Twelve tips for driving diversity at your event

How do you encourage more women and minority groups to attend your event? How do you get all groups represented on stage? The news earlier this year that CES 2018, the world’s largest technology show, would have no female keynote speakers brought these questions into stark focus.

They are questions that challenge many event organizers. You know that diversity and inclusion are key considerations when putting together a conference programme, but struggle to know where to start. In the tech industry, achieving a suitably diverse panel of speakers and attendees is even more challenging due to the lack of representation of these groups in the workplace.

So how can you go about driving diversity at your events? We at voxgig are committed to this mission. Here are twelve steps that we strive to take with our own events – we hope they’ll help you too.

  1. Decide what you want to achieve and set ‘headline’ targets that the entire event team can get behind. Right from day one of planning your event, decide what you want to commit to in terms of diversity (will you focus on gender only or gender and ethnic diversity; do you want to encourage parents to attend; do you want to focus on speaker diversity only or speaker and attendee diversity, and so on).
  2. Once you’ve decided your general targets, come up with specific targets, such as 40% female speakers. Get everyone in the event team (organizers and program committee members) to commit to the specific targets.
  3. Record your targets, general and specific, and keep referring to them as key performance indicators (KPIs) of your event. Better still, publish and promote your diversity goals – it will show that you care about these issues and will encourage a more diverse range of speakers and attendees to apply to your event.
  4. All reputable events should now have a Code of Conduct and Diversity Policy. These policies should be published on your event website. They will help people understand that all attendees and speakers will be treated with respect without fear of harassment throughout the event. There are lots of example and templates of Code of Conduct policies you can reuse online. If an event does not have these in place, you should contact the organizers to ask them to provide it. If they do not offer to publish this then I urge you to boycott or call them out on it.
  5. Don’t set unrealistic goals. Look at your target market, understand who the ‘rock star’ speakers are in the sector and work out what a realistic goal would be. As your event gains recognition, over the years it should become easier to achieve complete parity as you become known for caring about and committing to diversity at your event.
  6. Take a look at your program committee. Do they represent a cross-section of all genders, ethnicities and other minority groups that you want to attend or speak at your event? If not, use your network to get together a program committee that is more representative. This will ensure that not only do you have a more varied group of experts from whom to choose, but will also show your target market that you are ‘walking the walk’ in taking steps to be inclusive.
  7. Another interesting idea that I heard from an event organizer is to offer speakers the option of anonymous talk submissions. The talk is submitted by a speaker who provides all their contact details but their name, company and gender are obscured from the program committee (who will assess each talk and vote on which ones they want to see in the final program). This prevents the influence of any preconceived ideas or assumptions; the committee can judge the submissions on content alone.
  8. I have also heard about event organizers who do not publish the program details online until they have reached their speaker diversity target. This could be a difficult decision to take;  after all, ticket sales could be hindered if you don’t announce your top speakers. But this commitment to diversity at all costs is really honorable and should pay dividends in the long run as you can honestly say you were 100% committed to, and achieved, your goal.
  9. There is currently a limited number of ‘rock star’-level female speakers available to give talks at tech events (which is good for those that have achieved this level as they get a lot of work!). Keep booking them when you can get them, as they inspire the next generation of women to be brave and submit a talk proposal – women need role models to aspire to. Consider offering speakers the option of submitting a joint talk proposal – if minority speakers are new to public speaking it will be a lot less scary to be on stage with a peer.
  10. As regards diversity of attendees, the good news is that simply by having a varied speaker panel, you have already made a huge step forward in encouraging more females and other groups to attend. Attendees like hearing from people who reflect themselves in some way. By offering variety, you should see a more representative guestlist.
    In more concrete terms, consider offering onsite creche facilities. More venues are now happy to accommodate this, and parents at the event really appreciate the extra thought and effort given to offering this service. You may also wish to consider offering gender-neutral bathroom facilities to ensure everyone is suitably catered for.
  11. Ensure that your catering offering is as inclusive as possible and covers all dietary requirements. Beer and pizza are not always welcome, even though they may be the standard option for numerous tech events! As well as dietary considerations, the beer-and-pizza offering has come to be associated with more traditional, less diverse events. Having a more imaginative approach to food and drink sends a positive, inclusive message.
  12. There are numerous meetup groups that are set up to drive diversity. Meetup group leaders are a fantastic source of speakers, attendees and ideas. By their very nature, meetup group leaders are well connected to the local community and are driven by making connections and facilitating innovation and ideas. Offer them free or discounted tickets to your event to help spread the word and bring new voices into the conversation at your event.

What else can you do to boost diversity at your events?

As well as taking the steps above for specific events that you are running, there are lots more things that you can do on an ongoing basis.

There are fantastic initiatives to help encourage new female and ethnic minority speakers to take the plunge and give talks at events. Some event organizers offer coaching to speakers to help them gain confidence and skills. Some also provide access to the program committee so that potential speakers can understand what they need to do to have a good chance of being selected.

The #UPFRONT coaching programme is a great way of bringing new voices into public speaking – participants of the programme get training, mentoring and a real-life experience of sitting on stage at a conference.

Voxgig also provides instructor-led workshops to help people gain the confidence and skills to become public speakers of the future. The company hopes that offering these workshops (which include free creche facilities for parents attending with children) will drive diversity at events in the future. We would love to see new speakers being sponsored to attend the workshops by event organizers or corporate companies that are driving diversity in their organizations.

The Diversity Charter and the Tech Talent Charter (see below) provide resources, logos and a community to help guide and support you through promoting and achieving diversity at your events.

To conclude

The road to gender and ethnic diversity at events, for both speakers and attendees, can be a long and labor-intensive one. However, it is critically important in today’s society that events reflect the world around us and that the views of a wider variety of people are heard on stage. There are many resources and communities online to help event organizers drive diversity so it should become easier over time to achieve parity and equality.

See the following links for more information:

Voxgig public speaking workshops:

#UPFRONT public speaking diversity initiative:

Diversity Charter:

Tech Talent Charter:

Code of Conduct examples:

Author bio

Natalie Gray is Head of Business Development at voxgig.

You can find Natalie on LinkedIn and Twitter.