Why Elizabeth Shoesmith Launched The Inclusive Foundation

It took a bad conference experience — at which her husband was excluded — for Elizabeth Shoesmith to launch The Inclusive Foundation. Shoesmith is one of PCMA’s Ascent Luminaries, a series made possible by VisitDallas. PCMA’s Convene Ascent initiative seeks to promote inclusion and diversity across the business events industry.

There’s a good chance you’re already familiar with Elizabeth Shoesmith. Her heartwarming performance of signing the words of a love song to Scott, her deaf husband-to-be, before walking down the aisle in their wedding ceremony has been featured on the “Today” show, “Inside Edition,” and a number of other media outlets. The video has racked up millions of views, but Shoesmith’s efforts to shape a more welcoming world for all people go well beyond their wedding day.

Hearing of her husband’s feelings of isolation at a conference — all the other attendees broke into discussion groups at full tables while Scott sat with only his interpreter without an ability to participate — gave Shoesmith a wake-up call about finding her calling in life. “When you are dating someone with what is perceived as a disability,” she told me when I interviewed her for PCMA’s Ascent Luminaries series, “you end up experiencing that disability, too.”

At the time, she enjoyed a lucrative career in management consulting, but she recognized that all the talk of diversity and inclusion at corporations was failing to accomplish anything. So she quit her job and launched the Inclusive Foundation. The Australian-based not-for-profit foundation works with a range of organizations that are aiming to elevate their diversity and inclusion efforts. “I haven’t come from a diversity and inclusion background,” she said. “I’m here to disrupt the way we approach it.”

Part of that disruption relies on the makeup of her organization. Each member of the Inclusive Foundation’s team comes from an underrepresented group. For example, one employee has cerebral palsy. Another is an immigrant. Her staff’s own experiences play a vital role in helping organizations who work with the Inclusive Foundation to see the world through a new lens. It’s a process that aims to help organizations prevent situations like the one Scott Shoesmith suffered through at a conference. More importantly, Elizabeth Shoesmith hopes to launch a movement that takes the diversity and inclusion conversation to a new level — one where certain words do not exist.

“If we continue to focus on labels [for certain groups], all we are going to do is continue to isolate,” she said. “We need to recognize that we each have specific needs. They are not special. They are just needs.”

Shoesmith’s pioneering work to develop diversity and inclusion standards will help write the next chapter for a world where everyone feels at home — no matter who they are or where they go. It’s why she is part of the inaugural class of PCMA Ascent Luminaries — the leaders who are championing diversity in business events. Watch the accompanying video for more on how Shoesmith is helping individuals walk in other people’s shoes.

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

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