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Increasing DEI at Your Event_Blog

Increasing Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion at Your Event

Laying The Groundwork For Inclusive and Immersive Meetings


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In the ever-evolving landscape of event planning, the priorities of meeting planners continue to shift. As the industry continually adapts to attendees' changing needs and expectations, one paramount consideration is at the forefront of every planner's mind - Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI).  DEI has become a pivotal aspect of event organization, reflecting a collective commitment to fostering environments that celebrate diversity and ensure equitable experiences for all participants.  

The significance of incorporating these principles into event planning extends beyond mere tokenism or box-checking exercises. It represents a fundamental shift towards creating inclusive spaces that resonate with the diverse backgrounds, perspectives, and identities of attendees.  The event’s industry has already made some DEI efforts at their events. A study by Meeting Professionals International (MPI) found that 20% of event professionals already implement DEI initiatives to comply with legal requirements, and a Culture Amp Diversity study found that 80% of those implementing DEI changes said it was better for attendees and business alike!

In this blog, we will delve into the importance of DEI in event planning as well as some ideas you can utilize for a transformative impact on attendee satisfaction, engagement, and the overall success of your events. Below we'll get into just what entails an inclusive event and discuss some best practices for each step of your event:

Defining DEI
Obstacles and Challenges
Pre-Event Planning

Defining DEI
Understanding the depth of DEI considerations is essential to crafting events that not only meet but exceed the expectations of a diverse and discerning audience.  So what exactly does DEI at an event entail?  Let’s break it down piece by piece:

Diversity encapsulates the representation of a wide array of demographic characteristics, including, but not limited to, race, ethnicity, gender, age, sexual orientation, physical abilities, socio-economic background, and more. In the context of events, a diverse gathering encompasses a broad spectrum of participants and speakers, cultivating a wide range of perspectives and insights that enrich the overall experience.  Here’s a great breakdown of the types of diversity to consider at your event.  

Equity ensures that everyone has equal access to opportunities and resources regardless of their background. In the context of events, equity demands the removal of barriers to participation, guaranteeing that all attendees and speakers enjoy equitable access and opportunities. This commitment to fairness and impartiality is pivotal in creating an event environment where every individual, regardless of their background, has the chance to thrive and benefit from the content your event is providing.

Inclusion is more than just numerical representation. It means creating an environment where everyone feels respected and valued.   When your event goes beyond just a business gathering to a space with an inherent sense of belonging, you empower your guests to fully participate and contribute. When applied to events, an inclusive gathering is more than just the presence of diverse participants; it needs to actively foster a culture where diverse voices are heard instead of just present.

Obstacles & Challenges
While the push for more DEI initiatives has been an ongoing effort for the industry, the same MPI study also found that many event professionals are still struggling to successfully foster diversity and inclusion at events. Sixty-one percent of planners said they experience barriers to planning inclusive events. These challenges range from lack of information to budget constraints and everything in between.  Here are some of the most common challenges planners face when attempting to plan an inclusive event:

  1. Limited Representation: This refers to the underrepresentation or absence of diverse voices, perspectives, and demographic groups within the planning, execution, and participation of an event. 

    At an industry conference, the speaker lineup predominantly features individuals from similar professional backgrounds, limiting the diversity of perspectives. To mitigate this, event organizers can actively seek out speakers from various industries and backgrounds, ensuring a more comprehensive range of insights.

  2. Implicit Bias: This issue involves unconscious attitudes and stereotypes that influence decision-making processes, potentially leading to unintentional discrimination or favoritism based on factors such as race, gender, or other characteristics, impacting the inclusivity of events.

    : During the selection process for workshop leaders, unconscious biases lead to a disproportionate preference for certain demographics. Implementing a blind review process or diverse selection panels can help minimize the impact of implicit biases, fostering fairer and more inclusive speaker selections.

  3. Accessibility Issues: This encompasses barriers that prevent individuals with disabilities from fully participating in events, including physical, digital, or communication-related challenges, posing obstacles to equal opportunities and experiences.

    An event venue lacks wheelchair ramps and adequate signage, making navigating challenging for attendees with mobility impairments. To address this, event organizers can conduct thorough accessibility assessments, implement the necessary modifications, and provide detailed accessibility information to attendees in advance of the event.

  4. Inclusive Marketing: This issue involves intentionally creating promotional materials and campaigns that represent diverse identities and experiences, fostering an environment where attendees from all backgrounds feel acknowledged and welcome.
    Example: An event’s promotional material predominantly features images and language that cater to a specific demographic, inadvertently alienating others. Simple changes to graphic design and offering multiple languages (including braille) for the document can help offset this issue.
  5. Inequitable Policies: This refers to rules, regulations, or procedures within event planning that inadvertently perpetuate disparities or fail to address the diverse needs of participants, hindering their access or contribution to specific content.

    Example: Registration processes may inadvertently exclude individuals due to inflexible policies.  For instance, only being able to register online excludes would-be attendees without reliable access to a computer or internet access. To enhance inclusivity, event organizers can review and revise policies, incorporating flexibility to accommodate diverse needs and circumstances, such as offering various registration options or refund policies.

  6. Microaggressions and Discrimination: This is a broad issue that encompasses subtle, often unintentional acts or comments that belittle, marginalize, or discriminate against individuals based on their race, gender, or other personal attributes, creating unwelcome and exclusive event environments.

    Example: In a workshop, a participant experiences microaggressions based on ethnicity, creating an unwelcome environment. Implementing training sessions on cultural sensitivity for staff and participants can help eliminate microaggressions and promote a more respectful event atmosphere.

  7. Lack of Cultural Competency: This issue highlights the absence of understanding, awareness, and sensitivity to diverse cultural backgrounds, impeding the creation of events that genuinely resonate with a broad spectrum of attendees.

    Example: An event’s catering menu fails to consider dietary restrictions based on cultural or religious practices. Enhancing cultural competency involves collaborating with diverse food vendors, using pre-event surveys to understand dietary preferences, and offering a variety of inclusive menu options that cater to diverse needs can help offset obstacles of this kind.

  8. Resistance to Change: The reluctance or opposition to adopting DEI principles within event planning hinders progress toward creating more inclusive and equitable experiences for all participants.

    Example: Due to the convenience of booking, a company continues to use a venue without wheelchair ramps for their event each year. Establishing open communication channels with attendees about how this resistance has affected their experience (through post-event surveys), providing educational resources, and showcasing the positive impact of DEI initiatives can help overcome resistance and encourage gradual adoption.

  9. Budget Constraints: In the wake of COVID-19, many planning budgets are still recovering.  This issue denotes the financial limitations that may impede the implementation of comprehensive DEI initiatives, potentially compromising the ability to address and overcome various barriers to inclusion.

    Example: Using the previous example, the company continues to use a venue without wheelchair ramps simply because it is the only one they can afford. Creative solutions include seeking partnerships with DEI-focused organizations, leveraging volunteer efforts, or gradually phasing in initiatives over multiple events to accommodate budget constraints can help offset budget constraints when it comes to DEI

  10. Lack of Metrics: This issue is the absence of clear benchmarks, measurement tools, and mechanisms for assessing the effectiveness of DEI efforts in events, making it challenging to track progress and ensure ongoing improvement.

    Example: Event organizers struggle to assess the impact of DEI efforts in their post-event survey as they never defined the issue their efforts were trying to resolve. Establishing clear metrics, such as attendee feedback surveys, diversity in leadership roles, and tracking demographic data, can provide measurable insights, enabling continuous improvement and accountability for future events.


Pre-Event Planning
So now that we’ve discussed what DEI is and some of the obstacles it presents, what are some ways we, as planners, can start making the necessary changes to our process?  As with most things, the simplest changes begin at home!  Here are some things for you and your team  to consider during the pre-event planning portion of your event:

  • Set DEI Goals and Objectives for the Event: Clearly defining your company’s DEI goals and objectives provides a roadmap for event planning. This step involves articulating your ideal outcomes related to diversity, equity, and inclusion that you can measure against after the event has ended to see how well your efforts paid off.  

  • Develop an Inclusive Event Marketing Strategy: Crafting an inclusive event marketing strategy is crucial for reaching diverse audiences. This includes ensuring diverse representation in promotional materials on platforms like social media, employing inclusive language, and considering DEI graphics considerations. Consider utilizing the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) to ensure that your online presence is accessible to everyone, addressing font choices, alt text, navigation, and color considerations.  Some core tenants for WCAG are structuring your content in a logical, meaningful way, including thoughtfully written alt text on all images, making navigation intuitive, including for people who use the keyboard alone, choosing fonts, font size, and font colors that meet accessibility guidelines, and leave plenty of white space (aka negative space) between design elements.  There are plenty of free WCAG checkers available online to ensure your marketing content is compliant.  Additionally, design the event website to be inclusive for all individuals with disabilities. Optimize it for screen readers, ensure a contrasting and accessible color scheme, and provide closed captioning for any video content.

  • Build Your Team: It’s not surprising that preparing your event team is fundamental to executing a DEI-focused event. Providing DEI training for event staff and volunteers, raising awareness of unconscious bias, and promoting a culture of inclusivity within the event team are all ways you can foster an environment of understanding and collaboration that will extend to your event.  A diverse team can actually be a more productive team as well!  According to a 2018 Deloitte Review,  diverse project teams create 30% less risk in execution and lead to 20% more creative input. 

  • Conduct a DEI Assessment for the Event: Before the event kicks off, a thorough DEI assessment is essential. This involves scrutinizing various facets such as the venue, attendees, menu, and more. By conducting an audit of past events (if data is available), you can identify areas for improvement in diversity, equity, and inclusion, laying the groundwork for a more inclusive experience.  Be sure to take special considerations when planning your event logistics as well (for example, try to avoid having event dates that overlap with special religious observations).  

  • Vet Your Venue: The venue you choose can have some of the biggest impact on your event’s overall accessibility. The Americans with Disabilities Act guidelines are a great place to start when it comes to selecting your venue.  Thoroughly examine the location in advance to confirm that the infrastructure accommodates individuals with physical disabilities. This criterion includes everything from accessible bathroom options to minimum door sizes, so making sure your venue is compliant with most, if not all, of these guidelines can increase your event’s inclusion factor.
  • Plan Diverse Speaker Panels: A key aspect of promoting diversity is reflected in the selection of speakers. Creating diverse speaker panels involves seeking a variety of perspectives, backgrounds, and experiences, ensuring that your event provides a platform for a broad range of voices.  Consider using a BIPOC Speaker at your event (Black, Indigenous, or Person of Color), as doing so opens up opportunities for under-represented groups to share their perspective and professional expertise beyond just “let’s talk diversity.”  Don’t be afraid to ask your audience for recommendations, either!  An audience that is diverse will offer up diverse speakers accordingly, and this type of input will help your guests feel heard and engaged in the event before it starts.

  • Use Diverse Vendors: From women or minority-owned businesses to vendors with special DEI initiatives in their communities, aligning with partners who contribute to your event’s diversity and inclusion is a great way to get your event socially conscious from the start!   When you survey potential partners, check to see whether they implement DEI policies in their practices and whether women and people from ethnic minorities are in positions of power within the organizations. Don’t hesitate to reach out to prospective partners with your event’s specific DEI goals to see how they can assist you and your team. 
  • Offer Scholarships: In the post-COVID world, hybrid events still play an important role when it comes to easily accessible events.  Consider offering a scholarship for a limited number of would-be virtual attendees.  This can make an event that is otherwise unrealistic due to fiscal or physical constraints for an individual more accessible.  These types of scholarships are a perfect sponsor item to help offset the costs for your company as well!
  • Check Yourself: There are a lot of great resources out there when it comes to double-checking your planning work.  Checklists and self-audits like Bizzaboo’s Event Strategy Self Assessment can help you pinpoint areas you might have overlooked during your initial planning.

So, the invites have gone out, the registrations have been completed, and the day of the meeting has finally arrived, which also means a more hands-on approach to DEI.  Here are some active on-site considerations to ensure that your DEI efforts are employed and your attendees are making the most of your inclusive event amenities.

  • Implement Inclusive Networking Opportunities: Networking is one of the biggest reasons guests attend live events, and on-site engagement begins with fostering inclusive networking opportunities. Providing your attendees an opportunity to specify their name pronunciations and pronouns facilitates respectful and accurate introductions, creating a more welcoming environment for networking.  Items like the Pronoun Ribbon Pack are easy to incorporate into your registration process and give guests some autonomy over how others address them. This is an easy and eye-catching way to create a more inclusive environment during your networking blocks!

  • Implement Gender-Neutral Facilities: Promoting inclusivity extends to the restroom facilities. Implementing gender-neutral facilities provides an inclusive space for all attendees, creating a welcoming and comfortable environment.  Be sure to include these facilities on your event material and proper on-site signage.

  • Provide Language Accessibility and Translation Services: Language should never be a barrier to participation. Offering language accessibility and translation services ensures that all attendees can engage fully, embracing diversity in linguistic backgrounds.  This extends to considerations like hearing needs and vision impairment as well.  You can enhance the impact of your event’s content by providing on-site sign language interpreters and offering alternative dialogue options through electronic display panels, captions, and large-font subtitles for sessions and keynotes.

  • Wheelchair Accessibility: While basic wheelchair considerations should have been covered when selecting your venue, there is actually more to be done during your event.  Consider the on-site needs of guests using wheelchairs, ensuring unobstructed entrances and pathways. Eliminate barriers like carpets, which may pose challenges for wheelchair users.  Don’t forget to extend this to the parking lot as well!  Accommodate the parking needs of individuals with wheelchairs and other mobility devices by providing ample accessible parking spaces and ensuring proximity to public transportation options for convenience.

  • Make Space for Everyone: A diverse crowd means diverse needs, so it’s important to try to create a space for everyone at your event. Make space for prayer rooms for all religions, lactation rooms for breastfeeding mothers, and quiet areas for guests who get overstimulated or just need a place to not be social.  It’s not just people who need these spaces, either!  Implement policies that welcome service animals, establish accessible areas with animal-friendly walkways, and provide spaces where the animals can rehydrate and get some rest.

  • Promote Diversity within Event Entertainment: Elevate the attendee experience by promoting diversity within your event’s entertainment outside of your speakers. This involves offering accessible and inclusive activities.  Whether using vendors with DEI initiatives to source your promotional materials or offering mocktails or religious-cognizant menu items at the opening ceremony, keeping even the non-business side of your event inclusive can help guests feel welcomed throughout the entire event.

  • Incorporate Varied Perspectives and Voices in Content: Diversity should permeate all aspects of event content, from presentations to roundtable discussions. Ensuring varied perspectives in decision-making processes helps curate content that reflects the richness of diverse viewpoints, fostering engagement and inclusivity.  Try to use your pre-event survey information to build diverse focus groups for post-breakout roundtable discussions.  This will not only enhance your event’s DEI but also provide a lot of different perspectives and, by extension, value for your attendees.

  • Utilize Technology for Remote Attendee Participation: Acknowledging the hybrid nature of many events is crucial to leveraging technology for remote attendee participation. This includes ensuring accessibility features on virtual platforms, providing closed captioning and sign language interpreters, and implementing a user-friendly interface. By prioritizing these elements, you can successfully bridge the gap between on-site and remote participants, which fosters an inclusive experience for all.

  • Effective Signage: Signage is crucial for guiding guests around the event. Utilize clear, easily readable, and accessible signs to cater to diverse needs. Incorporate Braille where appropriate, and create large signs with high-contrast, non-glare finishes for optimal visibility.  Use your signage to let your attendees know that DEI considerations are implemented and available.  You can create event cohesion by identifying certain symbols, decals, colors, etc, that you use for particular accommodations to make it easy for your guests to independently navigate on-site during your event! Be sure to check out our Accessible and Inclusive Event Signage blog for a more in-depth look at how to optimize your event graphics for a truly immersive and inclusive event.

Once the curtains close on an event, the commitment to DEI persists through a robust post-event evaluation. This involves actively collecting feedback on DEI initiatives and encouraging attendees to share their experiences and insights. 

  • Don’t Wait:  Many post-event surveys are sent via e-mail after the event has ended.  While this is an easy and quick way to get your communication out to attendees, guests without reliable tech access or who have reading impairments can fall by the wayside when this is the only communication channel.  Consider having post-event survey stations set up on-site on the last day of your event where your staff can help collect guests' input before they leave the venue.  
  • Keep Your Marketing Consistent:  Just as with your pre-event marketing materials, your post-event communications should be mindful of your audience's diversity and abilities.  This means using accessible language in your surveys (or different languages where applicable) and keeping the user interface simple for digital surveys so that everyone’s voices can be heard.
  • Measure Against Your Goals:  Remember those metrics you defined in your pre-event step?  It’s time to see how you did! Use your post-event surveys to attendees and your on-site observations to identify areas of success and areas needing enhancement.  Accessibility is an ongoing process, and this type of data collection paves the way for continuous improvement in the planning and execution of future events. 
  • Get Certified:  For those looking to take the concept of DEI at their events to the next level, consider getting certified!  PCMA Event DEI  Strategist Certification is a certification that can help you develop a culture that supports a commitment to DEI both at your organization and your events.  Courses like these often have multiple enrollment periods throughout the year. They are a great resource for the continued advancement of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion in the events industry.

When it comes down to it, there’s no universal or one-size-fits-all answer to DEI.  Rather, it’s an ongoing process of learning and implementing to build a more welcoming and accessible world for everyone.  There may be items we missed in this blog, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t a great solution for your event!  Let us know in the comments what approaches are you taking at your meetings that you’ve seen success with.  We’ll continue to update this blog as a resource for everyone to use, and together, we can make our industry a more inclusive place where everyone benefits!

Zack Malpass
Written by Zack Malpass

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