How diversity will shape the future of tech events

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Diversity has become a buzzword in recent years as society highlights the inequalities between men and women. Why has diversity become so important, and why now? What does diversity mean to large enterprises and the way they conduct themselves as a brand, an employer, and an events host?

Movements like #MeToo shed light on the prevalence of gender-based sexual assault and harassment, first within the entertainment industry and shortly thereafter in communities that affect us directly, the technology and meetings industries. Women took to social media to tell their stories because many traditional platforms haven’t offered equal opportunity for women to be heard.

As the world began to shift to make space for women's voices, many of us in the events community took notice of the lack of diversity within event speaker lineups, particularly in male-dominated industries like tech. Changes are long overdue, and meeting organizers are stepping up to ensure that their events feature women and people of colour, whose perspectives have long been overlooked.

Enterprises need to be aware that they have nothing to lose and much to gain by ensuring a diverse range of speakers are present. Forrester released a report in 2018 that stated having an innovative company requires a culture of diversity and inclusion. Within their research, they noted that, “companies in the top quartile for racial and ethnic diversity are 33% more likely to have above-average financial returns. For gender diversity, that number is 21%.” Diversity is proven to improve business performance, but many conferences and events still aren’t highlighting the voices of minority speakers.

Here are 3 reasons why diversity is critical to the success of your events in 2019.

Diversity highlights new perspectives, experiences and insights

Events like INBOUND 2018 were recognized for achieving a truly diverse panel of speakers, with gender equity being 50-50 across all content, and women of color making up 67% of women keynote speakers and 50% of spotlight speakers. Even at a large event with a lineup of over 250 speakers, INBOUND remained committed to their diversity goal, earning them two gold awards from Gender Avenger and defining them as industry leaders.

If large events like INBOUND are capable of achieving a diverse range of speakers, why are so many events still offering excuses for having all-male keynote lineups? Change is not always easy, especially when it involves big organizational change. It’s important to note that having a diverse range of speakers within keynote lineups and panels isn’t about appearing diverse as an enterprise. It’s about opening your conferences to new ideas and perspectives, and gaining a wider perspective for better problem-solving.

Inclusion helps to build meaningful peer network

Women and minorities often face similar challenges in the workforce and while attending events. By providing opportunities for them to meet and share their stories, events not only bring light to diverse perspectives but provide ideal meeting places for networking.

The majority of event attendees decide to attend conferences and events to build their personal networks. By providing women with the opportunity to meet and connect with other like minded women in their industry, events are able to help foster the next generation of women in business. From a brand perspective, there is no better way to build brand loyalty than to become part of someone’s individual career path.

Making the commitment to provide diverse networking opportunities at events may start small, like it did at Cisco. Growing from 200 female employees in their San Jose branch, Connected Women is now a network of over 4,000 women at Cisco worldwide who put on networking events to learn from one another and advance their careers in a traditionally male-dominated industry. Cisco now also puts on an annual Women of Impact event that hosts over 15,000 attendees from around the world.

Diversity today influences the future of technology

While networking is crucial to improving the state of diversity in technology today, highlighting diverse leaders also helps solidify a more diverse future for tech tomorrow. By providing young women and girls with role models, it becomes easier for them to forge their own career paths and in turn make the culture more inclusive.

The She Can STEM campaign joins leading technology enterprises like Microsoft, Google, IBM, GE and Verizon to showcase to young women what types of careers are possible within science and technology. Each involved organization also hosts events designed to inspire young women to enter the field.

How can event professionals make changes?

If you’re looking for ways to make changes to improve diversity at your conferences and events, there are some simple steps you can take today. Ensure that your events have policies in place to prevent and respond to instances of harassment or assault. Consider offering safe spaces for networking and connection. Look at your speaker lineups, your panels, your attendee lists. Are there groups that are being underrepresented?

Most importantly, we must remember that we can always do better. One woman speaker is not enough. One person of colour on an otherwise all-white panel is not enough. The events industry is changing and learning, and we must not only own our mistakes but also learn from them. Let’s make 2019 the year the events industry commits to diversity.