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Designing Your Next Meeting For Diversity & Inclusion

Diversity and inclusion are hot topics in the event world right now, but they aren’t just buzz words. They are 21st-century prerequisites for success. The Pew Research Center has shown that by 2055, the U.S. will no longer have a dominant racial or ethnic group—not to mention a continuing evolution of gender and religious affiliations, and an aging population. Meeting planners cannot afford to ignore these shifts.

On a more practical level, designing a meeting where no attendee feels out of place is just good business. Studies like those from Harvard Business School have shown that companies with greater internal diversity net noticeably higher profits than those with less. Plus, they enjoy 35 percent more financial returns than their industry medians across the U.S.

But beyond the numbers, diversity and inclusion are just good human practices. Every attendee wants to feel comfortable and welcome at your meeting. By going the extra mile to ensure this happens, you demonstrate your concern for them as individuals.

All this sounds great, of course, but how are you supposed to actually make your next meeting more welcoming and accessible? Here are a few practices to keep in mind:

Think Beyond Just Faces

We tend to equate diversity with skin tone, but diversity as a concept goes far deeper. For example, it can also refer to a diversity of ideas, or a diversity of offerings. As you search for panelists, try to pair not just divergent faces, but also divergent minds and perspectives. You might also consider halal, kosher and vegan food options this year, and dedicate a prayer room. You could offer mothers rooms, if applicable, or provide multilingual staff and gender-neutral restrooms. Not to mention briefing your speakers on inclusive language expectations. All of these are potential aspects of a more diverse and inclusive meeting. So don’t let your thinking stay skin-deep.

Ask More Open-Ended Questions

In order to achieve this fully inclusive and diverse event, questions are your best friend. Avoid picking a few big labels—such as “young black professionals” or “the LGBTQ community”— to accommodate in a generalized way. Instead, opt for a commitment to individuation, which will mean asking more questions of the real people involved in those groups, to truly understand what’s needed to be welcoming. Start early, enlisting perspectives from those who identify differently. Poll your audience. Ask open-ended questions. Without thoughtful conversations, the most well-meant attempts to include others can end up backfiring due to generalization, assumptions and stereotypes.

Diversify Your Event Planning Team

Diversity and inclusion are a team effort, so a collaborative approach to event planning is the best foundation for a successful meeting. If your planning committee members all look, sound and live like you—chances are, your event won’t connect powerfully beyond the group you represent. Instead, a more diverse team can help you identify your own preconceived ideas and dream up alternatives that speak to a wider audience. So this year, invite people of many different backgrounds, perspectives, ideas, ages and even organizational roles to provide input as early as possible in your planning process. Actively solicit their help in seeing your “blind spots,” too.

Create a Diversity and Inclusion Action Plan

It’s one thing to talk about bringing greater diversity and inclusion to your meeting. But creating a genuine action plan represents another level of commitment altogether. Once your planning committee has identified areas to focus on, turn those objectives into concrete steps for your event production schedule. This document should be practical and specific, identifying necessary and desired accommodations in various parts of the venue, additional staff needed, resources to allocate, etc. It should also outline who is responsible for executing each accommodation. Be as detailed as you possibly can.

Tour Your Event—in Someone Else’s Shoes

Once your action plan is in place, test every aspect of your event to see how well the plan holds up. Step into your audience’s shoes as much as possible. Are your identity questions phrased in an open-ended way on registration forms? Will attendees see a diverse cast of smiling faces at check in? Are halal, kosher and vegan food options clearly marked in food lines? Do your choices of furnishings accommodate people of varying sizes? You might even consider doing a venue walk-through on a scooter, or with one eye or both ears covered, in order to better understand the experience a differently-abled person will have.

Diverse and inclusive event planning is no longer a luxury; it’s now a necessity. It’s also a great business decision that—research suggests—does seriously impact your brand and the bottom line of your meeting. With your smart questions, open mind and collaborative approach, even small shifts will represent big wins for everyone.

Still not sure how to incorporate greater diversity and inclusion into your next meeting? The team at LSAV POWERHOUSE offers a dynamic, turnkey approach to event production that designs for diversity and inclusion right from the very first strategic planning session. Check out our portfolio here and contact us to learn more.

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