From technology to literature to academics, controversies have emerged with increasing frequency in recent years over the underrepresentation of women, minorities, and other marginalized groups at conferences and other major events. Packing a stage with white, male speakers has become a surefire way to attract the wrong kind of attention to your event—and you can make things even worse by having them talk about diversity and inclusion while conspicuously not practicing these principles.
On the other hand, an event stage is the kind of place where an organization can very conspicuously broadcast its commitment to D&I, like Slack did at the 2016 Crunchies, TechCrunch’s annual tech awards show, when it sent four black women from its engineering team to accept the award for fastest rising startup. Beyond these PR opportunities, however, organizations that are serious about diversity must also think about how they put it in practice in the public-facing events they produce, sponsor, or attend.
In order to help other organizations figure out how to do that, the social media management software company Buffer recently published the guidelines it uses to promote diversity in events. Hailley Griffis, the editor of Buffer’s Open blog, laid out the guidelines in a post earlier this month. When it comes to sponsoring events, she explains, they “focus on events that are making good-faith efforts at an inclusive roster.”
Buffer’s metrics for these efforts include women making up at least 30 percent of speakers or panelists, visible people of color (as defined within the cultural and geographic context of the conference) on the event stage, and an inclusive official code of conduct for the event—Griffis highlights AlterConf’s code of conduct as an example. For event planners in the tech industry who claim they can’t find qualified women to speak at their conferences, meanwhile, she points to this list containing over 1,000 of them.
Qantas Group CEO Alan Jones (Jetstar Airways/Flickr
OUTstanding, an organization dedicated to supporting the visibility of LGBT people in corporate leadership, has published its annual Role Models for 2017: a set of rankings listing the top LGBT corporate executives, future corporate leaders, and public sector executives around the world. Their top role model this year is Alan Joyce, CEO of the Australian airline Qantas, who was chosen for his outspoken support for marriage equality rights. Australian voters are currently in the midst of a referendum on whether to legalize same-sex marriage; executives at over 800 Australian corporations (part of over 2,000 organizations in total) have signed an open letter in support of marriage equality, but Joyce has been particularly visible and vocal on the issue, the BBC reports:
“In the past year I’ve worked hard to drive changes in my own workplace and indeed my own country,” Mr Joyce said. As well as speaking up personally on the question of same-sex marriage, Mr Joyce has encouraged other business leaders to join him in campaigning for a “yes” vote in the Australian ballot. He said more than 1,300 firms have put their name to the cause.
Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull has promised that if a majority of Australians support same-sex marriage in the poll, parliament will debate amending the Marriage Act, which could lead to the country becoming the 25th country to permit same-sex marriage. The ballot will close on 7 November; latest reports indicate that nearly three-quarters of eligible voters have already returned their ballots with nearly two weeks left to go.
Quartz’s Lianna Brinded interviews Lloyds of London CEO Inga Beale, who was number six on the list of role models and says her “own personal experience transformed the way she works and the employees around her—and fostered a working environment that it is fit for a new generation of workers”:
Why settle for faux diversity like this when you can feature your actual staff?
Building an effective diversity and inclusion brand can be challenging, both in determining your organizational values and in deciding how to portray them within the organization and to external stakeholders. Putting forth a genuine representation of your workforce in visual media can be particularly problematic if you are using stock photos to do so. Fortune’s Grace Donnelly discusses why trying to communicate diversity with stock imagery is often a bad idea:
Generally using stock images on a company site is not a problem, said Tiffany R. Warren, Senior VP, Chief Diversity Officer for Omnicom Group and Founder of ADCOLOR, but when it comes to representing your company’s diversity though, a stock image can seem insincere. “I think people know the difference,” she said.
Instead organizations that want to signal to the public — and to their own employees — that diversity and inclusion are important should make an effort to represent their company in a more genuine manner. “Look within your company and support and salute and shine a light on your diversity champions,” she said.
At the LSE Business Review, organizational behavior and human resource management professor Jonathan Booth summarizes some recent research he and several colleagues conducted into why transgender people tend not to have their voices heard in the workplace:
In a recent paper, we analysed the website content of FTSE 100 companies in search of references to transgender individuals. We find that only 17 per cent of these firms refer directly to transgender individuals in their employer branding, diversity and value statements, illustrating the extent to which trans voices are largely unheard within UK workplaces.
Booth and his coauthors posit several reasons why this might be so: Trans people may refrain from speaking up to protect themselves or may prefer to simply “pass” as cisgender, while their issues are usually placed under a broader “LGBT” umbrella. Also, many trans people work in low-skill and low-wage jobs that don’t afford them the opportunity to voice their needs and concerns in the workplace.
In light of these various challenges, Booth urges employers to “strive to be proactive in implementing direct voice mechanisms for transgender employees”:
Contrary to the myth of the “queen bee,” professional women help each other succeed all the time, and in male-dominated workplaces, that kind of support can be crucial to getting ahead. The Washington Post’s Juliet Eilperin highlights a particularly interesting example of this in the White House, where the women of the Obama administration have made a concerted effort to ensure that their voices are heard—and that their male colleagues don’t step on or take credit for their ideas:
When President Obama took office, two-thirds of his top aides were men. Women complained of having to elbow their way into important meetings. And when they got in, their voices were sometimes ignored. So female staffers adopted a meeting strategy they called “amplification”: When a woman made a key point, other women would repeat it, giving credit to its author. This forced the men in the room to recognize the contribution — and denied them the chance to claim the idea as their own.
“We just started doing it, and made a purpose of doing it. It was an everyday thing,” said one former Obama aide who requested anonymity to speak frankly. Obama noticed, she and others said, and began calling more often on women and junior aides.
The White House women have also pushed for more representation and inclusion over the course of Obama’s presidency—and have made significant progress to that end: