Events have long been the lifeblood of many professional sectors and industries.
But in 2021 many speaker line-ups, whether at virtual, physical or hybrid events, don't always accurately represent the diversity of their industry.
Some sectors have made great strides and have addressed the lack of diversity amongst their speaker line-up. Others have considerable ground to make up.
I spoke to Amy Kean, co-founder of DICE (Diversity and Inclusion in Conferences and Events) - a successful initiative set up to help events organisers make their events more inclusive.
Tell us a bit about DICE, what is it, who founded it and why was it set up?
"DICE was a reaction, when we originally launched. Me and the co-founders - Nicola Kemp, Seb Joseph, James Whatley and Faisal Ahmed - had been chatting on Twitter for a while about 'manels' (all-male panels), and were growing tired of calling them out.
At the time, about two years ago, the amount of events boasting all white, all male line-ups was ridiculous. Events are supposed to represent an industry in its entirety; they're supposed to represent best practice. They're supposed to represent the future! So to only promote the views and experiences of white men is morally incorrect.
We decided "something must be done"... we just weren't sure what.
Faisal had a friend in the pharmaceutical industry who'd noticed something similar. Every time he went to a pharmaceutical event he noticed there was one core group of people missing: patients. Again, this guy believed it was morally incorrect to ignore such a huge pool of people: the ones that the industry was supposed to serve! So he created a charter called Patients Included that set out all the different ways events organisers in the pharmaceutical industry could include their consumers, on a simple web page. And it worked!
There's something about the social pressure of a central set of ethical recommendations, and the positive reinforcement that comes with doing the right thing, that inspires people to conform in a good way. So we decided to mimic this approach."
What is the DICE charter?
"The DICE charter is a set of 10 ways that practitioners should be making their events inclusive, covering line-up, content and marketing.
It's based on the 2010 Equality Act which has 9 Protected Characteristics that it is illegal to discriminate against, including gender, race, age, disability, and so on. The charter is very simple, very accessible and completely unemotional. Events organisers can submit their events and if they comply with at least 40% of our guidelines they can become DICE certified."
What type of events should be certified by DICE, just UK-based large industry conferences, events and expos or smaller events and webinars?
Is it for all sectors or just advertising/marketing/digital/comms events?
"We've had all sorts! Panel sessions of 4 people and international conferences with a virtual audience of 14,000.
We've certified Advertising Week and a number of events outside the UK, too. And across every single sector.
In fact, we've just partnered with the University of Surrey to conduct some government-funded research that will establish the scale of the challenge across every industry... we'll see which are the worst performers and least inclusive, to understand who we need to educate the most!"
How many events have been certified by DICE?
"I think we're close to 100 events, of all sizes, all over the world.
The certification process is really swift: events organisers submit their details via the site and one of our volunteer team gets back to them within 48 hours with their score."
Tell us about an event that DICE has worked with?
"We worked with an event based in Asia who launched their initial marketing materials with only white men on the line-up.
The event was pitched as 'the future of marketing and advertising'!
Understandably a lot of people were quite upset, not least because these 10 or so men on the line-up are the same white men who do every single marketing and advertising event around!
Within two weeks, we helped them turn their event around completely, redressed the balance to make sure it felt fully inclusive, and they had a surge in bookings as a result.
Now, we did this for free to show that it could be done, but DICE certainly wouldn't make a habit of this kind of project! It was important for us to make sure the industry leaders show everyone else how it's done.
The most impressive company DICE has worked with is Pinterest. Not only did they score 100% and were fully DICE certified, they worked with a disability activist, Sinead Burke, to ensure their global virtual event was fully accessible and felt inclusive. Far too often people know what an inclusive event looks like, but nailing what it feels like is another matter entirely!"
What would you say to event organisers who say they struggle to find diverse speakers?
"Do you want the rude version or the polite version?
In short, expand your network, do more research, work harder. Some people say to me "but my industry is mostly white men." But unless you can confidently tell me that 100% of the workforce in your industry is white men then I don't buy it. The talent is out there... they're a Guild message or a LinkedIn search away... you just have to start your events planning a little earlier and have some different conversations outside of your immediate bubble. No more excuses!
There's various resources that are available to help you secure a more diverse range of speakers. I also run a training course called Practice Makes UnPerfect which helps women finesse their public voices, we have a whole list of amazing speakers here.
The Guild CREO group for event organisers have had DICE information in the shared resources for a while. Members are discussing how event models are changing back to hybrid and in-person events."
Do you think speakers at events will become less or more diverse as we move back towards more in-person events?
"In theory they should have become more diverse when we all pivoted to virtual, but for some reason things got worse.
That may have been due to childcare or family reasons, even WiFi connections can affect this stuff, but at least the conversation is progressing. I think events organisers know all eyes are on them to curate diverse line-ups; they know people care about this stuff, and I think we'll definitely see some huge improvement as life returns to normal."
Finally, how can our readers support DICE in other ways?
"Please get involved in our research!
If you work in events, we'd love to interview you. Dr Yanning Li is conducting the interviews and all you have to do is email [email protected] and there's a £20 Amazon voucher as a thank you!
Please share our DICE charter so that more people know about it and please connect with me on Guild if you have any questions.
Our role here is to educate in as short a space of time as possible - everyone who works on DICE does it for free, and we don't want it to be around forever, it's designed to become redundant one day, so we're planning to speak to as many people as we can, as fast as we can!"
Thanks to Amy, DICE co-founders Nicola Kemp, Seb Joseph, James Whatley and Faisal Ahmed and DICE volunteers.
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