How to make your events more inclusive


March 08, 2019

How to make your events more inclusive

By Laura Malaguerra

Associate Director, Membership and Learning Events

As someone who plans events and conferences, International Women’s Day is a great opportunity for me to reflect on how my work contributes to gender equality, how I can raise awareness of the barriers women face when attending professional events, and how to ensure representation goes beyond gender. Instead of just checking diversity boxes, true inclusion recognizes that being a woman is just one characteristic of an identity. Creating an event that features and celebrates all perspectives will result in a more open, creative and productive space for everyone. Here are some tips on how to effectively create such an event:

Have diverse speakers

Ban the “manel”. The all-male panel, or “manel”, has become a notorious example of excluding women’s voices. Event organizers making this mistake risk being featured on the embarrassing Tumblr page “Congrats, you have an all-male panel!” Instead, be sure to include speakers that reflect diversity in terms of gender, race, age, LGBTQ identities, ability, and other underrepresented backgrounds and experiences. If one declines, invite another. If you believe your criteria limits you from finding diverse qualified experts, adjust your criteria. Organizations you work with or past participants can serve as good resources to find new speakers.

Ask women and people from underrepresented groups to speak about things other than diversity and inclusion. If women are constantly asked to participate in sessions about “women in leadership” but not providing actual leadership on their areas of expertise, it doesn’t move the discussion forward.

Invited speakers can also play an important role in ending this practice as well – If you are invited to participate at an event, don’t accept before asking who else will be presenting. If doesn’t represent a diverse group, decline the invitation or even better, recommend other colleagues that could offer a perspective that is different than what’s already on the schedule. 

Use inclusive language and supporting materials

Language is a key component of our ability as humans to connect and learn. It’s critical to use it correctly to create a common understanding and ensure everyone feels welcome to the conversation. A few ways that we can make dialogue more inclusive include:

  • Avoid idioms and jargon: oftentimes, phrases do not translate well to other cultures or have negative historical connotations. For example, “long time no see” has its origins as mocking how Native American used the English language.  
  • Avoid “gendered” terms: Words like “guys”, “middleman” and “chairman” perpetuate the idea that these are male roles. Instead, use words like “colleagues”, “middle person” and “chairperson”.  Even opening with “ladies and gentlemen” can exclude trans and nonbinary attendees, so stick to using terms like “everyone”.
  • Include all pronouns: Offer participants the opportunity to identify their pronouns that include gender neutral options, such as he/him, she/her, they/them. When using pronouns as examples in presentations, alternate genders from “him”, “her” and “they”.
  • Offer closed captioning and large fonts: The ability to read as well as listen can help both those who are nonnative English speakers and hard of hearing or deaf. Similarly, ensure anything written is large enough for everyone in the room to read.

At many events, there are brainstorming, whiteboarding and notetaking sessions. They represent an important part of knowledge capture and idea generation, especially for visual learners. However, as my friend and gender equity expert Lindsey Jones-Renaud recently asked in her own blog post: “Why do all the stick figures kind of look like men?” Read more from her on how to draw gender inclusive stick figures here, and provide resources to speakers about how to incorporate inclusive materials into their presentations.

Accommodate parents

The responsibilities of breastfeeding and childcare can be a major barrier to attending an event. Nursing parents will feel more welcome if they know they will have a private space where they can pump during the day. Be sure to include access to a comfortable seat, a table, a power outlet and a refrigerator. Some sticky labels and markers for labeling bottles is also helpful.

For many parents, providing childcare is cost-prohibitive to attending the event. Offering financial support or an on-site daycare option would increase attendance, especially of new mothers who are more often the primary caregiver. Daycare could also be a great sponsorship opportunity.

Have a conference code of conduct

It’s important to inform participants how to create an environment free of harassment, discrimination and hostile conduct. Have a point of contact for people to report harassment and procedures in place for those that violate the terms.

This is just the beginning and an ongoing process that should be constantly evolving. How do you promote diversity and inclusion at your events? Comment below!

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