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Inclusivity in the Events Industry

Back in 2019, on Monday 28th January, we hosted a panel on inclusivity in the events industry. Designed specifically to enable an open and honest discussion between the panellists and the audience - as we felt genuine conversations about diversity are rarely had (at least publicly) in our sector.

The panellists were Daven Abrahams, Account Manager at HeadBox; Karina Lang, Events and Operations Manager at Rhodes House; Gabrielle Austen-Browne, co-founder of Diversity Ally and Vanessa Fisher, professional actress and diversity and equality activist.


On Thursday 11th March 2021 we are being joined, once again, by this brilliant panel to discuss how much has changed?


The past year has seen major changes to our industry, and global recognition of racial injustices and the changes needed. Working from home has also bought accessibility to the forefront of conversations - but we want to know if there has actually been much change?

Ahead of the 2021 conversation we wanted to share a summary of what emerged as the key areas for improvement in 2019:


1. Visibility


‘If people don’t apply, how am I supposed to hire them?’ is something we often hear when discussions around lack of diversity take place. It feels lazy and sometimes like an excuse - though we know in some cases employers genuinely do believe that they have done enough.


Abrahams noted that in the early stages of his career - where he worked front of house in a luxury London hotel - people of colour were often found in service roles but higher up the ladder in managerial roles it was less common. Today that is changing slightly, but unless industry newcomers see themselves represented in these higher positions he worries they may not believe the sector truly is for them and be discouraged from applying.


For some of us, we might not be able to understand this barrier, because we have had the privilege not to worry about it, but Fisher broke it down with real-life example:


‘I was working on Hairspray - a musical with various themes, but mostly around race and divide. We noticed a large majority of the promotional materials for the show featured ‘The Nicest Kids in Town’ (the white kids) and were only located in or around the West End.. so either people with money or those already at another West End show would see them. We had to speak up because we knew there was no way we would reach and inspire youngsters to come and see the show from more diverse backgrounds, if we weren’t giving them a chance to picture themselves in the show… or indeed see the marketing at all.’


In the events industry, we need to apply this thinking to the entry-level job process itself, regarding how event jobs are advertised to the pool of applicants we currently target. If we reach out to potential employees through the standard routes we always have, we will continue to get the same wave of people and therefore the cycle will continue.


2. Employer/current employee accountability

Austen-Browne works with those who have come from difficult backgrounds and helps them to find work again. She commented that for some employers, the risk (financially and in terms of potential impact on the rest of the workforce) seems too high for them to consider hiring this way - but that this could be counteracted with more engagement and potential partnerships with charities etc.


‘The more you and your team understand about the different reasons that people might end up in the criminal justice or the homeless systems, the less daunting it seems to include them in your team and the more open you will become. We can’t help our snap judgements, unconscious bias is part of our DNA, but we have to take steps to educate ourselves and bypass this otherwise nothing will change.’


Lang added that the same could be said when it comes to disability in the events industry. ‘Sometimes people want to tiptoe around the topic so as not to offend, but once you open up the conversation and really understand that the person is more than what they 'can't do’ - they have a whole host of other skills and ideas that you have not even thought about… because you haven’t had to. They are an invaluable addition to your team’.


Unconscious bias training is something that the panel felt should be mandatory in the workplace, at least for those in hiring roles. ‘Often we see that people don’t apply for roles, or aren’t accepted, because they don’t ‘fit in’ to the current office culture. Is it that they don’t fit in, or that we don’t understand them? And why do they need to be the same? We often judge because we can’t understand or appreciate a specific viewpoint or story, those in hiring positions should 100% be trained to move past this’ said Abrahams.


3. Tickboxes and quotas


We know that if those in the highest level boardrooms are a diverse mix of people, we can be confident that we will be represented by a group that truly understands us and makes decisions that are made will benefit us all. Unfortunately - as demonstrated by the infamous H&M monkey t-shirt scandal - we also know that if diverse decision-makers don’t exist, nonsensical, exclusive and offensive decisions could be made.


Therefore, the panel were all for minorities making the most of tickboxes and quotas to ensure they get their seat at the table.


‘There is a tickbox that, if a company opts in to, it ensures that those with a disability will be called for interview. At first, I wasn’t sure that I wanted to get an interview that way.. But then I realised that I am already at a disadvantage and if it helps me to get in the room, why shouldn’t I do so?’ says Lang.


‘Quota systems were put in place because we couldn’t trust the people at the top to make inclusive decisions. Until we get to the point where we can trust them to do so - let’s exploit and use these quotas to allow ourselves, and help others, to be seen’.


Takeaways


The panel widely acknowledged that although the industry has come some way towards being more diverse and inclusive, there is still so much of a way to go.


A lot of the conversations did focus on improving the hiring / application process, as it was noted that a more diverse workforce starts with finding new employees to join your team.


Though the group noted that some tick boxes are a barrier to entry, such as one blanket box for criminal record (though this may have been for something petty), overall they encouraged employers to look into schemes which could help them reach a wider range of people.


They also called for a wider variety of ways for people to put themselves forward for jobs. In an industry so creative, why do some companies insist on having online forms that get processed by a computer looking for keywords before a human even sets eyes on the shortlist?


And in the same vein, we need to empower the new wave of employees to apply to our industry and be seen as more welcoming - and indeed more serious.


It was commented that for some backgrounds, the parents want the children to only focus on ‘legitimate’ careers - and so something in the creative industries may seem fleeting. If we reached out to children from a younger age to let them know about our industry, the work we do and how much value AND money we can bring in for economies - the more likely candidates will receive support from their families to apply to join us too.


So time to see how much has happened in the last year and a half. REGISTER HERE


We want to thank C&IT who joined us in 2019 to host the session, and have continued to be collaborators. You can download our research report on racial diversity in the events industry that we conducted last year here.

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