Intentional Diversity: Building Inclusive Conferences
Recently, I have started seeing more and more organizations put together conferences and panels targeting gender equality. Although many of these conferences do a spectacular job of highlighting trailblazing women, they often fall short on other lenses of diversity.
A Harvard Business Review article by Ellevate Network Alum Ruchika Tulshyan caught my eye, as it addresses a similar problem – with the increase in the number of conferences and opportunities, the influx of cookie-cutter (often white, cis-gendered, U.S. American, heterosexual, able-bodied...) speaker lineups is undeniable. There are, however, practical ways to change the trend.
Recognize That Representation Matters.
The research on the impact of representation is crystal clear. A 2011 study on representation of black males in media showed that negative media stereotypes are demoralizing and reduce self-esteem and expectations of one’s own self. Similarly, a 2012 study on the impact of racial and gender representation showed that the only demographic that didn’t experience a lower self esteem after watching TV shows were white male children.
Conferences are no exception to representation. In order to make conferences truly inspirational, actionable, and worthy of your audience’s time, you have to make sure that great minds from all different backgrounds have the opportunity to share their stories.
The Loudest Voice Is Not Always the Wisest.
Yes, it’s easy to go on the website of a speaker’s bureau and look through their“best” speakers. What you will soon notice, however, is that being recognized as an expert in a field is a moonshot away for minorities due to systemic barriers. Conference organizers are not notorious for going the extra mile to identify and bring a different perspective to the stage. Research has shown that men are more likely to be contacted for speaking opportunities than women, and studies highlight that 69% of event speakers globally are male.
Perhaps what some conferences don’t recognize is the power that they hold – large conferences have the ability to redefine the role models and experts in a field. The argument here is not one of merit; successful, inspirational, highly knowledgeable people from diverse backgrounds are breaking barriers in all fields. Rather, it is one of intentionality – we need to look for voices that bring something new to the table.
If You’re Not Equal for All, You’re Equal for None.
When bringing voices together for gender equality, we cannot discredit the different experiences women have: a cis woman’s story will not be the same as a trans woman’s; a black woman’s story cannot be equated to a white woman’s. Although the notion of intersectionality was introduced in 1989, the world of business and conferences alike falls short in recognizing the different experiences within marginalized groups. I myself have been invited to speak at numerous events where the number of women who belonged to ethnic or racial minorities, openly identified as LGBTQ+, or were diverse in other aspects could easily be counted on one hand. In fact, I recently found myself on an all-white panel due to the same mistake.
If you are a regular speaker at events, don’t be afraid to inquire about their speaker diversity to set yourself and the event for success. It is time that we recognize, on and off stage, that progress is only progress if it is for everyone, not just the privileged some.
Partner with Those Who Share Your Values.
It is undeniable that there is great responsibility that comes with spearheading an event of this scale, but having the support of those who believe in your values is not to be taken for granted. Every year, Mobilize Women is sponsored by organizations that are industry leaders in diversity practices, that believe in the power of equality, and that understand the true value of the diverse voices we invite to our stage.
Sponsoring a women’s conference doesn’t only underline a company’s commitment to diversity and advancing women in the workplace, but also provides development opportunities for current employees and increases exposure to high-potential talent. Such mutually beneficial collaborations are only possible if the supporters you have in your corner are invested in your core values.
Whether you are looking to sponsor a conference, attend one, or organize your own, remind yourself that in a world where 69% of event speakers are men, there are conferences that construct 73% of their speaker lineup from diverse voices, like Mobilize Women does. Because lifting people up is only possible if strong organizations take an intentional stand. Our mission is to mobilize women, regardless of their background. The question is, are you ready to do the same?
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