Most business owners and non-profit leaders eagerly embrace the idea of planning and holding culturally inclusive events, but some struggle when they move from idea to practice. Planning these successful events can be achieved if organizers consider the following.
First, let’s consider location and date, often starting points in the planning process. When you set the date, be sure that it does not conflict with a major holiday or day of religious observance, and look well beyond your own faith.
Select a location that is easily accessible for all. Not only should the location be accessible for persons with different abilities but also for those with invisible disabilities and medical conditions that make walking or climbing stairs difficult. Be mindful of restrooms and take the steps you need to take to accommodate gender diversity.
It is a best practice, and certainly inclusive, to make sure there are some easily accessed bathrooms that are gender inclusive. You want to make sure that those who identify as non-binary are not excluded from using the facilities. To that end, you should provide options on the registration and other forms that allow people to identify as they prefer. Using exclusively she/he pronouns or male/female options is outdated and does not communicate inclusivity.
Keep in mind that marketing should be done in a way that invites different cultures and nationalities in order to be inclusive. This means finding media outlets that cater to these demographics; advertise in the neighborhoods of potential attendees, consider having information available in multiple languages.
It is always a good idea to also include people on your planning committee from different backgrounds to be sure promotion and set up are done mindfully. With the accessibility of social media, organizers can sometimes offer pre-event platforms for attendees to meet each other virtually, ask questions, share concerns or information. For instance, many events today have apps, hashtags or websites established just for this purpose.
Local transportation and parking should be considered in advance. If the event will be primarily attended by people from the area, consider having bicycle parking (or even bicycle sharing if that’s available) in addition to vehicle parking.
Once you have the date, the place, and the parking handled, what is next? Food and refreshments are often a feature of events.
Consider using locally sourced food and food providers. Also ask those who register to disclose their dietary preferences and make sure to include options for vegetarians, vegans, and people with food allergies or sensitivities such as to gluten or peanuts. Some food allergies can be deadly so it is important to take this responsibility seriously. If those who attend your event will be dining at local restaurants and eateries in your community, provide them a list that lets them make selections according to price, cuisine, and distance from the conference venue. When providing beverages, move beyond coffee and water. Include options like juice and non-caffeinated coffees and teas too.
Commonly when we think of diversity and inclusion, we are focused on gender and racial and ethnic diversity, which is critical. But we should also be mindful about diversity in terms of class, age, religion, nationality, and more.
It is important that your planning committee reflect the diversity you hope to have among your attendees, as well as the diversity you might be lucky enough to attract. For instance, is the cost of your event inclusive and, if not, how can you make it so? Consider discounts, sliding scale, lower costs for new business owners or students, breaking the cost into parts so those with less resources can attend one day rather than three days? Be bold here and set goals to welcome and include those groups who may have never attended your event in the past. For example, a group of white middle-class women should not plan an event for formerly-incarcerated working-class men. They should instead be planning the event with some of those men, AND making space for those men to be actively involved in the event in other ways, in leadership roles –such as panelists, session organizers, keynote speakers, and more. In this regard, start where wish to end, with a diverse group of planners shaping the event so it meets the needs of those you hope to draw.
Finally, early on brainstorm with your planning team to make a checklist of things to consider. For instance, if you want women to attend, consider making sure there is a comfortable private space for breastfeeding mothers. Maybe name tags should only disclose first names and not organizational affiliation to foster equality and encourage attendees to interact.
If you have a welcoming mixer, consider the layout of the room and if and how you will help people interact. Should your conference provide childcare options? Should you have an interpreter (American Sign Language, Spanish, or other languages)? If your event is using technology, be mindful of its limitations and check ahead of time to be sure the WiFi at your venue is suitable. Think of little things, like the temperature of the rooms. Many thermostats are set to accommodate men in suits but if your conference expects more than just men in suits to attend, check the room temps to make sure others are not uncomfortably cold.
Most likely, we have all been to successful events. But just as likely we can point to ways those events could have done a better job including others and fostering diversity. This brief article is meant to give you a starting point in your planning so people walk away from your event exclaiming, “What a great event! I really appreciate all I learned from such a diverse gathering!” That is, in fact, one of the central benefits of a culturally inclusive event: we are all richer in knowledge and practice when we have opportunities to interact with diverse groups of humans.
For additional information and guidance for hosting events that are culturally aware and inclusive, reach out to the following organizations:
Multicultural Coalition of Grand Island— 308-385-5242
Center for Rural Affairs— 402-687-2100