Embracing Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion in Global Meetings and Events: Insights from the BestCities Community Cafe

In a recent Community Cafe hosted by the BestCities Global Alliance on 11 April 2024, industry leaders gathered to discuss the pivotal role of diversity, equity, and inclusion (DE&I) in the context of global meetings and events. The session, under the umbrella of the BestCities Madrid Challenge, brought together professionals from various sectors to share best practices, strategies, and actionable insights aimed at enhancing DE&I in business practices worldwide.

Loren Christie, the Managing Director of BestCities Global Alliance, kicked off the webinar by introducing the BestCities Madrid Challenge. This initiative invites organisations to commit to making positive impacts in their business operations through incremental steps including in DE&I. Christie emphasized that the challenge is not about monumental changes overnight but about making small, consistent efforts that collectively drive significant positive change.

Associations signing up for the Madrid Challenge

Session moderator Lakshman Rathnam, founder of Worldly Inc., demonstrated how technology could bridge language gaps in international settings, making meetings and events more accessible and inclusive. He discussed the critical role of translation services and the importance of enabling participants to express themselves in their native languages to foster true inclusivity.

Key Takeaways:

  • Utilize technology to overcome language barriers in global meetings.
  • Ensure every participant has a voice and can contribute meaningfully.
  • Respect and inclusivity must be at the forefront of technological solutions.

Shannon Watson from Rotary International outlined the organisation’s journey in evolving its DE&I practices to align with contemporary standards. She shared insights into policy reforms and practical measures for accommodating diverse needs at events, ensuring that inclusivity is woven into every aspect of event planning and execution.

Key Takeaways:

  • Continuously update and reform DE&I policies to reflect modern standards and involve the groups you are serving for input and feedback.
  • Implement practical measures to accommodate diverse participant needs.
  • Ensure inclusivity is integrated into all facets of event planning.

Gretchen Gasteier of Women Deliver discussed how the organisation proactively incorporates DE&I into their international conferences. From strategic site selection to inclusive programming and budgeting, Women Deliver ensures that DE&I is not an afterthought but a foundational aspect of their event planning and an important part of their RFP.

Key Takeaways:

  • Engage advisory groups early in the planning process to reflect diverse perspectives and being transparent in communicating to a wider audience.
  • Prioritize physical and digital accessibility in all event-related decisions.
  • Treat DE&I as a core component of organisational strategy and event planning.
  • Sharing of the Feminist Accessibility Protocol as an example from Women Deliver 

Tracy Bury focused on the practical implementation of DE&I policies at the organisational level. She emphasized the necessity of leadership commitment to DE&I and shared strategies for creating equitable opportunities through mentoring programs and support structures that assist diverse members in fully participating in global discussions.

Key Takeaways:

  • Leadership must actively support and commit to DE&I initiatives.
  • Develop policies that lead to tangible, measurable outcomes in inclusivity.
  • Foster equity of opportunity through mentoring and support for diverse participants.

The webinar provided numerous actionable insights your organisation can adopt to enhance diversity, equity, and inclusion (DE&I) in your operations and events. Here are some specific suggestions based on the speakers’ presentations:

1. Commit to Incremental Changes

  • Insight: As emphasized by Loren Christie, adopting small, manageable changes can lead to significant impacts over time.
  • Action: organisations should identify specific, small actions they can take immediately to improve DE&I, such as reviewing and updating existing policies or providing DE&I training for all staff.

2. Leverage Technology for Inclusion

  • Insight: Lakshman Rathnam highlighted the role of technology in breaking down language barriers, which is crucial for inclusivity.
  • Action: Invest in translation services and technologies that facilitate real-time communication across different languages at meetings and events.

3. Update and Publicize DE&I Policies

  • Insight: Shannon Watson discussed the importance of continuously evolving DE&I policies to match modern standards and expectations.
  • Action: Regularly review and revise DE&I policies to ensure they are comprehensive and transparent. Involve the groups you are serving to ensure all voices are heard. Publicize these policies internally and externally to demonstrate commitment to these values. Here is an example from the Women Deliver 2023 conference.

4. Plan with Accessibility in Mind

  • Insight: Gretchen Gasteier shared strategies for embedding DE&I into event planning from the outset, including proactive site selection and inclusive programming.
  • Action: During event planning, prioritize venues and services that accommodate a wide range of physical and digital accessibility needs. Consider factors like wheelchair accessibility, visual and auditory aids, and digital platforms that are user-friendly for people with disabilities.

5. Foster an Inclusive Culture through Intentional Leadership

  • Insight: Tracy Bury stressed the importance of leadership in driving DE&I initiatives.
  • Action: Ensure that leaders at all levels are committed to DE&I principles and visibly support these initiatives. This includes participating in training alongside their teams and leading by example.

6. Implement Mentorship Programmes

  • Insight: Providing support for non-native English speakers and other underrepresented groups through mentorship programs.
  • Action: Develop mentorship programs that help individuals from diverse backgrounds navigate your organisation’s culture, enhance their skills, and advance their careers.

7. Measure Impact and Adapt Strategies

  • Insight: It’s important to track the effectiveness of DE&I initiatives and make adjustments as needed.
  • Action: Set clear metrics for assessing the impact of DE&I actions. Use these metrics to regularly report on progress and inform strategy adjustments.

8. Educate and Train

  • Insight: Ongoing education and training are crucial for maintaining an inclusive environment.
  • Action: Provide regular DE&I training for all employees, including leadership, focusing on practical applications and encouraging open discussions about diversity and inclusion challenges and successes.

By implementing these actionable insights, organisations can make significant strides toward creating more inclusive, equitable, and diverse workplaces and event spaces.

The webinar concluded with a collective call to action, urging attendees to adopt and implement the shared DE&I practices within their organisations and to pledge to the BestCities Madrid Challenge. This session not only provided a framework for enhancing DE&I but also demonstrated the significant impact these practices can have on global business environments. Attendees left equipped with actionable insights to create more inclusive, engaging, and successful international events and meetings.

You can watch the full recording below.

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