Unless you’ve been living under a rock lately, you may have noticed an increasing level of scrutiny on event diversity.
From the ‘Congratulations, you have an all male panel!’ meme to the endless stream of photos that reveal certain events to be seriously lacking in racial diversity, the homogeneity of your event really isn’t something that you can leave unchecked anymore. Event diversity isn’t a buzzword, its a serious element of a well rounded event.
A diversity of perspectives means a wider variety of ideas, discussions and perspectives and ultimately better events. This is especially true if you work in fields that are known to have a diversity problem (longstanding issues for women in STEM for example).
So how can you make sure your event diversity is as good as possible?
Food, timing and infrastructure are all things that can slip by under your nose and end up undoing a lot of good effort when it comes to event diversity. Try to ensure that the catering at your event has options for different diets, which needn’t be difficult if you add a field in your registration form for people to cite special requirements.
Similarly, make sure you haven’t booked your event on a major religious holiday that you weren’t aware of. A quick google search is all it takes.
Where possibly try to use disability friendly event spaces and factor this into how you speak to venues. It may often be the case that the space can be made more accessible on request if you make it an important criteria of whether you will use the venue.
A growing number of events now include a gender neutral Mx. honorific in their registration forms. This and name-tags including preferred pronouns have been standard practice at LGBTQ events for years, but generally have not reached the mainstream just yet. Depending on your target market, this could be a really well received gesture.
There is nothing more frustrating than when an event has a talk on ‘Diversity in X Industry’, which has a really diverse panel of speakers and then to find out that the rest of their panels are exclusively white and/or male. Make sure that you have maintained an ethos of diversity across the entirety of your event and you’re not just playing it for good public image.
Event organizers are in a profession that is often built on being risk averse, so have a tendency to want to choose the same speakers over and over (an all male panel can seem like a safe bet). If you do this consistently, you won’t represent your whole audience properly and run a hidden risk of alienating a portion of your attendees.
Class and income are also critical areas of diversity that are very often overlooked. Are the tickets for your event expensive? Is there no public transport to get there? Are all the food and drink options extortionate? Then you’ve cut out a significant chunk of the population already. Consider creating an event scholarship programme with reduced or free tickets to ensure that everyone who could benefit from your event has a chance to go.
Broaden your marketing
A lot of event organisers and advertisers worry about coming off as exploitative or pandering if they contact different organisations directly to tell them about their event, or create other more targeted marketing. This is really a misunderstanding of the issue at hand – if your event really has something to offer, then you have to tell people about it. Creating ‘neutral’ advertising often means that you are only marketing to dominant cultural groups.
Entertainment needs to be diverse as well
You can have all the diverse speakers, marketing and research you want, but don’t lose sight of the experience your attendees will receive. What tends to slip by event organisers is that when they develop the entertainment element of the event, they tend to focus on what they would find enjoyable. Try to view your event from the outside, or better yet ask someone, whether your event is unintentionally exclusive. A bizarre case? Oculus Rift, one of the forerunners of virtual reality tech, has an ongoing problem with making women nauseous because it was built largely using male test subjects.
For example, is your event entertainment heavily alcohol focused? While an event with no alcohol at entertainment is likely to be a dealbreaker for many event planners, try to make sure that your event has something going for it other than everyone getting drunk.
Black-tie events also regularly throw up issues for gender nonconforming people, for whom formal wear can be a bit of a nightmare. Emphasize an inclusive, welcoming atmosphere and try to avoid highly gendered language and themes to increase your event diversity.
The crux making your events diverse is ultimately a question of reaching out. Make sure your attempts to be inclusive actually involves talking to people from the groups you’re trying to include. Attempting to do it all yourself is a recipe for disaster, but some research and communication into event diversity could make your event even better for even more people.