In July, Reed Exhibitions announced that Ron Walden, the organization’s group vice president of strategic partnerships and activation of Reed Exhibitions USA, will serve as its first global executive sponsor for race. The appointment, CEO Hugh Jones said, is part of a wider initiative the organization has undertaken when Jones signed a work charter created by Business in the Community, a U.K.-based, business-led membership organization dedicated to responsible business practices.
“The unequal treatment of Black people, and especially the recent killings of Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, George Floyd, and others have left many people around the world shocked, angry, devastated, and brokenhearted,” Jones said in a press release. “We have witnessed the collective anger reach a boiling point in many cities and communities around the world where Reed Exhibitions employees and customers live and work. Black Lives Matter. We stand in solidarity with our Black and ethnic minority employees, customers, and partners, and we are committed to helping build a company and a world where everyone can live equitably, with dignity and free from fear.”
In addition to appointing an executive sponsor for race, the charter requires organizations to take additional steps to improve diversity and inclusion — capture ethnicity data and publicize progress; commit at board level to zero tolerance for harassment and bullying; promote equality in the workplace as a responsibility of all leaders; and take action that supports ethnic minority career progression. Walden’s role is, in part, “responsible for holding the CEO and the company accountable for the commitments that they have made,” Walden explained to Convene during a recent phone interview, which took place a few weeks after Walden started working on his new duties.
Walden, who has been with Reed Exhibitions since 2018 and previously worked for fashion trade show MAGIC and Nike, will recommend where to target charitable donations, set targets for minority representation, advise on how to work with recruiting agencies, and analyze how the company approaches mentoring and sponsorship. But he won’t be on his own — he is working with diverse committee he hand-selected from Reed Exhibition employees across the globe — a group of “rock stars,” he said.
“When we made the announcement of my appointment, I followed up with a company-wide email expressing my excitement and what the opportunity presented,” Walden said. “We basically created a call to action that said, come one, come all, give me your tired, your poor, whoever is interested and passionate about this. Let us know. We’re pulling together a committee, and this is what the committee will do.” Eighty employees responded, wanting to help. Walden made his seven selections based on the level of enthusiasm his colleagues displayed in response — Jessica Weinstein, executive assistant, Reed Exhibitions USA; Alinne Rosa, vice president of human resources, Reed Exhibitions USA; Milton Montaque, director digital development, Reed Exhibitions USA; Ray Rhodes, director of training and development, Reed Exhibitions USA; Yasmin Amin, content and community executive, Reed Exhibitions UK; Alan John, global process manager, Reed Exhibitions UK; Maria Perez-Bellière, global sales director, Reed MIDEM; and Devon DeAngelo, social media manager, Reed Exhibitions France. Walden said he will be leaning on the other 73 individuals who raised their hands to help, too.
“Some of [the other 73 individuals] are very senior people in our organization, which is going to create exposure that they would have never had. Right? So now we get a chance to work with senior people in other departments, those senior employees will now get to be exposed to talent that they would’ve never been exposed to. That’s a win-win,” he said. “And we are going to advance this particular call to action about Black Lives Matter and other opportunities for us to address the racial and social injustices and discrimination against Black people.”
The committee will address three specific buckets of diversity and inclusion: people, who make up Reed Exhibitions’ employees; community, which makes up the charitable outreach component of the charter; and business — “the vendors that we do business with, the exhibitors who attend our shows, the attendees who attend our show,” Walden said. “We have an opportunity to really have a positive impact on those three buckets. Inherent in that are the results should benefit the industry. … I think that our initiatives and efforts, while they are going to help us, because diversity and inclusion is good for our business, it’s not something that should be done in a vacuum. It’s something that should be shared and promoted.”
Though this is just one organization’s step toward a culture of diversity and inclusivity, Walden believes it is significant for the events industry as a whole.
“I don’t believe that this is a light switch. It’s a dimmer switch,” Walden said. “I think that the individual companies have to come together and have an aggregate result, but it starts with the individual companies. Each company has to acknowledge that there is a problem and acknowledge that there is an opportunity for diversity and inclusion to be a part of their culture. They have to assess the state of their business and be honest about that. And in doing that, they will determine if there are gaps.”
Casey Gale is associate editor at Convene.