‘Do the best you can until you know better. Then when you know better, do better’ – Maya Angelou
As an industry, we have a way to go in inclusivity and diversity. We shouldn’t preach that every event we’ve ever created has been accessible and inclusive of every identity, ability and belief – because, in reality, they haven’t. But, now we know we could do better, we must change our behaviours and place inclusivity and diversity at the core of the events we produce, not just window dressing that ‘ticks’ a box.
In 2019 we hosted our largest and most diverse event to date, this was the pivot in ensuring that from here on out, the experiences we produce as a business reflect everyone in our society. These are the learnings that we as a business now strive for…
- Keep it neutral.
Gender neutralising everything from scripts and break out activities to toilets and including gender pro-nouns on delegate name tags means your event is open to everyone. If you go into an event not thinking of this sort of inclusivity, you’re being exclusive. We can no longer assume everyone identifies as he or she and an event that doesn’t recognise that is ignorant to the society that we live in today. By opening up your event to everyone in this way, you’re making sure that every single delegate feels welcomed and safe. It’s one of the easiest things to do and yet will make a huge impact on those in your audience who don’t identify as a specific gender. It’s still important to do this, even if there are no delegates you know who see themselves outside of the traditional gender boxes. Why? People have internal struggles that we don’t know about, have children, parents and siblings who identify differently and it’s time that events recognise this at each and every event they put on until it becomes second nature to us all.
- Food and Alcohol
The assumption that everyone wants to go to a company conference and get tipsy during the evening awards ceremony is outdated and the assumption that everyone at your event is comfortable drinking alcohol is one that needs to go! This is not saying you can’t have a cocktail bar and wine on the dinner table at your next gala dinner, but make sure that there are mocktail options and some delicious alcohol-free spritzers and cordials out on tables for those who are choosing not to drink. Water and ice don’t cut it, you need to make everyone feel special. The same goes for food – the world is getting more vegan, gluten, and dairy-free friendly, but know your audience and ask in pre-registration if people require Kosher or Halal options, have allergies or any other preference and accommodate for them.
There are disabilities in society that are both visible and invisible, so in pre-registration, it’s key to capture as much as you can to make sure everyone attending your event can participate fully. But like gender neutralisation, it goes beyond physical amendments like wheelchair accessibility and sign language interpreters. Building a script that addresses disabled people with dignity is as imperative as making sure your venue accepts service animals and having a pre-reg website that’s accessible to those with sight and hearing loss. There is an incredible guide by the ADA (American Disability association) that covers all elements we as able-bodied people have never even had to consider. We don’t know what we don’t know, so be willing to learn and make sure that in the planning process every ability is accounted for.
- Speakers that reflect society
If your entire panel discussion is made up of the same gender, people from the same economic, religious, or cultural background – don’t expect your audience to learn. Panels that project one voice, one group of society is not a panel at all. A wide variety of experience, views and expertise is vital in any debate and regardless of your delegate demographics. It should reflect the world we live in and give your audience an insight that could not get anywhere else. This mix of voices is also vital in ensuring we do no tokenise. Speakers should be invited because they have something incredible to say and a point of view that will enrich your event, if they want to talk about their experience with diversity then great, but do not expect it. Speakers aren’t there to tick a box, they’re there to share something important that will benefit your audience.
- Economic diversity
If a client is anticipating that their delegates will pay their own way to their compulsory event, we think it’s right to push back. Assuming that every one of your employees has the funds to travel from London to Newcastle for an event today is ignorant to the economic struggles many people face in today’s society. We all know how extortionate train fare can be, and you can’t assume that everyone has the luxury of owning a car. Even if you plan to expense costs, later down the line, for some people, paying for a £150 train ticket this month will mean they’re out of pocket until their next paycheck. The key here is choice. So, make sure if you’re putting on a companywide, compulsory conference that there are options for everyone such as paid for coaches from office locations and hybrid event broadcasting for delegates who feel more comfortable engaging from home.
A final takeaway… Always be open to learning.
The most imperative element of inclusivity and diversity is being constantly open to learning and accepting that your experience is not the same as that of the person next to you. This is something we literally will never stop learning about and acknowledging that we don’t know everything is okay, as long as you are willing to learn and change your behaviour once you know better. There are things here we’ve not covered, things that in two years will seem outdated, but as a business, we’ll continue to show up and do our best to create incredible experiences, for everyone.