Show diversity at conferences!

Equality and diversity aren't new ideas

Think slavery, think women getting the vote, think about open borders and immigration.

What did your last conference look like?

We've all been to a conference where the panel of experts are all middle aged white guys, there might be one or two female presenters, a small representation of other ethnicity.

Why is that?

Is it because that's a typical representation of the industry? Probably not.
Is it because we just don't think about diversity when planning our event? Maybe.

What can we do about it?

Anna Guenther's recent blog on the subject listed a bunch of things we can do, I'm going to focus on a couple:
  • Get more diversity on the judging panels
  • Ask the sponsors to bring more diversity to the event as well

Get more diversity on panels

Almost every traditional conference has a panel of experts who share knowledge in a facilitated session.
There's so much information out there about having a diverse team encourages out of the box thinking and great ideas, so why not reflect that on the panel as well?

If you have a conference with a panel coming up, but can only identify say, middle aged white men as those who occupy seats, think about:
  • What are the types of people who will come to listen to that panel? Ask those people to be panelists, it will widen your talent pool and give an opportunity to someone who could be a great speaker
  • Network your way to new panelists. Often, an event organiser has a long lead in time to identify talent. Why not use that time to plant the seed with someone who wouldn't normally be up on stage?

Get the sponsors to show diversity as well

Most sponsorship packages include a couple of tickets to the conference and a booth to man, the people who usually come along on those tickets are salespeople. They're salespeople because the company needs to see an ROI on the cost of the sponsorship, and that's absolutely fair enough.

More and more conferences are demanding a 'no pushy sales' approach to booth holders, and only allowing those booths to be manned during breaks - encouraging the salespeople to head along to the sessions.
What this also means is that it is more difficult to prove sponsorship ROI at events.

As a sponsor, leverage your sponsorship by letting people know that you're supporting a conference. Buy more tickets than what comes in the package and distribute them to a diverse range of people within your company. Do what OptimalBI does, and make them wear the same t-shirt to get more brand awareness.
Having a more diverse representation of sponsor attendees ensures that different conversations are had with different people, which does affect ROI.

From here, promise me you'll:

  • Think about how you can be more inclusive and diverse when organising your next conference
  • Identify talent and work with them to encourage participation as a speaker or panelist. The best speakers are usually the hesitant ones!
~ Bronnie