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Planning Inclusive Events

In-person events are indispensable for many organizations — they can build employee morale, provide a venue for engaging with customers and prospects, and create communities. But making these events truly inclusive for all attendees can be a challenge. 

In Q4 of last year, Paradigm hosted three very different events: our DEI Lab, a full-day workshop for talent and diversity, equity, and inclusion leaders; our company retreat, a working offsite for our team; and our holiday party, a celebration for our team and their guests.

There were many lessons learned along the way! Below are some of our insights and suggestions for hosting events that make everyone feel welcomed and included. 

What should you take into consideration when selecting a Venue?

Deciding where to have your event is likely one of the first and most important decisions in your planning process. This is also a key opportunity for creating an inclusive environment. There are a few important questions to keep in mind when making this decision.

  • Accessibility: Having an ADA compliant space was a non-negotiable for all of our events. It is also important to take the full attendee experience into consideration, rather than simply focusing on compliance. From arrival to check in and movement throughout the venue, take the time to ensure everyone can fully participate without any limitations. Reverberating rooms that carry noise can be less inclusive for people who use hearing aids. For more information on ADA accessibility requirements, review The ADA National Network, which provides information, guidance, and training on how to implement the Amerians with Disabilities Act.
  • Restrooms: Are there gender inclusive washrooms? These should be available at the venue to ensure that people of all genders have safe bathroom access during the event. OSHA has created a best practice guide for restroom access, which should be in close proximity to the event and clearly communicated to all attendees. Some venues may not have gender neutral bathrooms built into their facility, so ask if you can convert the restrooms with appropriate signage instead. The stalls should also be closed from floor to ceiling if you are using this solution.
  • Setup: Ensure there is ample seating available for all guests, including chairs and tables that are easy to get into and allow guests to rest their feet on the ground. Lounge style furniture and high tables may look sleek, but may not be possible for all to enjoy.
  • Parking and Transportation: Do you have accessible options? If you are arranging transportation to and from the venue, be sure to have accessible vehicles available for your guests. Ask to see the pickup and drop off area so there are no long distances or barriers to the entrance. If people are driving in on their own, make sure there are ample accessible parking spaces close to the venue.
  • Surroundings: What will the venue look like on the event day? Pay close attention to the art and decor in the space, where unintentionally problematic imagery or messages can sometimes be found.
  • Additional Spaces: Do you have access to separate rooms if attendees have specific needs while they are at the event? Examples include a dedicated parents room, prayer room, or a quiet space. Jacqueline Kazil has written a wonderful guide on “Best Practices for Lactation Spaces for Event Organizers”.

How to be mindful when making food and beverage selections? 

Another highlight of any event is the food! It has become a common practice to collect dietary information for each guest when they RSVP. Here are some additional categories to review for an inclusive experience.

  • Allergies and dietary needs: Ensure everything is properly labeled to identify what each dish contains. Do a walkthrough beforehand and double check that any alternatives are indeed covered. Sometimes a separate plate will be prepared for specific dietary requests. Have a plan in place to distribute these accordingly and communicate this to the guests so they know who to ask on the event day.
  • Buffets: Food stations offer a greater variety than plated meals, but it is important to make sure they are easily accessible in terms of height and path of travel for those who may be using a mobility device. Have assistance available for those who might require additional support to plate their meal.
  • Beverages: Have a variety of beverages, including non-alcoholic and non-caffeinated options. Create a mocktail or serve sparkling cider for those who don’t consume alcohol.
  • Supplier Diversity: This is a great opportunity to partner with caterers who pride themselves on diversity. Source your next private dining room through, a website dedicated to supporting women-led restaurants in your community. If your event will be hosted in New York, consider, which helps to break down barriers to employment by hiring formerly incarcerated individuals. Equity at The Table (EATT) is a platform for food industry professionals featuring only women/gender non-conforming individuals and focusing primarily on POC and the LGBTQ community.

What are some additional ways that you can be mindful when creating an inclusive event?

  • Pre-Event Communications: Clearly communicate what folks can expect at the event. This includes details on the menu, venue, bathroom accommodations, transportation, etc., so guests can have an understanding of what arrangements have been made ahead of time. Provide clear attire guidelines so that people aren’t concerned about what to wear. Indicate a point of contact that guests can reach out to if they have any additional questions or requests.
  • Event Staff: Set clear expectations of how your employees should treat the event staff. Show kindness throughout all interactions and leave an appropriate gratuity when applicable. Encourage your attendees to remember the names of helpful staff members that can be shared directly with their organization or on a review website.
  • Name Tags: Encourage your attendees to share their pronouns by printing them directly on their name badges. The information can be collected during registration, which is also another area to evaluate if you are being inclusive throughout this process. If collecting gender information is necessary to your event, ensure there is an option for guests to select their representation, rather than only listing male or female. 
  • Speakers: Avoid the outdated “manel” (male only panel) and ensure there is diversity among any speakers you may have at your event including race, gender, sexual orientation, age, etc. Not only will this provide a variety of viewpoints on the discussion, it will also be a strong visual of representation to your audience.
  • Marketing: It is imperative to use inclusive language throughout your event website, social media posts or email marketing. Review any images you are using to promote the event and ensure it accurately reflects the diversity of your attendees.

As you can see there are a variety of important aspects to keep in mind throughout the planning process of your event. The message you signal about the diversity and inclusion to your attendees is crucial to creating an impactful experience. We encourage you to use these suggestions and set the precedent for inclusivity when hosting any event with your organization.

January 30, 2020

If you'd like guidance on planning your next inclusive event, contact us today!