With more than 20 years’ experience of curating events in the media industry we wanted to dispel a few myths about creating inclusive events.
This may be coming a week after International Women’s Day, but then we have always strived to do things differently.
Believe it or not creating an inclusive event is not as easy as many – who have never organised an agenda or event before – often claim.
It’s not as simple as ‘just adding some women’ to a panel or an agenda. In fact, this is one of the first misconceptions the industry and wider society needs to understand. Inclusivity is not just about women, but about disabilities, ethnicity, sexual orientation and age. Put simply real inclusion is about truly representing society in an event as it is in an advertising campaign.
Three years ago, we even moved the days of our event from a Monday and a Tuesday to ensure it didn’t mean delegates, partners and speakers had to arrive on a Sunday and limit the opportunity for single parents to attend who find childcare difficult to find at weekends.
Six years ago we embarked on a mission to make Festival of Media events far more inclusive across everything from the agenda to the awards juries to the experience itself and it has been a rollercoaster of a journey and one that even last year certain quarters of the industry ridiculed, suggesting inclusion was not a topic which needed to be discussed at media events.
To help our journey we started with arguably one of the industry nicest people, but definitely its biggest champion of inclusivity, Sam Phillips at OMG. That first year we spent far longer researching and inviting speakers and judges who were a fairer representation of society and not middle-aged white men. Interestingly this was met with disdain and ridicule by many of the latter, so much so that an inclusion session we did with Sam on the agenda saw more than 75% of the audience get up and leave.
However, the key is to remain undeterred and continue to do the right thing and that means providing a platform, which represents society.
There is no easy fix and of course every event organiser wants to extrapolate the best insights and trends from their speakers, but it’s important to take time over the agenda and make compelling reasons and persuasive arguments as to why someone who doesn’t normally speak on platforms would be an ideal addition. Too often it is too easy to stick to the tried and tested formula and speakers, but if you look a little further you will soon unearth some amazing speakers.
Just three year ago we opened Festival of Media Global with a blind female speaker. Not only did she wow the crowd she has since gone on to create the Valuable 500 and speak at far greater platforms than our own about the issue of disability. Before Caroline Casey spoke at the Festival, she told me another major event organiser had said they wanted to cover off inclusivity on their agenda but didn’t feel disability was good enough to put on their stage. It’s these kinds of situations which require education and not disdain.
Only last year a number of senior media folk told us that no one gave a ‘sh*t about inclusivity in the industry’ and this only serves to highlight the work and education which is still to be done.
As with most things there is lots of talk, but not necessarily enough action and the addition of Amy Kean’s new initiative – the diversity charter – Diversity and Inclusion in Conferences and Events is particularly timely as it aims to educate event organisers on everything from how to curate inclusive content to how to ensure the marketing is accessible for everyone to read. It’s not about shaming, but helping organisers learn and build events which reflect society.
No one is perfect, but sometimes it’s about taking a step back, learning, being brave and breaking with conformity.