How to make events meaningfully diverse and inclusive – no window dressing!
The world is a melting pot of diverse people and cultures, and we’re living in a time when diversity and inclusion are top of mind. While conferences, summits, meetups and other events are opportunities for people from the same industry to come together, learn, share experiences and make connections.
These types of events often bring together hundreds of people from different backgrounds and with varying abilities, including physical disabilities.
But let’s face it, events can also be downright alienating.
The way we approach diversity and inclusion at events can make or break their success. It's not just about having a diverse group of people in one space (although that is important). It's also about making sure everyone is included, valued, and treated with respect.
Events can discourage inclusion and diversity
The way you run your events can discourage diversity and hinder inclusion. When creating an event, organisers have a duty to ensure they're not just window dressing to “show” support for diversity efforts. Developing events that are meaningfully diverse and inclusive takes forethought and effort.
Why should it matter to you?
Because greater diversity and inclusion are advantageous because they expand your attendee base and give you a wide variety of opinions that will make your event more appealing, interesting, and impactful.
Plan for inclusion
As Catrice M. Jackson has said: “If you don’t have a plan for inclusivity, your plan is to be exclusive.”
Nowadays, event organisers are expected to have an inclusivity plan for their events. Often, these are reduced to a checklist of tasks that are more about representation than meaningful inclusion. The fact is that inclusion should be more than mere representation alone to leave a truly positive impact on your guests and the broader community.
Making an event accessible doesn't start when the event is underway – it should be considered at conceptualisation and throughout the entire planning process. Work actively with your team and community partners towards inclusivity from the outset of the planning process. This should include identifying potential barriers and solutions well ahead of time.
Create an inclusive culture
Truly inclusive events have an inclusive culture from the top down. Your events should reflect the community or society in which they take place, serve, and hope to attract and impact. This means hiring staff who mirror the diversity of the people and place represented. The more diverse and multicultural your team is, the more acknowledged, accommodated and heard your guests will feel. In addition, a diverse team brings unique perspectives and creative thinking to the party. They may also connect better with your clients, sponsors, speakers, and suppliers. Diversity in your team is the most authentic way of showing the world that your event’s inclusivity isn’t just for show.
Think broadly about barriers
Consider the full breadth of diversity including gender, race, ethnicity, language, class, sexual orientation, ability, religion, and physical ability. Nobody should feel out of place, marginalised, or disempowered to participate. Language, culture, sexual orientation, and physical abilities can be barriers to participation and inclusion if they are forgotten.
Here’s what to think about
Gender: How many women will be attending the event and what will their roles be? How can you make sure they are represented and feel safe and comfortable attending? If your event doesn’t include many women, find ways to make it more appealing and inclusive to them.
Race: Is your event welcoming to minority races? Are they represented in the activities and speakers? What can you do to make your event inclusive for people of colour?
Ethnicity: Is there enough representation from all ethnicities at your event? Do some members of your community feel excluded because they don't feel like they belong? How can we make sure everyone feels welcome in our space?
Inclusive language: Language barriers can lead to misunderstandings that could impact your event negatively. Are there words that exclude certain groups from participating in your space? If so, what can you do about them?
Diet: Most people tie their food choices to other belief systems including religion, environment, health, lifestyle, and more. Are you offering enough diversity in food choices?
Accessibility: Make sure that your events are accessible to people with disabilities. Are the venue and meeting spaces wheelchair-accessible? Have you considered acoustics for people with hearing impairments? Do you need to give access and space to accommodate service animals?
Culture and religion: These are also barriers to inclusivity if they're not considered during planning. Have you unconsciously alienated, excluded or affronted people from certain cultures or religions?
Look at who’s talking
Your speaker panel is the most outward-facing aspect of your event. An audience that does not feel represented is not likely to come back to your events. Strive for an adequate balance in terms of gender, race, ethnicity, ability, sexual orientation, religion, age, and other characteristics. A diverse speaker line-up will also contribute to richer conversations, more engaging and insightful sessions, and more impactful events.
Make content king
Your event content should be relevant and speak to the audience or community it represents. When devising your event programming, choose topics that resonate and directly impact the people you want to connect with.
Work with partners who have experience
Since 1993, The Event Production Company has produced events and experiences catering to a diversity of people and cultures in Africa and the United Arab Emirates. We will help you to conceptualise and execute truly inclusive events that will leave an imprint of your brand in the minds and hearts of the communities and people you want to influence.
Contact us for strategic and practised guidance on planning and producing innately inclusive events. We don’t do window dressing.