Lift As You Climb: How the Events Industry Can Support Social Justice

June 12, 2020

Amanda Simons

Amanda Simons is a Sustainable Event Consultant and Principal at Honeycomb Strategies, a sustainability consulting firm specializing in the events, venue and hospitality industry. With close to 16 years of experience in the hospitality and global tourism industry, Amanda has worked extensively in sustainable business operations for tour operators, hotels and meetings and events.

Diversity at events encompasses more than just race and ethnicity. It includes people of different generations, physical abilities, genders, education levels and more. When everyone is welcome, more inclusive events result in greater conversation and insights, increased community and a broader, more engaged audience.

Last year at Greenbuild 2019 in Atlanta, I had the opportunity to hear George Bandy Jr., Chief Sustainability Officer of Mohawk Group, speak. He said, “We have a profound sense of responsibility to believe in humanity and nature and advance our shared mission of a more sustainable future.” As he spoke, he emphasized the importance of taking into account the social aspects of sustainability. Though harder to measure, we must still own the responsibility for the impacts of our actions. We have a duty to support our communities and people, to lift each other as we climb and move forward as human beings.

His words left me feeling inspired, hopeful and empowered. When I returned home, I wrote on a sticky note “Lift as you climb” and affixed it to my computer monitor to serve as a constant reminder to show empathy, patience and support as I move through my life and work. Now more than ever, those words have become a guiding light.

As we start the long, hard road to recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic, and continue the fight for social justice and equity in this country, we must lift all of those around us as we climb. As we rebuild our communities and businesses and bring events and groups back together, we must incorporate this tenant of human rights and educate ourselves on how to be better humanitarians. The resources are there, including the UN Sustainable Development Goals, EIC Sustainability Certifications – both offer guidance on diversity, equity and inclusion for sustainable event management. In addition, we have compiled a shortlist of practices that you can start implementing to promote greater diversity and inclusion at your events, to be part of the change.

  1. Develop a sustainability policy that includes language to support diversity, inclusivity and accessibility. This policy should include guidance in giving preference to diverse suppliers and vendors such as certified women and or minority-owned business. Start with registration by including questions regarding attendee accessibility and dietary needs.
  2. Start with registration by including questions regarding attendee accessibility and dietary needs.
  3. Confirm the event website and registration process meet accessibility needs with alternative formats available.
  4. Offer gender-inclusive options during registration or refrain from requesting gender information. Make sure to include on name badges, as well!
  5. Make sure marketing materials reflect people with diverse ethnicities, age, mobility and religions.
  6. Re-design your event planning committee to reflect diverse representation. How about your panels and speaker sessions?  Don’t fall prey to “manels,” i.e., all-male panels that are primarily Caucasian.
  7. Make sure your educational programming includes sessions that address diversity for your industry or organization. Consider offering diversity networking opportunities such as happy hours, luncheons, etc.
  8. Include accessibility questions and criteria in your venue and accommodation selection. Review room sets and ancillary events to ensure they are easily navigable by people with disabilities.
  9. Design sessions to accommodate hearing-impaired delegates by offering captioning, listening devices, and/or sign language interpreters.
  10. When choosing F&B menus, make sure to consider religious and dietary preferences.
  11. Accommodate the needs of delegates by offering comfortable rooms for nursing and worship. If not already in place at the venue, designate some gender-neutral bathrooms.
  12. Train all staff on how to identify and report victims of human trafficking.

In writing these thoughts, I Googled the words “lift as we climb.” I was pleasantly surprised to find out that this powerful phrase was penned by Mary Church Terrell, the first president of the National Association of Colored Women. As one of the most important women’s clubs of all time, it was formed by black women in 1896 for the advancement and empowerment of black communities

I find it incredibly meaningful that this phrase, which I took from a keynote on sustainability, actually came from a group of black women who were fighting to stop racial injustice more than 200 years ago. As we face what we hope will be a crucial turning point in our society, I am frustrated that Terrell’s words, which do bring me hope, are still as relevant a rallying cry today as they were then. We can and must do better.

It’s difficult not to feel scared or powerless when faced with a daunting challenge such as overcoming systematic oppression, but we can all play a role in working together to create change. This includes having tough conversations with our children, standing up when we witness injustice, fostering respectful dialogues with others with whom we disagree, and figuring out how we can implement change in our work. By acting intentionally to achieve the goal of sustainable events that support social justice, inclusivity and diversity, we as an industry will lift as we climb – together.


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