This Just In

A Candid Q&A about DEI in the Trade Show Industry with National Coalition of Black Meeting Professionals Executive Director Jason Dunn Sr.

headshot of Jason Dunn Sr., who talked with Trade Show Executive about DEI in the trade show industry

CHICAGO — The trade show industry is committed to diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI), and delivered on many fronts, with companies making DEI a priority as part of their culture and mission. 

Trade Show Executive talked with Jason Dunn Sr., Executive Director of the National Coalition of Black Meeting Professionals (NCBMP), to get his insights on how the industry is moving forward on DEI and what more can be done when it comes to pushing DEI forward. 

Q: Looking at the trade show and events industry as a whole, how is it delivering on DEI? Are there any noticeable changes or differences in the workplace environment and leadership that provide evidence of progress being made? 

Jason: I think as an industry we must weigh progress within reason, particularly when the goals are measured by treating people with fairness and respect. These questions have to be answered through the lenses of a balanced eye. I think there is categorical movement. Many organizations have diversified their content, advertising and marketing. Some have been intentional about expanding their vendor bidding participation and implementing cross departmental spending metrics that are tied to compensation packages. Additionally, the strategic alliances with PCMA, MPI and Destinations International with NCBMP lend itself to the belief that the industry is redefining itself.  

On the other hand, the EIC equity study clearly laid out that racism is still evident within the rank and file of our industry. NCBMP fields calls every day on how our members are fighting harder for resources or having to justify why there is a need for their existence. So much so, that we are considering curating a legal fund to aid our members who are experiencing hostile work environments. Additionally, there is still a lack of Black and Brown talent in leadership within DMO’s and associations and considerable micro-aggressions towards Black and Brown employees. Further, there are clear differences of investment dollars and ROI expectations when it comes to diversity markets or initiatives in comparison to other segments or industry advances. 

Q: What are some of the top-of-mind challenges that the industry needs to solve when it comes to DEI? 

Jason: Recognizing that people can tell the difference between authentic efforts towards DEI goals versus superficial stances with no substance, there appears to be a very public race to show that organizations have DEI initiatives. It’s kind of fashionable or like a popular mannequin display within the industry. However, externally it’s very noticeable if one is serious or not, the efforts are typically operated by an unfunded committee, led by a non-expert affinity group leader and lacks participation from C-suite executives. 

Related. DEI Leaders Share Industry Strategies 

 Q: What steps can be taken to solve those challenges? 

Jason: First, it is imperative that C-suite executives be a part of any DEI conversations. Unfortunately, if no one is being held accountable then metrics won’t be met. Secondly, hire an actual DEI expert, not add on responsibilities to a diversity sales manager and simply change their title. Third is convincing white middle managers that DEI efforts won’t take any power or authority from them. Without middle managers supporting DEI efforts, the office culture will be toxic and unproductive. Fourthly, put metrics and funding into any efforts led by the DEI expert with company-wide goals tied to compensation.  

Q: How can trade show organizers work with the NCBMP, and similar organizations, to make their companies and events more effective on the DEI-front and better supporters of Black professionals? 

Jason: The first step is to look internally and really decide if you’re committed to establishing an authentic relationship first. Then, pick up the phone and have a conversation. Be honest and seek to build trust, with friendship as the aim. Join the organization and find ways where there could be mutual benefits to address DEI efforts in a collaborative way. 

Q: What is on the docket for the NCBMP in the next year? 

Jason: One is to continue to curate educational content that is relevant and impactful. The second is to strengthen our organizational structure to prepare us for growth as we broaden our constituency. Thirdly is to learn from top organizations and case studies to prepare our members to compete.  

Q: What are you excited about? 

Jason: I’m excited about the possibility that whoever is reading this article will contact me and we can find mutual interest in leading our industry in an inclusive way. 

Reach Jason Dunn Sr., at (571) 366-1779 or 

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