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5 ways to run an inclusive event in 2024

Kelly Rowland’s recent incident with security at the Cannes Film Festival is emblematic of the issues Black women, as well as those of other marginalised identities, frequently experience when facing staff at events. Ashamedly, it is almost completely unsurprising that something like this would occur, with public outcry sharing similar sentiments.

In the workplace, a recent 2023 study from Catalyst examined employees from Australia, Canada, New Zealand, South Africa, the United Kingdom and United States. It found that 66% of marginalised racial and ethnic groups had experienced racism at work during their career, and 52% had at their current job.

In today’s age, companies and organisers must create inclusive spaces that acknowledge and attempt to overcome these biases. At The Unmistakables (TU), we work to facilitate these changes. So we have looked through our archives and asked our team to share five tips and tricks to make events more inclusive.

  1. Make sure you set expectations

Inclusion Consultant Amani Saeed tells us that:

'Setting expectations for participation and conduct at events–both for those running the event and those attending it– is a huge way to help prevent conflicts'.

At their simplest, events are planned public social occurrences that involve gathering people for an occasion/reason. Therefore, the most basic considerations are: what is the event for and who is our audience? These are very dependent on each other, so creating an inclusive environment for an audience to thrive and feel safe will require a different set-up each time.

Setting ground rules for the event and a code of conduct can help, regardless of audience. These guidelines set expectations for behaviour, creating a framework for a respectful environment. Addressing problematic behaviours that may arise is a key part of preventing misunderstandings. Guidelines can also instil confidence and trust in attendees, and accountability for organisers, demonstrating a commitment to a high-quality and safe experience for everyone involved.

To begin creating one, start by researching existing codes of conduct for inspiration — one that we recommend at TU is the DICE Charter.

2. Ingrain inclusion in all areas

Inclusive considerations begin early in its planning stages to set a precedent for the entire event. Chynna Rhooms an Inclusion Executive, tells us to:

'Embed inclusion into all areas of the event, including speakers, staff, vendors, performers, etc'.

Reflect on your own organisation. If we are putting on an event, does it align with the company's values already, and how is this embedded? Do you have a diverse team, and have you considered multiple indices of identity like ethnicity, sexuality, socioeconomic background, gender etc? What perspectives might we be missing as we plan this event?

Apply these same questions to who is being hired for the event and the subject matter, ensuring it occurs at every level for partners, suppliers, speakers etc. Maintaining these consistent expectations shows potential attendees that you have been thoughtful, and helps foster an internal culture that matches, acting as a platform for rich and diverse perspectives.

This also allows us to be more in tune and aware of cultural sensitivities and different people’s needs.

3. Train your staff

Even if you have a diverse staff, training is still essential to raise awareness of the multitude of needs different people have. Despite having lived experience, having practical know-how regarding how to build an inclusive environment can be very different, especially under the spotlight and pressure of organising and hosting an event.

It is important to be confident that you and your staff are equipped enough to cater to the needs of everyone there to avoid potential confusion and distress. At TU, we offer cultural confidence and accessibility training to make sure mistakes are not made on this front.

4. Reflect the accessibility requirements of your attendees

On the topic of people’s needs, several of our team referred to the importance of making spaces accessible. While there is no such thing as universal accessibility–so it’s worth finding a way to ask attendees what their unique requirements are–here are some common adjustments that we are seeing more frequently.

“Quiet spaces — useful for all but especially neurodivergent people who may want quiet space away from overstimulating environments. I've seen some super comfy ones with readily available stim toys” (Rosie Ngugi, Inclusion Consultant)

If in-person, events should be in a physically accessible venue, e.g. ensuring there are lifts and ramps as well as stairs, hearing loops, etc. Under the Equality Act in 2010, venues and events must take reasonable steps to ensure that disabled people are not at a disadvantage. Normally, venues will already know their capabilities for addressing this and will be able to tell you what their accessibility is like.

However, it is still extremely important to check in advance and in-person if possible to make sure accessibility needs are accommodated. Remember, if there is a will, there is a way as Joe O'Connor (Project Manager) adds:

'We have gender-neutral toilets in our homes, on trains and in planes. When planning an event, why not have the same? Find a building that has them already if you’re hosting an event, ensure people know where they are, and put sanitary bins in all the toilets'.

Gender-neutral toilets can often be where people are the least confident, and sometimes we see people simply slapping a sign on a door and hoping it’s the job done. We suggest putting thought into the sign — one of the best examples we’ve seen is simply describing what is in the space (e.g. cubicles and/or urinals).

We have also heard our friends in the disabled community suggest that it isn’t just the disabled toilet (which is almost always gender-neutral) that is offered as a gender-neutral toilet–because more often than not, there are only one or two available.

5. Continuously learn and make changes

The best way to understand the needs of people is to just ask. When trying to serve an audience, having data and knowledge of their needs is essential. You’re likely to have missed some considerations simply because you don’t have the same shared lived experiences as them.

Creating points to provide their perspectives and needs before, during, and after the event allows us all to learn and become more understanding about how to make a better and more inclusive event. It creates a continuous feedback and learning loop that benefits and broadens knowledge internally. It also conjures the image of an inclusive and, more importantly, accountable organisation externally.

Many organisations, very reasonably, fear making mistakes, particularly surrounding identity and people's needs, given the current climate. However, by incorporating learnings visibly with clear policies and other actions being taken, instead of being a crisis moment for your company, it can become an opportunity. Here, inclusivity moves from being seen as a token phrase to reality, as actionable changes inspire trust and confidence from diverse groups who will understand they’ll be listened to and safeguarded in your spaces. The real bonus is that attendees can attend and be active participants at your event because they won’t have to worry about their needs being met.

The more you prepare, the better. We hope that with these tips you’ll be on your way to avoiding a red carpet mishap.


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