Behind the Scenes: For All to See

Welcoming and inclusive events don’t just happen.

Author: Michelle Russell       

Michelle Russell

When I was growing up, “Do as I say, not as I do” was a popular saying among parents (my dad included). That didn’t sit right with me then, and it wasn’t something I repeated to my daughters when they were young. I mean, that’s how kids learn: by example.

Luckily, that style of parenting went out of fashion. But it’s still an approach that many organizations unconsciously operate by today. They spend time crafting mission statements that extol their values to their staff and the outside world, but they don’t always embody them. They don’t lead by example.

They may not do this intentionally, but we all have blind spots, especially when it comes to diversity and inclusivity. We’re fallible. We bring our preconceived ideas and unconscious biases with us to work every day — and that includes event professionals.

The thing is, nowhere are an organization’s values more on display than at live events. And while no one sets out to deliberately ignore people who aren’t in the mainstream by excluding images of them in event marketing materials, or purposely choosing to avoid featuring them on the main stage, unless you’re intentional about making sure that everyone is welcome and represented in your program — regardless of gender, sexual orientation, religion, race, or physical ability — you run the risk of  “otherizing” some of your attendees, the topic of this month’s cover and CMP Series story.

The first step, the people we interviewed for our story told us, is to have those difficult and uncomfortable internal conversations about where your blind spots might be. We also o er a number of other efforts you should undertake to design truly inclusive gatherings. And to those suggestions I add one more, although it seems to contradict my original point: Say as you do. Publish an accessibility and inclusivity page on your event website, like WordPress did for its WordCamp Europe 2017 conference, held June 15–17 in Paris.

WordPress is an open-source web-publishing platform, developed, built, and supported by a community of users, so it’s no surprise that its website describes the conference as one “that gathers WordPress lovers, selfless givers, contributors, and many different kind of companies that work on the WordPress platform, all in one place.” Its inclusivity page makes this commitment: “We want WordCamp Europe to be an event where attendees feel welcome, comfortable, and included.”

They list some of their efforts to that end, with hyperlinks to their code of conduct; transparent speaker selection process, which takes diversity of speakers and topics into consideration; venue accessibility information; sessions with live captioning; and details about free on-site child care.

That’s pretty impressive, but this is my favorite part: “We’re always learning. If you know a way we could make our event more accessible and inclusive, or if you have any other feedback or questions, please don’t hesitate to contact us.” Hyperlink included.

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