Tips for being a Diverse Employer18-Feb-2021
Following the killing of an unarmed African American, George Floyd, the business community in 2020, which often found themselves wary of controversy, has come forward to voice and share their outrage against the horrific act. Many organisations who generally shy away from discussing and tackling racism, have now looked to address racism and diversity in all its forms within their organisation and the wider community.
Events are still considered the most important marketing tool for a company, and the COVID-19 pandemic has brought a solidarity to the events industry in a way which we’ve never seen before. As we discuss and champion the importance of what we bring to the economy, we must acknowledge the pivotal role we play in our society. As a body that represents companies that conceive, create, develop or manage trade and consumer events, the AEO is well positioned to make a difference to society, and lead the way for Diversity and Inclusion (D&I) within the events industry. The newly found Diversity and Inclusion Working Group, Chaired by Michael Adeniya (Portfolio Director at Clarion Events) and Vice-Chaired by Catherine Beck (Head of Customer Success and Operations at Quartz Events), will focus on promoting D&I across all communities within events and exhibitions. The working group will be developing ways in which we can take actionable measures to make our industry one that is representative of today’s society.
For many of you reading this, you may be well aware of the lack of diversity within the events industry, whether that is on speaker panels, your company, or the audience your shows attract. It may feel like a daunting task in rectifying some of the issues within our industry, but there are ways you can make a difference, so start this journey with us to create a truly diverse and inclusive industry.
So what are the ways in which we can make a difference?
As our industry returns from the disproportionate effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, there is an opportunity to right some of the wrongs and bring in diverse talent to our organisations. Recruiting diversely is one way you can make an effort to increase diversity within the events industry.
Are you treading outside of your comfort zone when it comes to recruiting? Or are you doing the same thing your company has been doing for years?
A UK based recruiter observed that senior leaders typically recruit candidates from within their own inner circles, where they will have a narrow pool of options; this needs to change. It’s not uncommon for managers to ask for blinded CVs, or a specific number of women when building a pool for interviewing, and asking for a specific number of non-white talent is also acceptable. Don’t be afraid to do this too.
Buy-in from leaders and hiring managers
It starts from the top - it is imperative to have buy in from all leaders and hiring managers. If the person at the top is not seen to genuinely believe in the benefits of a diverse workforce, then it will not trickle down the organisation. Harvard Business Review and many other organisations have gathered the evidence proving diverse, equitable and inclusive teams are more profitable, innovative and smarter. If you’re reading this then you probably really believe in diversity but how are you demonstrating this within your organisation?
How are you sourcing your talent? Think out of the box if you are to create a truly diverse and inclusive workforce. For example:
- Attend or advertise roles at events that champion diversity such as the UK Black Business Show, Women in Tech, etc.
- Listen to podcasts such as Diversity Ally
- Talk to your staff about creating mentorship opportunities for those with limited experience, but the right attitude.
- Consider partnering with organisations that can help you find talent.
Authentically position and brand your company as a diverse & inclusive workplace for diverse talent. Don’t just use the token black person, gay person or disabled person for all your activities, there must be others who are championing these groups. If staff members do not feel included, this will have a direct effect on retention. Failure to do this will see your diverse talent leave the door as quickly as they came in, so be wary of current staff members’ level of inclusion, and ensure that you are authentically promoting D&I within your organisation.
Create an equitable interviewing and hiring process
Is your interviewing process fair? Here’s an example, is it fair to subject a black woman through a three-stage interview, with each process having a white middle-aged man across the desk from the candidate? No, it’s not, and here’s why…
Education is important, and we must be aware of the biases, both unconscious and conscious, which are common amongst us that show up when we are interviewing. There are three types of bias that commonly show up in the workplace:
- Affinity bias is based on a sense of personal connection to the other person.
- Confirmation bias confirms a pre-existing perception, stereotype or image.
- Systemic bias is embedded into processes and systems creating unintended outcomes.
We all have unconscious biases, so by ensuring that your interviewing panel is diverse, you will be taking a positive step in ensuring that the final hire is hired on merit, and merit alone.
Make inclusion, equity and diversity common language in your organisation.
Inclusion in particular is a skill that organisations and individuals can learn. The aim is to become unconsciously competent, where the skills and behaviours supporting D&I are automatic. On LinkedIn you can often see company leaders speaking openly about their diverse beliefs, although external communications must always start with the internal activity of enforcing the value of equity in the workplace.
Engage with your staff and the communities you serve. Are you hearing the voices of all of your staff members? Be open to talking with colleagues about things you do not understand, and at the same time do some background research so the burden isn’t on them to teach you everything you want to know. Understanding other cultures and groups is not easy, so be open to criticism. Getting things wrong is acceptable if you are ready to make the necessary changes, understand, and learn.
As your organisation progresses through the stages of learning, becoming collectively aware of the systemic inequalities that exist, you will have taken a key step towards learning how to build an inclusive culture.
One of the ways we can make a difference is of course, through our events. We can use our shows to manifest our support of D&I. Set goals on how to diversify your agendas, what our speaker line ups look like and even which suppliers we use. Can we increase representation of those from ethnic minorities backgrounds, LGBTQ backgrounds, and have more women in our line up? Rather than inviting the usual go-to speakers, ask them to suggest a colleague of colour, woman, and/or an underrepresented group to speak instead. Do an analysis of the agenda to see how you can better represent unrepresentative groups…and do it now! Don’t wait for the next edition because it’s easier for you…push your comfort zone.
At your next event, create a coffee break session to start the conversation around D&I. Consider building whole panels/events using those from underrepresented groups. This would be a huge statement to the industry, proving that you are not all talk and are willing to put action behind your words in the search for inclusivity.
Sheree Atcheson, an award-winning global diversity, equity & inclusion leader describes an ally as “any person that actively promotes and aspires to advance the culture of inclusion through intentional, positive and conscious efforts that benefit people as a whole”.
Education is key and if you are to be an ally, you must first look for materials to support your own growth. An ally goes out of their way to understand and recognise their privilege, and take actionable measures to address D&I issues. Follow leaders on social media who champion groups that you are keen to support (e.g. Ashanti Bentil-Dhue, Co-Founder of Diversity Ally), and buy books that help you better understand yourself and others (e.g. White Fragility by Robin DiAngelo, and Why I’m No Longer Talking To White People About Race by Reni Eddo-Lodge).
We hope that having read this article, you’ll take time to reflect on what you can do as an organiser to make a difference in the events industry. It’s not easy, but change is needed, and we all have a part to play. If you want to continue your learning, you can register for the 1st in the series of the ‘AEO TALKS’ which takes place on Wednesday 24 February at 11am.
Michael Adeniya will be asking your questions to Ashanti Bentil-Dhue, Co-Founder of Diversity Ally and CEO of EventMind, around her experiences of D&I in our industry.
By Raphael Sofoluke
AEO D&I Working Group Member & Founder of UK Black Business Show