Diversity and Equity in the Business Events Industry: A PCMA Community Conversation

Author: Michelle Russell       


During the June 10 Community Conversation, PCMA board members led a thoughtful discussion around the national Black Lives Matter movement and how the business events industry can address systemic racism and promote diversity and inclusivity.

During the June 10 PCMA Community Conversation, all participants were focused on the larger national conversation of diversity and equity and how we can connect that movement to the business events industry. The discussion was led by Gary Murakami, director of global sales for MGM Resorts, with fellow moderators Ben Erwin, president, PSAV; Derrick Johnson, CMP, DES, director of event strategy and development, Talley Management Group Inc.; Desiree Knight, CMP, CAE, director, education and meetings, American Railway Engineering and Maintenance-of-Way Association; and Valerie Sumner, principal, VRS Meetings & Events Inc.

The discussion centered on four main questions:

1. Do you have a personal story of experiencing  discrimination or inequity, or standing up against it? How did this shape you as an individual?

2. How have the recent acts of racial injustice impacted you as a professional in how you approach leading positive change?

3. What can the business events industry learn from the recent racial tensions and unrest in how we approach creating more inclusive events?

4. How can the business events industry take a leadership role in how individuals come together to solve complex issues such as the ones we are facing now?

Johnson started the conversation off from his own perspective of joining the business events industry and not seeing representation from the Black and LGBTQ communities in leadership. He said he thought it was important for him to be “an inspiration” to those people “who resemble my identity.” At this moment in history, he said, “it’s even more important for me to amplify my voice as a member of the Black and LGBTQ community.”

Knight said that in order to create sustainable change for Black Americans, people need to volunteer with organizations within or outside their communities to create opportunities for underprivileged groups. “We need to resolve the barrier of inequality,” she said. “We’ve been talking about racial disparity forever; it needs to change within our lifetime.”

Erwin said that he has seen firsthand the value of making sure that there is diversity on business teams. Companies and organizations, he said, need to intentionally drive change, to make sure that they are recruiting and training more diverse teams to deliver measurable progress. “We need to have sweat equity in this conversation,” he said, and stressed that as an industry, “we have an incredible opportunity to bring people together.”

More than 70 PCMA members joined the community conversation and added comments and shared resources about diversity and inclusion on the Zoom chat. One participant posted this quote from Albert Einstein: “Problems cannot be solved with the same consciousness that created them.”

Roberta Tisdul, director of convention services for Visit Indy, spoke about how important it was to her that her boss (Visit Indy President Leonard Hoops) took the time to reach out to every Black member on his team to have personal conversations with them during this moment of social unrest. “You might not know what to say right now,” she said, but she encouraged everyone nonetheless to acknowledge their Black friends and colleagues who are hurting, to let them know that you see them as Black people. “It lands differently on us,” she said. “And it lands differently among individuals of the Black community, because every Black experience is different.”

There was consensus among participants that concrete steps to further this movement need to be taken, beyond having difficult conversations. Toward that end, PCMA will be hosting a webinar on June 18 focused on diversity and inclusion, which will explore realistic steps and strategies we can take to support our Black employees, friends, colleagues, and the larger community. Stay tuned to pcma.org for registration information later this week.

Michelle Russell is editor in chief of Convene.

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