Diversity and Events

May 18, 2021

Carrie Abernathy

Carrie Abernathy CMP, CEM, CSEP is an award-winning event strategist who has been active in the world of meetings for over 15 years. Carrie was co-founder of the Association for Women in Events, the Events Industry Sexual Harassment Task Force, and is a speaker, blogger and coach at A Woman with Drive. Carrie also co-hosts the talk show “Events: From Black to White,” which explores equality in the events industry.  

Last year brought us the COVID Pandemic, but it was also the year that America confronted racism head-on. After the murder of George Floyd, I reached out to my colleague Derrick Johnson, director of diversity programs with Talley Management Group. We decided that event planners should be empowered to affect real change in the business of events, so we founded “Events: From Black to White,” a free weekly (now monthly) open online discussion on all things equity in the meetings industry.

We felt that by giving the events community a safe space to come together to talk, listen, learn, educate and ideate solutions was a start to eradicating racism in the industry and at our events. We’ve learned some incredible lessons along the way that I want to share:

Start Small

The overarching theme in these conversations is that people feel overwhelmed, and sometimes inadequate, in finding a place to start tackling such a huge issue. Most people are looking for clear instructions on how to get there. Our answer is always to start small. 

If you feel like you need education, search for webinars, join our discussion or reach out to your organizations to better understand their diversity plans. Reach out to organizations like the Events Industry Council that has put together their Equity Task Force and make sure to stay tuned for their offerings.  

Make sure to speak up if you see something in your organization or at events you attend. For example, if a group that you follow is always posting events with non-diverse speakers, reach out to management and challenge them to diversify their line-ups. Sign up for Anti-Racism Daily, a wonderful newsletter with daily resources, websites and action items that you can contribute to immediately.

Be Measurable and Intentional

In a recent episode of our podcast, we had a bit of a breakthrough. Event planners have a ton of power to be intentional and choose partners that align with diverse missions. It can start as simply with your RFP process. Add your diversity statement to your RFP and more importantly, ask vendors/partners for their statements. Ask them actively what they are doing in their space to diversify events. Choose partners that want to affect change and will work to diversify the workforce and your community.

Join the Conversation and Own Your Power!

What event planners often forget in our daily work is that we truly have the power to change the world. Events reach just about everyone on the planet. From weddings to concerts to trade shows, people love to attend events. We now even have an even bigger reach with virtual platforms. We are able to source more diverse audiences, speakers, vendors, members and partners than ever before! We can show representation on our stages, in our boards and planning committees and, ultimately, in the communities that we reach during live events. The possibilities are endless and we truly have the power to change the world, one meeting planner and one event at a time.

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