Part 2. Thriving Diversity & Inclusion at events: “The HOW”

Rita Jusztina Varga Managing Director

This article was first published on LinkedIn. Check out the original post.

In the first part of this article I talk about “the WHY”, by sharing some key data about the advantages (tangible and intangible), of creating gender diverse events.

In this second part of this article I would focus on “the How” by sharing some practical tips on creating diverse and inclusive events.

Before we get started, I would like to emphasize that the concept of diversity encompasses acceptance and respect. It means understanding that each individual is unique, and recognizing our individual differences. These can be along the dimensions of race, ethnicity, gender, sexual diversity and orientation, socio-economic status, age, physical abilities, religious beliefs, political beliefs, or other ideologies.

We need to fundamentally understand and accept how different perspectives and life experiences among speakers will bring a richer conversation to any conference, and as a result, encourage greater attendee participation from diverse and underestimated communities.

Diversity is being invited to a party, inclusion is being invited to dance” Verna Myers, VP Inclusion Strategy Netflix

The other day I watched an online event. 6 speakers, 5 male, one female. The experienced, professional woman has been recruited explicitly to break the panel’s monotony.

The lady was just staring in the camera, while she had no question directed towards her, neither did she get a breather by the rest of the panel who were clearly fighting for attention.

That instantly reminded me at one of my favourite Tedx Talks by Arwa Mahdawi – And her “solution” of Workplace Diversity – Rent a Minority. At this point I rather not spoil check out the video.

Creating that diverse panel is actually not enough, inclusion is the key. Inclusion is a universal human right. The aim of inclusion is to embrace all people irrespective of race, gender, disability, medical or other need. It is about giving equal access and opportunities and getting rid of discrimination and intolerance (removal of barriers).

Organizers have to make sure that all are equally involved and have a voice at events.

Ken Sterling , Executive Vice President of BigSpeak says: “Panels tend to mirror the teams that create them,”

“If you want to (succeed with attendees), you need to break up the old school fraternity and bring in more people who look like the real world.”

At one of our LinkedIn Live episode we invited a great speaker, male privileged, typically a go to person, well demanded on the events market but still genuinely humble and most importantly supportive of WHTT.

He participated at the – in many ways – diverse panel, you could see how well the dynamics just worked and we covered the topics from different angles. A couple of weeks later he participated on another panel where he only shared with the good old all white privileged male situation, you saw the dynamics fairly quickly becoming a strength comparison, his tone become less compassionate, louder in tone it was very interesting to watch.

What to do and how?

As I mentioned in the first part of the article since the beginning of the lockdown we have produced over 50 LinkedIn Live events with WHTT (Women in Hospitality and Travel-Tech), here are some best practices I would love to share. During these events we got a fair amount of surprises of course it all being live stream you could really get a feeling who makes an amazing speaker and it is not your typical candidate most of the time and I can definitely confirm what Sterling says; bringing a variety of people who just are different compontent of a topic with diverse background are the ones who are the most successful and more importantly resonate with audiences.

Take a look at two examples:

Here are practical points to apply when organizing an event:

1. Create the setup in advance. Depending on the topics and type of event predefine who how you would like to divide to panels. Ticking the box is not enough. Tokenizing will not bring the results you wish to get from a content point of view.

2. Look for speakers beyond your network. Many feedbacks we have received when approaching gender balance at events stated that there are only a handful of candidates on their books. If you are stuck feel free to reach out to your network or come to WHTT send your enquiry via the Find Your Speaker tool.

3. Don’t look for experts by titles. When we think about the speakers usually we go for “the privileged white male figure” as a good old habit. It is clear the stereotype speaker is more willing to say yes, and more likely to practice self-promotion. As long as trust and credibility is not related to any scientific results, a speaker being an opinion leader is also subject to opinion. I guarantee that the one speaker you underestimate is going to be the one delivering THAT memorable line.

4. Invite underrepresented speakers first. It might take you more time or eventually have to reorganize some part of your events. Invite more speakers to the panel than planned to get the results right. Speakers from underrepresented groups might need some encouragement sometimes but with just a spoon full of self-confidence the results are incredible.

5. Think global, act local. With online events being so popular there are no real demographic boundaries and your options to find great speakers from other areas are as high as ever. My personal mission is to make benchmarking common practice. Your market is unique but said you couldn’t learn from others?

6. Avoid tokenism. The only woman or underrepresented individual on a panel should not be asked to speak for all people who identify in this way. Speakers from the the black community should not only be asked to join any panel when it comes to diversity. To avoid that situation, aim to have the panel represent the demographics of the topic. One woman cannot speak on behalf of all womankind as much as a black person cannot speak for all black people. Our BAME Leadership in Hospitality talk showed just that.

7. Support speakers to enable equal chances in the online era you saw people going from giving mode to actually start charging for events. Sometimes to get the right mix and voice to make your event more diverse you just need to provide economical support, as well as allowing everyone to have an equal benefit. Once we go back to more and more face to face events this can be a good way to mobilize people from different areas and diversity layers adding the more value to your events.

8. Are you the sponsor? Use your power. If you’re in the position of being able to sponsor an event, refuse to do so if there isn’t a diverse lineup of speakers. Specifically state that you’re looking to use your sponsorship budget to create a diverse and inclusive environment. When you vote with your dollars, conference organizers are more likely to take action.

9. Refuse to speak at or attend an event with a homogenous lineup. Use your privilege. The more high-profile you are, the more impact you’re likely to make when you take this action. Where possible, amplify and attend conferences that do prioritize speaker diversity, and specifically state why you value this. As someone who cares deeply about managing her time, I explain that I find it a waste of time to attend an event where I won’t learn from a wide variety of expertise, views, and experiences.

10. Last but not least Practice what you preach – if you are a woman or represent an underrepresented community treat your audience as you would like to be treated. In hospitality your audience is more diverse than almost any other industries. Pretty disappointing to see when you fight for diversity as a mission and organize an all white priviledge male panel by trade. With great content and inclusion comes great result.

It might be a bit of extra work trying to keep all these points; there is a start to everything and in this case is coming to the realization that diversity and inclusion of any layers just makes sense. It might be only unconsious until you are conscious about it.

As WHTT we keep on changing and reinventing the panel and event structures. If we can do it you can do it too. If you need support we are here for you:

Watch the space for more updates on the balanced events initiative.

I would like to personally thank to all speakers involved in WHTT LinkedIn Live episodes, the amazing team of WHTT, the Revenue HACKS team and my voice coach Kim A Page

Have I missed something? Do you agree? Do you disagree? Feel free to reach out.




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