Ascent: Cheryl Richards Shares What VisitDallas Does to Embrace Diversity


As events strive to welcome all kinds of attendees, host destinations play a crucial role. Learn how Richards, profiled in an Ascent Luminary video, and VisitDallas, the video series sponsor, have been pioneers in the process.

By David McMillin

According to Indeed Hiring Lab, diversity- and inclusion-related employment postings have increased by nearly 20 percent since February 2017. In the events industry, one organization was well ahead of this curve: VisitDallas. In 2012, the organization appointed Cheryl Richards chief diversity and inclusion officer, making VisitDallas the first CVB to create such a position. Over the past six years, Richards has played a pivotal role in helping everyone in the organization understand and embrace the best practices for diversity and inclusion.

“We look at everything internally,” Richards told me when I interviewed her for PCMA’s Ascent Luminaries series (VisitDallas is also a sponsor of the series). “I work closely with our HR department to conduct a workforce analysis that makes sure that our talent and our culture mirror the city we serve.”

Getting the Entire City on the Same Page

Richards also looks at diversity with a wider lens, working with representatives throughout Dallas to make sure that the city is well prepared to meet the needs of all kinds of group business. As certain meetings and events approach, Richards organizes integration meetings that unite voices from all city sectors — law enforcement, the light-rail system, airports, the restaurant association, and more — to ensure that the destination delivers what attendees need. For example, when the American Council of the Blind brought more than 1,000 attendees to Dallas for the organization’s annual conference in 2015, the integration meeting paved the way for audible pedestrian signal lights at intersections, menus in braille at area restaurants, and training for the city’s transit system on how to assist visually impaired individuals.

Leading the Way

Richards credits VisitDallas CEO Phillip Jones for championing the initiatives. “This all begins with a leadership commitment,” Richards said. “Making an impact and being a more welcoming place starts at the top.”

Richards makes sure that employees at VisitDallas aren’t the only ones who recognize that Jones has made diversity a priority. She has helped facilitate greater community collaboration with a series of CEO luncheons. “We invite CEOs from a range of backgrounds and host one specifically for the Asian market, the African- American market, and the Latino market,” Richards said. “We want to make sure that everyone is engaged in the work so we can talk about key issues and make regular improvements to our city.”

Richards’ pioneering role in powering a more diverse and inclusive events industry is the reason she is part of the inaugural class of PCMA Ascent Luminaries — leaders who are championing diversity in business events. Watch the accompanying video for more on how Richards and VisitDallas are making a difference in meetings. Check out the organization’s most recent executive update for more on some of the specific steps that Visit Dallas takes to be more inclusive.


The Ascent Luminaries video series is sponsored by VisitDallas. For more on Ascent, go to PCMA.org/ascent.

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