Being inclusive is everyone’s responsibility, but leaders and event planners should be particularly aware of how inclusive and diverse—or not—their events are, says Simone Morris, an AMA faculty member and CEO of Simone Morris Enterprises LLC, which provides consulting, training, coaching, and speaking services.
Morris spoke with Playbook in phone and email interviews to outline some tips on increasing inclusivity and diversity. She says that when she is the only woman in the room, or the only older person, or the only woman of color, feeling welcome and included isn’t automatic.
Diversity and inclusion require action
“When I go to a networking event, I have a thermostat for whether or not I feel included,” Morris says. “Some of it is on me and some of it is on the networking community that I’ve surrounded myself with…. People just forget that being inclusive requires intentional actions.”
Morris offers several actions leaders and event organizers can take to make sure that everyone feels included:
Spread a welcome mat. “For me, I come into the room with my various identities (woman, black woman, introvert, Jamaican, etc.) and I’m drawn to other identities that I feel a connection with. I have to consciously and intentionally spread my wings to engage with other identities that I’m not accustomed to,” Morris says. “It makes it more challenging if when I do spread those wings, there’s not a welcome mat and I have to work that much harder.”
Take an extra step, even if you’re not the event organizer. If you see someone sitting by themselves, she adds, “go the extra mile to go over and say hi.”
Include events that benefit specific communities. At a women’s business conference that Morris attended last summer, the hosts invited her to a women of color leadership event on the first night of the conference. “I felt seen and heard and inspired,” Morris explains. And because it was at the start of the event, she says, “I would say it allowed a spike in engagement for the conference.”
Be a broker for positive networking experiences. If you are one of few women, let alone women of color, in a room full of white men, you have to look for other commonalities as a way to connect, Morris says. At a recent event, she knew the men there and they welcomed and included her. At another event, however, she tried several times to start a conversation with a male Millennial, who made it clear with one-word responses and body language that he didn’t want to engage. “It’s helpful if the leader of the community [helps] in brokering positive networking experiences,” she says.
This is more than just introducing two random attendees—it’s about connecting people you realize have similar interests, who could possibly benefit each other. “You set them up for success,” Morris says. For example, commit to listening for similarities as you greet people. “As you’re networking, use that info to make it easier for the next person,” she notes.
Review your speakers, vendors, and planning teams. Having a more inclusive environment also means presenting a more diverse setting. “As a leader, you have the opportunity to foster inclusion. Do you evaluate your roster of vendors to ensure that you’re including women, LGBT, Asian, African-American, or other diversity dimensions?” Morris asks. “If they are missing from the equation, you have an opportunity to diligently seek to diversify the perspectives you offer for your event.”
Take responsibility; don’t make the “outsider” do all the work. Women might feel responsible for reaching out and being inclusive, perhaps because they know how it feels to be excluded. “I don’t feel that they need to bear that burden,” Morris says. “That’s like saying a black person must be more inclusive because they have felt the burden of not being included. I think we all have a responsibility to be inclusive.”
Businesses are seeing progress in inclusion and diversity, but there is still opportunity for more, Morris says. Companies are hiring more chief diversity officers, chief people officers, or chief culture officers. “You’re hearing it in entertainment, you’re hearing it in the tech space, you’re hearing it in the corporate ecosystem. Diversity and inclusion is more relevant,” she says. “I think what’s promising is that the conversation is top of mind.”
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