Diversity and Inclusion – This Time Feels Different

Andrea Doyle, Senior News Editor
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LEVALLOIS-PERRET, FRANCE — When it comes to the evergreen topic of diversity and inclusion, a global pandemic seems like a good time to put the issue aside. After all, it’s not exactly convenient to discuss such a prickly issue with so much else going on, is it?

“This time feels different, as if it’s more of a movement towards change and gender diversity,” Mary Larkin, UFI President, said during a September 29 UFI Connects webinar on diversity and inclusion. Larkin admits that there has been a great deal of recent interest in the topic, especially since the #MeToo movement and the protests surrounding George Floyd’s death at the hands of police. “Diversity and inclusion are critical for business recovery and resilience, and for reimagining and restructuring how we do business,” she said.

Working with Ashanti Bentil-Dhue, Co-Founder, speaker and diversity expert of Diversity Ally, UK, Larkin and UFI explored the events and trade show industry’s weak spots with respect to diversity to create solutions that will inspire more inclusive cultures. “It’s about understanding what diversity and inclusion are and looking at equity, redistribution of power, access, resources and power within the workplace,” Bentil-Dhue explained.

Mary Larkin, UFI President

Larkin believes that having a baseline conversation to get the topic off the ground is essential. “Those conversations are starting to happen in some organizations, but not that many. There remains a lot of work that still needs to be done, but starting with baseline work is the only way we’re going to make progress,” she said.

Related. Recently Released UFI and Explori Joint Report Explore Whether Virtual Events Are Here to Stay

According to Larkin, many people think there is some change taking place. But is it happening fast enough? No, she admitted. “We’ve gone through these iterations before but they eventually die down until the next issue arises. This time, however, feels different. It’s more of a movement towards change and gender diversity. And we are starting to see some change with respect to race in U.S. companies. Some are stepping up and doing more with respect to diversity and inclusion and it’s important we don’t lose that momentum.”

Fortunately, there are a number of practical things you can do now. Regardless of your seniority within your organization, Bentil-

Ashanti Bentil-Dhue, Co-Founder, speaker and diversity expert of Diversity Ally, UK

Dhue recommends engaging a diversity and inclusion expert to help work through the educational stage. “You can’t shortcut this,” she said. “Events people are used to checklists, but you can’t leapfrog the educational component. We offer structured, facilitated education that enables employees to understand systemic inequality,” she explained. “You need to have the conversation. Most people don’t understand it at all, let alone the impact, yet it disadvantages all of us at some point. It’s not just about the minority of your staff,” she said. “How it is impacting your workforce?”

Related. Navigating Diversity: Gestures Are Not Enough

Bentil-Dhue’s best advice? “We all know how to talk, but the actual skills required to have this type of conversation are quite challenging, making it all too easy to avoid having these difficult conversations. Senior leaders have to be willing to allow the conversation to happen in the workplace. They have to make the space and time for it to happen, facilitate the discussion and allow individuals to safely share what they want to say,” she said, adding that employees have to come away feeling valued and understood, as though action will be taken.

“I’ve told Ashanti (Bentil-Dhue) we have to do this right. And have the right person teaching us. I wanted to make sure the baseline work was done so we could actually make progress,” said UFI President Larkin.

Will inclusiveness and diversity help the bottom line? Yes, said Larkin. “If you look at studies and hiring practices, you realize you often don’t even know your own unconscious biases. Yes, we have a lot of work to do, but it’s going to make us better as an industry.”

Reach Mary Larkin at (207) 842-5542 or mlarkin@divcom.com and Ashanti Bentil-Dhue at team@diversityally.co.uk.