As originally appeared on Associations Now.
As meeting organizers embrace diversity and inclusion, their event playbook evolves.
Diversity and inclusion have long been the subject matter of mission statements and initiatives for associations, but increasingly practical examples of their commitment have begun to emerge—especially in the meetings and events business.
Which makes both societal and business sense, as diversity is a topic gaining momentum in enterprises worldwide, according to recent research in the Harvard Business Review, which demonstrated a statistically significant relationship between diversity and innovation outcomes. The effect was amplified the more dimensions of diversity were represented.
In turn, forward-thinking destinations throughout the U.S. are encouraging and supportive of diversity in their locales from both a social and an economic perspective as organizations increasingly seek out host cities that share their values. For an example, Indianapolis is a destination actively pursuing partnerships with diversity-minded organizations.
InterPride, a global convention of leaders and event organizers from various pride organizations around the world, recently honored Indianapolis to be the host city for their annual World Conference in October 2017. Each year, the World Conference works to educate and honor LGBT history, as well as celebrate diversity. Working closely with IndyPride, the local LGBTQ pride group in Indianapolis, the organization coordinated to bring a record number of pride organizations to the city for the diversity and inclusion themed conference.
Upon arriving to the city, their reception was warm, to say the least: when the delegates arrived at the airport, recalls board of directors member Chris Morehead, the local convention and visitors bureau had arranged a lively welcoming committee.
“The moment they walked off their plane there was an exhibition there, with full rainbows, LGBT all over; a big sign from Indianapolis airport welcoming them to our city, that type of touch,” he recalls. This fanfare, with its visible signs of welcoming and appreciating diversity, set a positive tone for the event.
Such was the case recently for Wendy Holliday, executive director of PLM World, a group of users of a Siemens manufacturing software. When Holliday organized the May 2017 event at the Indiana Convention Center in Indianapolis, she and her team took steps to make sure women, who are in the minority at the 2,300-person event, felt included.
The organizers started what is now called Women of PLM, a group for female attendees. “People wanted an opportunity to connect,” says Holliday. The group appointed two male allies or “Manbassadors” —the group’s chair elect and a board member—to show their public support for inclusion. “Having that kind of support for leadership is important,” says Holliday.
Although this affinity group at the conference was promoted to women, she said, “they didn’t want to exclude men.”
The initiative was a success, Holliday says, noting “excellent participation” from attendees. “We were extremely pleased with the meeting in Indianapolis,” she says. “It had the highest attendance have in more than a decade.”
Diversity is about a making a commitment to create the type of environment that sets an inclusive, tolerant and welcoming tone, says CEO of Visit Indy Leonard Hoops.
“Diversity and inclusion are intrinsically important to me, to Visit Indy and to Indianapolis,” says Hoops. “As someone of mixed race, who is a father to a child with special needs, who works for an organization that believes in the power of diverse people with diverse thought, and who promotes a city with a long-standing, comprehensive human rights ordinance, it is simply part of my, and our, daily fabric in Indy.”
Hoops isn’t the only executive that hears this calling and answers it. Take Irene Hulede, manager of student programs at the American Society for Microbiology. For Hulede, promoting diversity is not only just an important initiative, it’s central to the mission. In fact, her organization has even launched a conference specifically with diversity and inclusion in mind which has been a growing success story.
“In order to move the fields of science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) forward, it’s crucial that there is more diversity, which means the inclusion of minorities, veterans and people with disabilities working in these fields. ABRCMS (Annual Biomedical Research Conference for Minority Students) was founded to encourage minority, first-generation, veteran, and disabled students to pursue higher education in STEM,” says Hulede.
Today, ABRCMS is one the largest professional conferences for underrepresented students and will be hosted in Indianapolis this fall.
As more organizations prioritize diversity and inclusion in their events, meetings and overall strategies, expect to see an increased focus on:
- Organizations getting inventive in their approach to attracting and engaging audience segments outside of their core membership and attendee base
- Meeting planners and event organizers finding ways to make events feel accessible to groups that current feel excluded or alienated
- Organizers to prioritize securing speakers and panelists that represent a diverse mix of viewpoints, perspectives and background
- Association leaders and executives to increasingly support diversity as an agenda item