Digital Event Forecast, our ongoing analysis of 60+ events in the tech space, we saw several events showcase panel conversations designed especially for women working in the tech industry.
For some audiences, inclusion is about improving the experience of attending a live or virtual event. Consider providing American Sign Language (ASL) interpretation services and/or closed captioning for videos, as well as engaging translators that accommodate additional language speakers. Microsoft Build did both.
4. Make Your Commitment Evergreen
Inclusivity and diversity are not short-term trends. They are ongoing commitments to evolution, discovery, learning, and connection. Part of the work of creating an inclusive event requires weaving that commitment through your comprehensive engagement strategy and into the events that follow.
How can your initial stakeholder working group continue to revisit and evolve the top-line approach? Consider weaving it into your annual event strategy, design, and measurement processes. You may also be able to expand your future audiences by establishing scholarship funds for diverse and financially-challenged participants.
BizBash offers some great resources for promoting diversity and anti-racism within the event industry, as a whole.
Change and evolution can certainly be challenging to navigate, but it comes with many positive social, cultural, personal, and—as research has indicated time and again—financial results.
Going forward, your company’s event will be evaluated both on the offered content and experience, as well as who is NOT at the table. It is time for us to see the many ways that we all win by coming together to connect, partner, engage, and work.
If you would like to engage Impact Point Group’s team of experts as you define a thoughtful, responsive strategy for your next event, contact us.