Planning An Inclusive Event

Welcome Everyone! Embedding inclusivity within event planning

In the wake of major social and political changes over the last few years, diversity and inclusion are priorities for leaders in every sector. We must recognize that equity, diversity and inclusion (EDI) are linked and must co-exist to foster belonging in communities, workplaces, boards, committees and more. Research has conclusively found that EDI can unlock new levels of engagement and retention by enhancing productivity, sustainability, strengthening professional and personal networks, thus building healthier communities.

When it comes to planning events, inclusivity is often overlooked, or it is an after-thought. A tokenistic approach to bring in one Person of Colour (POC) to balance an otherwise panel of straight, white males, fails to create a lasting impact on the audience and subsequent engagement.

While deciding on the type of event and its target audience, invite input from other diverse team members to incorporate a culturally informed lens. Who are the stakeholders? Are they internal or external? Review feedback from prior events to address identified gaps. Inclusion must be more than mere representation or an attempt to appear diverse and inclusive.

I remember last year, a local event in my community being advertised as a ‘Diversity Panel’ facilitated by a male POC with three white men, all of whom were elected officials! The power imbalance and lack of gender and cultural diversity on the panel screamed homogeneity!

Consider the following, when planning an event:

1. Content

When inviting a speaker lineup, ensure the panel is representative of your community and offering a wide variety of perspectives, experiences and knowledge. Panels need not be dominated by straight, white men. Avoid tokenism! If diversity and inclusion are topics being discussed, do not put the burden of that viewpoint on the sole person from an underrepresented group, nor should their knowledge and expertise in other areas be minimized.

If you are planning any performances, bring in artists of different backgrounds with intersecting identities. Back in the day, when I was organizing a festival in my community, I introduced a Bollywood dance group. The performance was so well received that it became a standing item for years to follow!

Think of the activities planned in breakout rooms or ice breakers. If the content is a national sport, national landmarks, or requires mobility, it may not be engaging for a newcomer to the country or someone who has accessibility needs. Developing inclusive activities is not as complex as it appears. It requires the creativity of diverse planning teams to help embody the spirit of inclusion.

Welcome Everyone! Addressing the audience as “Ladies and Gentlemen” is passe and not welcoming to non-binary individuals. Incorporate bio-breaks through the course of the day, have intermittent engagement opportunities for icebreakers, Q&A etc. You will find the audience to be more attentive and participatory.

2. Audience & Promotion

Broaden your audience pool and engagement by ensuring there is diversity in gender, race, age, disabilities (physical and cognitive), socio-economic classes and even educational levels. An important step to remember is incorporating sign language interpretation and closed captioning for virtual settings. Once your promotional materials communicate the theme of inclusion, prospective attendees will feel welcome.

Leverage the network of your diverse team to promote the event so you are reaching a wider audience; engaging a variety of sponsors; improving connections with speakers, clients and recruiting volunteers. You will be surprised with the outcome once you engage a diverse team. While designing promotional material, organize information using high visual contrast with simple fonts. A busy flyer with fancy fonts might be pretty but inaccessible.

3. Food & Beverage

I cannot emphasize this enough. I have been to plenty of events where I paid a premium price with little menu choice. Dietary choices are tied to health and nutrition just as much as they are to religious and environmental values. A huge plate of eggs, bacon, sausage with a small wedge of watermelon is not as appealing to everyone for an early morning breakfast meeting. What happens when you inform the server that you “requested a vegetarian meal”? The same plate re-appears minus the bacon and sausage.

Red or White? If wine is included with the dinner, offer non-alcoholic wine as well. Always make sure there are plenty of non-alcoholic beverages available for the guests to choose from. Allergies to various food types can be detrimental and the last thing you need is a guest having to use an epi-pen because their nut allergy was overlooked. The planning team can easily gather this information from attendees at the time of registration.

Religious holidays may impact attendance but if the participants know that their dietary needs will be accommodated, they might be more inclined to attend. A quick check would reveal if the event coincides with any religious holidays. Remember, humans have an emotional connection to food and it is an important part of the experience.

4. Venue and Accessibility

Accessibility is an integral part of inclusivity and goes much further than physical access into a building. Have directions to the venue and signage within the venue to reach the right room clearly marked. Ensure washrooms are wheelchair accessible and consider gender neutral access as well. As mentioned earlier, closed captioning and sign language interpretation need to be incorporated. As events are often

recorded to broadcast, these accessibility features continue to engage audience on virtual platforms long after they were held.

The organizing team and volunteers should familiarize themselves with the varying accessibility and accommodation needs so they can provide attendees support in a respectful manner.

Typically, venues have an event catering service. Choose venues which provide flexible menus that can accommodate varying dietary needs. If you must source an alternate caterer, apply the same criteria to retain them.

5. Cost and Procurement

Registration costs can often be prohibitive. These combined with transportation and childcare costs could deter attendance for some. Keeping the cost low without compromising the quality of the event may not be realistic. Procuring sponsorship funds to subsidize a portion of ticket prices: offering discounted tickets for students and seniors are ways to help remove the financial barriers for some. Depending on the type of event, a hybrid model could allow for in-person or remote participation.

When procuring sponsorships, do not underestimate the value of in-kind support. While large corporations can support with cash sponsorships, small businesses may be willing to provide refreshments for the event instead of monetary support. A nearby business could offer their parking spaces, tents for an outdoor event or items for silent auctions. Businesses are willing to contribute to their communities. These contributions in cash or kind should always be recognized on social media, websites and promotional material.

Lastly, show inclusivity in your procurement processes. Whether it is the venue; the printing company; the company that sets up tents; provides catering or several other goods and services required for the event. Demonstrate inclusion by diversifying your supply chain.

Remember, each connection you build in the process is an opportunity that communicates Welcome Everyone!

Sunita Gupta

About the Author

For furtherinformation on EDI education and Intercultural Awareness,

Contact Sunita Gupta, 

EDI Consultant:

GuptaS@i2cimmigration.ca

613-453-4011

www.i2cimmigration.ca

Kingston, ON

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