Events have long been dominated and defined by a homogenous paradigm – predominantly male and white. Meetings Professional International (MPI) recently released a report to determine the current state of inclusion in global meetings and events.
The report aimed to find out how and to what extent event professionals plan for inclusivity and diversity, knowledge gaps in the area, the need for information and support and best practices for the creation of inclusive experiences. In the report, the concept of diversity was expressed in a wide range including ability, culture, demographic identities, health, personal characteristics, and professional background.
Overall, 40% respondents said that they don’t have all the information or knowledge needed to plan inclusive experiences. 39% said there aren’t any barriers to planning inclusive experiences. Others said they didn’t have time, budget, or leadership support to implement inclusive programmes.
On diversity attitudes, a majority of meeting professionals (31%) seem to think that inclusivity was a way to respond to guest expectations, 20% implement it because it’s a legal requirement, while 19% think that it will achieve business results and enhance their bottom line. Others believe inclusion initiatives are “just about being politically correct”.
Paula Sotnik, project director for the Institute for Community Inclusion said that small steps at events can help to make minorities feel welcome such as using words like “inclusive” to signal event philosophy. “It is a message to the community, and people look for that message. When the messaging is inclusive, people feel more comfortable identifying accommodations they would like to request,” she said.
On top of that, images can be powerful indicators of the people events welcome, or would like to welcome. Ultimately, it helps if attendees see themselves in the images chosen by organisers, so using images of people of different ages, races and genders, people of different abilities, sexual orientations, and religions will make a difference.
Mariela McIlwraith, director of industry advancement for the Events Industry Council, said that challenges exist for industry professionals looking to improve their marketing collaterals with more inclusive images.
“In image banks, searching for ‘leadership’ will usually yield images of white men. Searching for ‘work life balance’ usually yields images of distraught-looking women,” she said. “We need to make conscious choices to avoid this. Images of people in wheelchairs will often be taken with terrible wheelchairs – the type you get at the airport or hospital. It’s come to a point where it is hard to have images with people in them, as so many perpetuate stereotypes.”
During the registration process, meanwhile, event professionals cited challenges determining minority requirements while also keeping registration forms short. For instance, it’s rare that a registration forms requests for delegate to indicate their preferred gender pronouns besides the common Mr or Ms. Requirements like accessible registration options, accessible parking, or special health needs are also not often asked about.
One of the make-or-breaks of an inclusive event is its design. The study found that most planners select dates based on religious holidays in different faiths, perform site visits to determine accessibility of venue, and have discussions with caterers about various dietary needs. However, what still lacks is a selection of speakers or presenters that reflect the diversity of the audience they wish to attract, accessible fonts and colours, discussions with other suppliers about inclusivity goals, event materials in different languages, or on-site prayer rooms.
Tech and delivery of content too must be chosen carefully. “We have added bells and whistles to PPT presentations to make them fancy, but we don’t always think of people with low vision,” said McIlwraith. According to accessibility guidelines, materials are easiest to read when printed using a sans serif font in high-contrast colours. (For more information about making events digitally accessible, see here.)
To minorities, networking events can often look like groups of men who know already each other, guffawing at each other’s jokes. The study quoted strategic facilitator Jeff Hurt who said that networking should be about “seeking out people who are different from me and introducing them to my tribes” rather than about simply collecting business cards.
“I tell attendees to seek out someone who is different from them and share one thing other people wouldn’t know about them. This releases oxytocin, the bonding hormone,” he said.
Event design can also encourage networking among introverts. “I always include smaller cubbies in the design of bigger ballrooms, so people can observe what is going on in the bigger crowd, so they can recharge or stay with a few people they feel comfortable with,” said Hurt. Generally, according to the survey, meeting professionals say the groups best served by the event industry are male and extroverted attendees. They say introverted attendees are least-served.
For more information about the sample size and methodology of the study, access the full report here.