Courage in Conversation: How Events Industry Leaders Are Stepping Up to Make Meaningful Change About Race

Andrea Doyle, Senior News Editor
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LONDON —  “If you look at management teams and boardrooms in the events industry, you’ll see there is not a fair representation of Black people,” Peter Hall, President of EMEA, Informa Markets, said in the October 22 Virtual Events Institute (VEI) and Smartxpo Summit entitled, “A Courageous Conversation About Race: How Leaders in the Events Industry Are Stepping Up to Make Meaningful Change.”

The problem is undeniable and sadly, the events industry is lagging significantly behind other industries when it comes to race and inclusiveness. According to VEI, just 1% of senior leaders — and no CEOs in the top 20 exhibition organizers — come from Black or ethnic minorities, whereas that number is 10% for other industries.

“Recent events, such as the murder of George Floyd and the Black Lives Matter (BLM) protests have brought about the ability for all of us to have these important conversations,” Hall said, adding that “it has allowed many of us to identify weak spots within our own organizations. But the first and most important step is awareness.”

And such awareness is critical to forward-thinking companies. “The new generations coming into the events industry care deeply about diversity and inclusiveness,” said Ashanti Bentil-Dhue, Co-Founder of Diversity Ally, a UK-based organization that helps event companies identify their weak spots around diversity and implement solutions that create more inclusive cultures.

“Generation Z is far more aware and far less forgiving,” she said. “Our communities and customers are watching and paying attention. There will be accountability.”

Taking a stand against racial discrimination makes your company more attractive to employees, customers, and your community, Mary Larkin, President of Diversified Communications and UFI, advised.

“If it doesn’t appeal to your moral compass, it should appeal to your pocketbook,” Larkin said. “Conversations like this are so important, allowing us the opportunity to expand the conversation and do more. I now feel like I need to even do more than we originally thought.”

Related. Diversity and Inclusion – This Time Feels Different  

“There is no excuse for not having your moral compass pointing north,” Paul Miller, CEO of Questex, said. “It’s happening at the right time and while I’m excited, I do have trepidation. When BLM came to the fore of conversation earlier this year, my first reaction was to slow down, not to add black squares to my social media accounts. We’re a relatively small company, 70% of our business is in event space, but I had to ask myself: What does this mean and what can we do?”

Miller reached out to employees because he wanted to do something meaningful and asked: “What can we do? We’d never had these conversations before, but the general environment and the impact of the pandemic has brought BLM into focus. With most of us in virtual workplaces, how do we include people as we go forward?”

Ron Walden, Reed Exhibitions’ VP and first Global Executive Sponsor for Race, admitted he feels very fortunate to work with an organization that was quick to react early on, acknowledged the problem of systemic racism and discrimination, and was also quick to create a plan of action.

“Our CEO has been very candid about how important this is and to affirm our commitment to diversity and inclusion,” Walden said. “At the board level, we committed to zero tolerance for racism and a full commitment to minority investment.”

Related. To learn more about Ron Walden and the impact he is making, be sure to check out the cover story in the November issue.

Paul Miller, CEO of Questex, admitted that the company didn’t have anything related to diversity and inclusion six months ago. “Now everyone in the company has completed mandatory training. And we’re past recommendation programs,” he said. “It’s not under discussion; we are doing it, starting with hiring six Black interns in 2021.” Going one step further, Miller has committed to only contracting with minority-owned businesses for in-house catering in their D.C. and New York offices. “And this is starting to extend to the other partners we look to work for.”

If candidates are equal, should race become a factor? “Black people in particular have been disadvantaged for a very, very long time,” said Walden. “At some point, we have to be able to provide a step up. If all things are equal, the short answer is yes, we should take race into consideration.”

Reach Mary Larkin at (207) 842-5542 or mlarkin@divcom.com; Ashanti Bentil-Dhue at team@diversityally.co.uk; Ron Walden at rwalden@reedexpo.com; andPaul Miller at (617) 219-8300 or pmiller@questex.com.