The other day I came across a promotion for a marketing conference that stopped me in my tracks. The image was of nine speakers that had been announced for the event, which included the familiar faces of business owners and creators I admire. However, the problem was I didn't see anyone that looked like me. There were no Black speakers scheduled to speak at the conference.
Immediately, I received the signal, "this isn't for you." My feelings were hurt. The subject matter, video marketing, is a topic that is absolutely relevant for me and my business, but the visual imagery showcased made it clear to me that this event wasn't a space where I belonged.
The people you serve need to see themselves and or who they aspire to be reflected in the visual imagery your brand puts forth. When they see themselves represented, they can take the next step forward with you. When they don't see themselves represented, they receive the signal, "this isn't for me," and they close the door on the opportunity.
Representation matters. One study showed that representation in marketing is important to 74% of consumers. Representation is an essential component of making people who have the problem your brand solves feel like they belong with you.
While conference organizers have started to do better when it comes to adding more women to speaker lineups, there is still progress to be made when it comes to racial and ethnic diversity.
The good news is that we don't need to sit back and wait for conference organizers to make these changes on their own. We all have a role to play in diversifying conference stages.
How you can make a difference in the diversity of speaker lineups
Make it clear to conference owners that diversity is important to you. Any brand or event that is customer focused, will listen to the voices of the people who will make or break their event: speakers, sponsors, and attendees.
Thus if a brand asks you to take part of their event, exercise your power to ensure the conference prioritizes representation, diversity, and inclusion. Here's how.
Say yes to be a part of the event, only if the conference has leaned in to diversity. You can find out where the conference stands based upon their track record with previous events, statements they've made with regard to their goals related to representation, and of course by their existing speaker lineup.
If you're happy with what you learn about their commitment to producing an event that is representative of the consumers they serve, then feel free to move forward with your support and participation.
If after spending time assessing a conference's commitment to diversity, you realize it isn't as representative as you'd like it to be, you could decline to participate. Or you could give them a chance to improve by saying yes, pending them meeting what your specific standards of diversity and inclusion are. Once they've showcased that they've made sufficient progress, you can sign on to participate.
Your definition of adequate diversity may not be the same as mine, or others in your network. That's ok. The important thing is to have a pre-defined standard of what your expectations are, so you and your team can quickly evaluate whether a conference meets that standard or not.
Another option, is if you find a conference soliciting your support doesn't meet your standards for diversity and inclusion, would be to decline their invitation, while making recommendations to conference organizers of who they should reach out to instead. Of course, your recommendations should be for people who are part of underrepresented groups who would be a good fit for the event.
A common objection brands have about why they aren't representative in the talent they feature, is because they didn't know people from other communities that they could reach out to. You could eliminate that objection by giving them a short list of options.
It is also important to note, that having a diverse speaker lineup doesn't automatically mean an event is inclusive. However, it is a good starting point that opens the door to progress on other fronts moving forward.
We still have work to do with making conferences more diverse and inclusive. When we all work together, by using the power we have, we'll make more people feel like they belong, and much more quickly.