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Welcome to this week’s #EventIcons, where we’ll discuss the topic of diversity and inclusion in events. And if you’ve been following us for a while, you know this isn’t new. Because we find this to be such an important conversation, we’ve covered it a few times already. However, things like diversity and inclusion in events will always remain extremely important. Plus, we’re happy to have as many perspectives as we possibly can on the matter.

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So joining us today are our lovely hosts Brandt Krueger and Alex Plaxen, along with two special guests! Hilary Howes and Risha Grant are two icons of the events industry that can’t wait to share their opinions. And this will be one of the most in-depth, interesting conversations you’ve ever witnessed. So press play and join us on the path to a better world!

Diversity And Inclusion: What’s The Difference?

Even though they’re often put in the same bag, diversity and inclusion in events are not quite the same thing. “Well, I think that we use them together, but in many ways, they’re sort of one step and then the next”, says Hilary. “You can promote diversity, so you can seek it out, you can hire a diverse workforce. Inclusion is how you practice it. So it’s how it works within your company, how you focus on, really including everybody. Making everyone comfortable in the workplace”.

“They are two separate things”, adds Risha. “Diversity is that unique spark that we all have that makes us different. It’s what gives you a competitive advantage. I mean yes, it’s the categorical things of your race, your age, your sexuality, your religion and all of those things. But it’s also those food preferences that you have, the way you rock your hairstyle. It’s truly you, about you”.

“Inclusion, I think inclusion creates value around the diversity that we have. So I like to think of it as diversity is all about you, inclusion is about us. And inclusion is honestly where I think we all suck at. We don’t do a good job of making sure that all the voices are heard. We just don’t, and we really need to do a much better job of that, so that people actually feel like they belong”.

Diversity And Inclusion In EventsThe Struggle Of Diversity And Inclusion In Events

Both our hosts and our guests agree that the events industry struggles with diversity and inclusion. “What makes us all the same is that we are all different. And we do have all these unique little things about us”, says Alex. “But I think that from an events perspective there’s absolutely a way that we can try to be as inclusive as possible of everyone based on their differences. And that’s where the industry struggles”.

“Right, I see a lot of diversity conferences. Not too long ago a client actually posted a photo from a huge conference. And they had a diversity panel but it was all white men”, Risha recalls. ” I thought, “How does that happen for a diversity panel?” I can’t understand how that happens. And that’s why I feel a lot of times that we just don’t care. We know better, and we just don’t care to do better”.

“Well, I think one of the biggest challenges for people is that underneath whatever kind of cover that we might have, we think that everyone thinks like us”, adds Hilary. “And so we look for people who do think like us. And so we have this challenge in creating inclusion, in finding people who don’t look like us. It has to be an active process. In my creative process it’s always a matter of, if I can include more people in that process, it gets more creative. I mean, I’ve got lots of great ideas on my own. But if I connect with a client who sees things a little differently, then how are our ideas mashed together gets more exciting. It gets more interesting. And I think that that’s true in every setting. So we have to reach out, and especially the people who aren’t speaking up”.

Why Does It Matter?

“I think it’s simple”, says Risha. “I mean, my heart wants to say, “Because it’s the right thing to do.” But for a business, I’m going to say, “Because your company needs to reflect the world that it operates in.” And as we become more diverse, you look at disposable spending in diverse communities. We’re talking 14 trillion dollars. And most of your companies realize that there is disposable money in these communities, but 60% of marketing managers still don’t earmark dollars for those diverse groups”.

“So it’s hard for me to understand, and that’s why I focus on the unconscious bias”, she continues. “Because nothing else makes sense. You know the money is there, but you won’t put any of the money into those communities. So that’s why I think it’s important. Otherwise, you risk alienating huge groups of people with a lot of money to spend. And I believe that companies that do that are not going to have the longevity and sustainability that they need to continue for”.

Diversity And Inclusion In Events: The Barriers

“I think that partly part of it is our thinking”, says Hilary. “Because we’re looking for people who think like you, we often look for people who look like us. And I think that the largest barrier is to step beyond just your friends and just the people you happen to naturally get connected with. I think you have to take that step, and I guess that’s the diversity part, in particular, is actually seeking out people who think differently than you. Who look different than you, to really expand your horizons. It really is enriching, that’s what we have to understand, it’s not just because it’s nice to do. It’s because it’s important that you get that diversity of opinion. You can’t reach a wide, wide market from just a single perspective”.

“I also think the biggest barrier we face is fear”, adds Risha. “That whole belief system of fear is so strong. So I think the fear of the unknown, or we grew up living through the past pace and experiences of the people who raised us. And so we hear things that are introduced to us really young, and it becomes a bias, and it becomes a fear. Not even fear that we’ve experienced ourselves in a lot of those instances. But through the experiences of our parents or grandparents, or whoever was in our lives. And so when we’re in proximity to the people that we fear, we just shrink. Fear it’s paralyzing for so many people. And I think we have to, it’s okay to have fear, but do it anyway”.

Diversity And Inclusion In EventsPaving The Road For Diversity And Inclusion At Events

“I think by making sure that the event is marketed in a way that it includes diverse groups of people”, says Risha. “And that marketing may look a little different than it does for the mainstream market. But taking the time to figure out how to reach those audiences. I think that you’ll begin to see diversity at events. Always tell people, you have to think a little unconventional”.

“A barbershop, a black men’s barbershop on a Saturday, they’re solving all the world problems that you can find in there. So you have to be a little unconventional in how you think about getting different people to your events. But if you put the time in, just like you would with the mainstream market. Just kind of doing your research to figure out where you need to go and get the attention of different people, then you’ll find that and there are a lot of people out there willing to help with that as well”.

“Being black does not connect you to that community. Being gay doesn’t connect you to that community”, she continues. “Connection is intentional. So if you ask them upfront, you tell them what you expect and what you need, they can tell you whether or not they’re the person for that. But the inclusive part of it is having those people that are making the decisions. And I think being upfront about what you need from diverse people”.

Considering All Human Beings

“I think it’s a matter of considering the diversity of how people think”, says Hilary. “And so you have to consider neurological diversity, and how you go about setting up the communication. So is it communicating well to people who are both visual or verbal, or they need to have touch involved. You got to kind of catch people at whatever they’re bringing to the table. Is there a gluten-free option, and is there access for all the people who have handicaps? A lot of times that gets overlooked”.

“Like having a reception with really loud music and bright lights in your face”, says Alex. “That’s not for everybody. And so you’re missing out on networking opportunities which for a lot of people is one of the reasons they need face-to-face is for the networking options you’re basically saying, “Your type of networking isn’t welcome here.” And I think that there’s a lot of that goes into diversity and inclusion, I think it’s overwhelming. But there’s so much to consider”.


Brandt is curious to know how expressions like “ladies and gentlemen” can be replaced. “It causes a lot of confusion. I really have a tough time with they and them and getting that right”, says Risha. “Because I think neurologically we look at people, we put them in a category, either they’re male or female. And so when you identify as different than how you look, I think that it’s hard for people to remember those pronouns. So I think grace is going to have to go a long way as we constantly see the changes”.

“And they are constantly happening, so I’ve had so many people tell me about their children transitioning. But then not giving them space to also deal with what’s going on. And so I think there’s going to have to be a lot of grace as we all grow and become more and more accepting. It’s probably one of the most significant changes in the world of diversity”.

“I think that there are ways to do it without necessarily gendering”, adds Hilary. “And I think this is something about the people who choose to be non-binary or be referred to as non-binary is they’re having a reaction in many ways to just how binary we’ve made this world. That you’re black or you’re white. So I think and we’re getting to a point where we’re able to understand that aspect of people’s lives. They don’t relate as simply being black, or simply being white. And I think that that’s a challenge for people too. But getting that message through is part of taking us into that new world”.


And that’s a wrap on this week’s edition of #EventIcons! How did you enjoy our fresh new take on diversity and inclusion in events? What are some examples of fostering inclusion and diversity at events that really inspired you? Make sure you let us know, and don’t forget to join us again next week for another iconic episode!

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Alex Plaxen

Author Alex Plaxen

Founder of Little Bird Told Media, Alex is an award winning international speaker and digital communication strategist for events and conferences. When he's not scrolling through Instagram, you can find Alex at a Washington Capitals game rocking the red, at the movies, or playing board games with his twin brother.

More posts by Alex Plaxen
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