Diversity and Inclusion in All Events
With Pride month in full swing, we invited Michael Newton, Team Lead of Europe Account Management with Cvent, back to the podcast. We talked about diversity and inclusion and why it is so important for planners to be conscious of this while planning events.
Get certified for free
Cvent CONNECT is going virtual
Michael not only has a wealth of knowledge but also as a subject matter expert, he shares his thoughts and ideas on how companies can get started with initiatives around diversity and inclusions.
Listen in to hear his thoughts on launching and growing employee resource groups and what people can do to help support their LGBTQ+ colleagues especially during the current global situation.
- Michael Newton, Team Lead, Account Management, Event Solutions, Cvent
- Brooke Gracey, Senior Manager, Demand Generation, Cvent
- Cody Liskh, Team Lead, Event Quarterback Team, Cvent
- The podcast is going live! Register for a spot to hear Brooke and Cody interview our guests on the future of events.
All right, for some of the long-term fans of the podcast, You guys probably remember that we interviewed Michael last June. He was talking about bringing diversity to live events. We thoroughly enjoyed the conversation; So did our listeners. For those who didn't. For those who may not know, Michael, do you mind just reminding us how you started at Cvent and how you came to be the team lead and the European account management team?
So I'm actually part of a unique trio at Cvent. I was part of the first group of local hires to be hired for our European office back in 2013 when we opened the office. I remember rocking up in June of 2013 and they will literally signing for the keys and I kind of sat in reception, be like, “What is going on here? There's no real office?” I was like “I been had!”
Turns out I haven't. Um, and it's actually been a really great journey over the last seven years. The European office started out as kind of eight people and when now kind of closer to 200 across three offices in Europe, which is fantastic. And it's really been great for me to actually be part of that growth, not just at a European level with the company in general, and actually being able to help shape the culture of “What does it mean to be a Cventer to work in in Europe”, but what does it also mean for this Cvent product in European market as well. So it's actually been a really exciting journey.
That's awesome. I personally cannot wait till I can go back to the London office, which is so cool over there.
It’s a lot of fun. Everyone has a lot of fun.
And that's what I want to have is just a lot of fun.
But Michael. Let's go ahead and dive into it. I know that the other topic here is about diversity and inclusion and we know that is so important in the events industry, especially for live events but “What should planners be conscious of when planning a virtual event?”
Yeah, so Diversity Inclusion, when it comes to events can be tough, even for in person. But When you aren't physically that it really is difficult to kind of work out, “okay, how do we manage this” and I've spoken to a lot of people, as you can imagine, who are like, you know, this is impossible.
And thankfully it's not because otherwise this would be a really short podcast and we'd be done now. But, but there's a lot of things you can still be doing, you know, we still have to remember that Events are really setting the standards for their specific industries. It's not just a snapshot of what's happened in industries now. But it's also giving you insight into what is happening in the industry moving forward.
And all too often at events- virtual or in person, we’re seeing the same things. So we're seeing all male panels. We're seeing male keynote speakers continuing to run the charge, rather than being the exception. and even, in some cases, though, a little bit more absurd, you have Sis-white male panelists talking about subjects like ethnicity in business or women in business.
Now, a lot of research shows the event planners agree on the importance of diversity inclusion. But even though, and I heard this term recently, I like it a lot, the term “man-els” really are at the forefront. It doesn't mean that you're changing your process or that by removing male dominated panels from the forefront that you've sold diversity and inclusion. It really does go way beyond just the panel, but with virtual it's now a whole new bag and it's a whole new world that everyone's trying to navigate them through. But to create an inclusive virtual event, doesn't mean making huge changes. It really means just pivoting what you're already doing slightly
So just like an in-person event, virtual events still need to be inclusive and as accessible as possible. So things that people really need to make sure they're conscious of is making sure that things like language is clear; That they use in large fonts; you have high color contrast for presentations; you'll provide in captions and visuals were possible for audio and then provide in descriptions were possible from visuals.
And this does go without saying because we spoke about it last time. The three of us have spoken about it many times Outside of the podcast. But if you're then includes a panel of experts, you really do need to avoid having exclusively sis-white male panels. Unless you really go in for having your event trend for the absolute wrong reasons, because You want to make sure that your virtual events showcasing a diversity of thoughts and diversity of voices across identities, genders, sexualities, races.
But also you want to maintain engagement as if you were running that event in person. You know we have a lot of people that say “this event’s virtual. I don't need a mobile app.”
I would say that you do, you know, you can use it to really gauge “Who are the people that are attending events” because when you're in person, you can see them. So you've got that visual element of, kind of, okay, is this diverse, Is this an inclusive event kind of visually.
But when you're doing your event virtually people may not have their cameras on. So how are you checking things like this. So, you know, you can use Live polling within an app, if you have a way of setting up say, Photo streams and things like this, you know, set of challenges for people. You know, I think, and I talked to the client at Cvent about this with them using the Cvent app; Use click, which is the photo scavenger hunt game for your attendees; run it and set prizes, but set challenges like “show us who your work from home buddy is today”; “Show us what isolation fashion means for you”. You know, this is going to push more engagement from your attendees.
But it's also going to give you a lot of insight into the true diversity of your customers and your prospect base because suddenly they're not just names on a list for you, they become real people that you can actually see.
Love that. Yeah, it really, you know, putting a face to a name or, you know, showing who is attending becomes really unique part of an event. Especially when you're moving to virtual you know there's a few challenges there that technology can really help to solve. Now, Michael, you breezed past something that I have to circle back to, which is a “Man-el”. I've heard of this before; I think Cody was like, “what is he talking about??”
Never heard of Man-el, no!
And I think it's a really interesting term that I know it sounds kind of funny, but has, you know, a really, you know, interesting background behind it. So can you explain a little bit more what a “Man-el” is.
Yeah so a “Man-el” is essentially I always think of it as a sarcastic term, because it is just a panel that is all male and typically white male because this is, this is what we see, not just in the events industry, but across all sectors.
As you both know I do a lot of work in the diversity inclusion space outside of what I do at Cvent and I turned down events and panels, because when I see the list. I'm like, Okay, this is white male, white male, white male, white male.
Like, yes, there may be levels of diversity between those people, but humans are visual people so they focus on what they can visually see. And I think if you're going to be running an event and you wanted to really speak volumes, you have to visually show the diversity. You can't hope that people get that.
So that's really where the term “Man-el” has come from. It's just about that kind of never-ending kind of stream of male oriented panels.
Yeah, And I think just even having a term for it highlights the fact that people are Noticing. You know, when they show up to an either in person or virtual or even a hybrid events, they notice when there's a panel that doesn't have a lot of diversity. and I know Michael, we’ve talked a lot about how an event is almost a reflection of the company. And it really that that planning perspective comes from the Organization itself. And often, you know, from the leadership team.
So “how do you, as an entire company, including your leadership team, get everyone on board with diversity and inclusion initiatives?”
Yeah, so I get asked this a lot. And actually I did a presentation On Wednesday to the insurance sector in London. And that question came up. And I think it really stems down to two things: companies need to focus on data, but they also need to focus on the humans.
And it's actually the humans are what they need to focus on more because the data will tell you the story of why diversity and inclusion isn't just a nice to have at the company. But the human aspect makes it more real for people who actually understand what the employee experience looks like and can explain that this isn't the same experience for everybody at the company.
You know when you're going on this journey, you need to make sure that you're bringing everybody along with you. So it's really important to actually meet people where they are on their journey of understanding what diversity and inclusion means at a company. And I'm fully aware of how daunting This can be for organizations but the more we create awareness around this, the more that we're actually opening up people's eyes to how great organizations can be for everybody.
And McKinsey and Company did a report and they actually found in the report that when senior leadership actually prioritize diversity and when companies encourage diversity and inclusion fewer employees actually leave and employee happiness actually increases. Now companies need to start treating diversity inclusion like it's an actual business priority, which sounds weird.
But there are so many reports that show that if you lay out concrete steps in your company on what needs to be done, then you can accomplish this. But from a purely business perspective of why diversity and inclusion is important, studies have shown the people that are focusing on kind of LGBTQ+, LGBTQ+ employees are happier and more productive in work If they don't have to hide who they are than their counterparts who do have to hide their sexual orientation.
But something that I find really interesting about this study was that for those employees that are happier, more productive because they're Essentially, bringing their unique self to work; that productivity gain actually extends onto their coworkers, irrespective of actually how their coworker identifies.
But when we actually start looking at it from a financial perspective. Brandon gales did a report on this LGBTQ+ people have about $800 billion in purchasing power. And about 23% of companies have actually switched products and services in the past two years, because they were given the opportunity to work with a company that supported the LGBTQ+ community.
But on top of that, a lot of numbers here; 71% have said they would actually stay loyal to a company that was LGBTQ friendly.
Now, if you embedded this culture into your workplace, this is going to benefit everybody from your entry level person to your board and stakeholders. and you can achieve this Quite easily, to be honest with you. your company, really, to begin with, just has to make a commitment to equality in your communications. So making sure the presentations, speeches, newsletters, personal, conversations; You know, these show that you're dedicated to pushing equality. you know, make sure the examples that you're using, and images are inclusive and don't perpetuate stereotypes.
You know, I, as a gay man, I don't want to see a picture of a man riding a unicorn as a representation of somebody being gay. You know, but also looking at what language are you using. you know, I think now, more than ever, historically, You need to be careful and look specifically at things around pronouns that you’re using and also ensuring that the language you're using, Even though it may look correct, isn't causing offence to other people. So it's really about the language that you're actually using within your organization to make sure that you're getting everybody on board.
Gosh, Michael That was so much good advice. I mean, you talk about things like bringing awareness, you know, being sensitive to the pronouns that are being used and I just like the point that you made about more diversity equals less people actually leaving your organization. Love hearing all that. I mean aside from that, “what is your biggest piece of advice for getting started with diversity and inclusion?” like getting started.
Yeah, this, this is tough, but it's it's very tough when you're get started with any new projects It's difficult. I think when you're looking at diversity inclusion, there's, there's really two things you have to Be cautious of; you need to be patient and you need to make sure you're empathetic. You know, you can't just flip a switch and think “everything's perfect!”, you know, we're all at different places on our journey.
You know, I'm, how do I put this, I’m very open about a lot of my life inside work and outside work. You know, I'm very open about my homosexuality about my HIV status. But I know there's a lot of people at the company who have come and personally spoken to me who aren't at that place in their journey. So as you start to unpack all of this at work, this is how you're going to start creating an inclusive culture where everyone starts to actually do that best work. And you start to realize that what may work in one region isn't going to work in another.
Like when we look specifically at Cvent, something that we might roll out in the US for Europe, we know isn't going to necessarily work in the Middle East. You know, you also start to realize that the changes for one population aren't the same for another. And that can be within the same company. It could be within the same team. You know, we want to make sure that we're personalizing the employee experience, whilst also being consistent and fair to all.
Which, as I'm saying it. I'm like, Damn, that it's a difficult sentence even say, let alone put into action. You know, we need to make sure that we're giving people- And I think as employees, we have to give companies- a little bit of a break to be able to try new things and actually fail.
But we have to remember that on every side of every program or pilot that run is a human person that thinks they're doing the right thing. But that human person also needs to get to know the humans on the other side that this is going to affect. and you know once you get to know those people that are going to be affected by this program or this pilot where you're running out.
It's, it's going to get easier for you. And when you have those tough days where somebody comes at you because what you've done is wrong, It's going to make it easier because somebody else is going to come along and like “actually no I enjoyed this”. So I think we need to remember anything that we roll out, It's never going to be 100% perfect; it's going to be 70% percent for some, 10% for others, 100% percent for some, then when we're all the next program, those people in numbers can flip. You know, we, I think people that are rolling out these programs need to make sure that they're not putting yourselves under the pressure of getting this 100% correct, because that just isn't going to happen.
Oh my gosh, I love that advice. I mean, it's a lot of things when it comes to event planning, right, especially now as we're like, Shifting to new formats and things like that. You just, you have to do better, but you can't focus on being perfect and really listening to your audience and you know not to go back to the organization itself, Who are often, you know, planning, these events but you know there's a lot of really great employee resource groups out there as well, where you can really start to You know, talk and listen to other people within your organization's about diversity and inclusion. I know you've been really involved with Cvent Fierce which is our internal group. “How do groups like this get formed?” Is it organically, does it go through HR and how have you been so successful getting employees excited and getting them engaged?
Yeah, it's, it's something that, For Cvent Fierce, it really was very organic, and I know that there's other groups is even though very organic as well. Like the name Cvent Fierce actually came from a group of us back in 2014 over Facebook Messenger actually planning a night out because I was coming over to DC And somebody had just written in the chat. Like, “oh my gosh, that's so Cvent Fierce.” So we were like, “let's get T shirts made”, And so that name just kind of stuck.
I still have one of those T shirts.
I have the T-shirt as well; I wear it all the time!
It's important that initially you do have that group, that one to lead the charge. But from there, you know, for an organization, it really does become about getting your, your leadership and your HR involved because you need to have backing. but you need to make sure that you're actually setting out a framework that's going to formalize this group.
You know, it's all fine to be like, “yeah, we've got a group, cool!” But what does the group stand for? what is the group going to do? how are you actually go into make an impact? You know, there's a few things I think a super important with this, you know, the groups really need to make sure that they're clarifying What is that purpose and what is the scope. you know, what is the group about? is it inclusive.
That's the important thing with these groups, for example, can a straight person join the LGBT network; can a white person join the (?) network; can a man join the women's network? These are things that you need to make sure you allow with these groups because you end up with a lot more segregation. So, you know, you can have, let's take the LGBT network because that's the network I'm involved in; To me, it wouldn't make sense to not have straight people involved. You know, we realized from a business perspective that heterosexual people have more pull from a business perspective than LGBT people do. you know, we see on leadership boards and in management levels that there are- and it's not just across LGBT, but women, Ethnicity, races, everything- you know they're white straight people are leading the pack.
So for me it makes sense to have a white straight person involved in these groups because then They theoretically have a bit more pull. So if they, if you can get them on board with something that you're looking to make change, they can help push that through. Same for all the other networks. What you also need to make sure you're doing is you're building an alignment with the company's overall diversity and inclusion strategy. For these employee groups to be successful, the company really needs to understand its own approach to diversity so that all of these individual groups you have can actually align so that is a consistency in core values.
They also need to make sure that within these core values, you’ll define okay what are our principal activities? Where is this group going to support the business? you know, I look at the LGBT network, I see that you know, We've had discussions with HR and legal around use of gender pronouns and the handbooks and policies, we've had discussions about what does it mean when letters and emails are going out and previously it’s referenced he/she. I'm like, Well, you're immediately excluding a whole group of people because everybody identifies as he, she, so looking at having things like that.
But I think the one of the most important things is that You actually define your stakeholders from the outside of the team. So something that I believe that is actually very important is the have an executive sponsor for your group which, Within Cvent, is a requirement. but I think it's actually important to have that sponsor be somebody that's actually slightly removed from the overall representation of the group.
So the reason I say this, and it probably sounds weird to some people listening, well, wouldn't you have your sponsor or somebody that understands the main cause of the group? Yes, it would. But at the same time, if you have somebody who's slightly removed when you're then discussing overall messaging and expansion and growth of the group, they're able to bring a slightly different perspective that, again, the people on that board may not have.
So I think they're kind of the main things I think are going to be important for the groups that the groups need to make sure I have all of this. That They actually creating their own identity and they're creating an understanding that everybody within their group is going to have a very different limited experience. So it isn't going to be a one size fits all; you need to make sure that your group is flexible enough to be able to adjust to all of your members as well.
I really love what you said, you know, that's Really, really smart to think about it that way, having an executive, that is a little bit removed from the whole, You know, cause is going to actually help bring some kind of a different perspective to what you're trying to achieve. I never really thought about it like that, but that's really interesting that you brought that up.
Why you why you got me on the podcast Cody!
I know. Thank you so much! What we do without you!
And one thing I can relate to you on is, I'm also a gay man. I mean, being in the LGBTQ+ is difficult A lot of the times, but it's even more difficult and the current global situation and “what can people do to help support LGBTQ+ colleagues?”
Yeah, So I think there’s probably four things that People can do to support their LGBT colleagues, but I don't think this is necessarily synonymous to LGBT. I think this broadens out to kind of any… and I hate the term, but any minority group. I really, I really hate the term because I don't consider myself as being somebody who's LGBT as being part of a minority group. But I think that that's the term that people kind of most relate with.
I think the first one is that people need to model acceptance and inclusion now. This needs to be done, especially at a leadership level. So as somebody who may be, Let's set up- I'm going to be consistent here; Somebody who may be a straight white male, you know, you may have somebody on your team who identifies as let's say non binary. you know, if you hear somebody that is mis-gendering that person; call them out. You know, you need to make sure that as a leader you are Allowing for people to be the unique selves at work and that you're showing support for that person. You know, if you're not sure what pronouns to use as an example: ask.
You know, and we touched on this last time, we live in such a world now where political correctness is so rife. It's such an important and people are afraid of making mistakes. If you have a question to ask; asked that question. Don't be worried about offending somebody because if you asked the question in the right way, the person isn't going to be offended. If you can ask them in a way that they know that it's so that you're educating yourself- You don't want to make mistakes going further down the line- That person is going to really appreciate that from you. So make sure that you're asking these questions so that you know kind of what to do.
It's also going to help normalize the use of the correct pronouns in work as well. Because if people start hearing you use him somebody pronoun correctly, it may be he, may be she, it may be they, may be Z. You know there's lots of different ways that people identify, then that dialogue is just going to normalize.
I think people need to speak up as well. On top of people being aware of their own behavior, you need to be aware of what Your other LGBTQ+ colleagues might be dealing with at work. since discrimination in the workplace often takes the form of micro aggression. So, you know, a seemingly innocuous joke or comment, that's actually really derogatory and can really quite volatility contribute to a hostile work environment.
It's very easy to let these slide and I've done it, you know, when somebody at Our work has been like, “Oh, that's so gay” or “Look at this. That's so gay”, “Oh, look, this is pink Michael, do you want it?” You know, I've been very much on that side where I've just let those things slide. But then it's made me realize that actually my silence may make them feel that that's an acceptable thing to do and that I actually agree with some of those kinds of harmful opinions or harmful attitudes are kind of out there. And that's where we really need to kind of nip it in the bud a little bit.
The final thing that people need to do is they need to is educate themselves, you know, A lot of people when it comes to the LGBT community are a little bit fed up of having to educate people around things LGBT. you know, I feel this is probably very prominent and the trans community, Around educating, “What does it mean to identify as trans versus nonbinary versus maybe something else”.
As somebody who wants to be an ally, find something, find reports, or find a book or something to kind of educate yourself on it. Do your homework because this will help kind of. this will help explain: Why is something a certain way, Why is a certain person discriminated against; you know, with it, with the education side of things, We're seeing that a lot now with the Black Lives Matter movement and, you know, we're seeing people really educate themselves. but people need to make sure that they're doing this across all different groups as well you know. If you're a true kind of ally for any group, you’re not an ally for that group Only when something flares up. you know, I see people now who are being very vocal around the black lives matter kind of movement and I asked, “Were you this vocal six months ago?” around kind of these topics. And it's, you can't pick and choose when you support a group. You either support it or you don't die. I personally fail.
Yeah, I totally agree. And actually, Michael, I have been having some of those same you know thoughts, right, like we were in, especially around the education. I think that's a really important You know, point to make. It's important for all of us to go out there and educate ourselves if we are truly going to be allies and just making sure that we're well informed.
I was just telling Cody before we have this interview is, the part of the reason I just love talking to you is, you're so well informed when it comes to these things. And clearly so passionate about it. I think it's just really important for people to hear what you have to say and take some of this advice and, you know, circling back when it, when we think about events, you know, planners and venues. I mean, really, everyone in that entire supply chain, has this duty to also educate themselves, and to make sure that they have diversity and inclusion in mind.
Now more than ever, right, “what can they do to not only improve that diversity, but also you know counteract some of those maybe less visible biases that tend to undermine inclusion?”
Yeah. So one thing that I think everybody needs to make sure they're doing in terms of kind of The long term business plan on how they address internal and supplier diversity and how to include more local and diverse supplies in your model, you know, as I mentioned before, By creating a diverse and inclusive work culture you build a new culture of ideas and work mentality. You know, If you have a workforce internally that is made up of lots of different voices that come from lots of different backgrounds and have lots of different experiences, that's immediately going just pan out into: Who you're working with externally, who are you using for food and beverage; you know we now look at I've had these conversations where when I run events. Are we providing options for vegan or vegetarian for, you know, kind of different types of dietary requirements?
You know, when we look at who we are working with from vendors for events do that like, let's look at audio and visual For example, you know, Is the team that's come in to do the audio and visual for your events are they diverse? Are you paying to get a range of thoughts from this supplier or are they all the same and it's just going to be kind of one pillar of ideas?
So I think, I think when you start looking at the entire supply chain that really needs to be the secondary thought. What you need to do before you can start looking at what you're doing for kind of everybody outside of your organization is to actually look at inside the organization; Is your team diverse enough to bring diverse thought and action to what You're actually wanting to put externally, Versus “Cool we've got this team internally, let's just have a look and see if our suppliers are diverse or not.” So you need to make sure that you actually have that Thought and that mentality internally before it's ever going to be successful externally.
Absolutely. It's always just so so great to have you on the podcast Michael. I mean, I know I just sing your praises all the time. But you know, I think it's really important and so glad to have you back. You know, during Pride Month again. Yeah, if you had to leave one takeaway for our listeners when it comes to diversity and inclusion and the industry, what would that be?
I think my one takeaway would be to listen and, within business in general we talk about how conversation is really important, but we don't necessarily promote listening. As we all know, discrimination is alive and well in the world in general. And even if you don't think it's a problem at your company, you do need to put measures in place to ensure that you are providing a truly inclusive work environment for all of your employees. And this starts by actually listening to your employees.
Now the good news about this is that It's not going to be that expensive and it is not going to actually be that difficult to implement. You need to start looking at, okay, are we running events or activities that are Showing that we are supporting these different groups; have we tweaked our recruitment strategies so that we are just naturally organically recruiting a diverse mix of people; are we creating these employee network groups?
You know these things do require some time and some commitment but they’re within reach of any business, whether your business is a large business or small business. But what people need to be aware of is that you need to be the person that's ready to make change. You need to be the person to put your hand up and say, “listen to me. We need to make change here.”
So for people that are listening to the podcast that think that there's change that needs to be done to their company I would tell them that they could get started today. What I would recommend is to make a list, pick one thing on that list and take action on it. Then when you're done with that thing. Start moving down the list and start action out all of these different things. Once the list is complete, you're 100% on the way to actually create an a truly inclusive work environment.
And then when once you get there, create another list start working your way down that list. because diversity inclusion Isn't a fad. It isn't here for 20 minutes. it's something that's here to stay. and companies, if they want to remain successful need to make sure that they are changing with what's happening. And if you look at companies that are continuing to see growth within their organization; If you look at their diversity inclusion policies, you'll see that they're constantly changing to make sure that they're supporting their Black employees; that they're supporting their gay/lesbian track, like whatever. they're just supporting anybody who falls into what would be considered a minority.
That's such good advice. I love that, you know, like you said, it's not a huge heavy lift financially to get this started. All it does is just take some time and some organization and to create some real achievable goals and don't get overwhelmed with it, take it one step at a time. That's such good advice Michael.
I look at what we've Done in Cvent with Pride Month This month, you know, we run, you know, a couple of different panels or kind of talks each week. And we've done it on zero budget. because we've had people call in favor some friends. We've had we had Barbara primer, who is the CEO of pulse come in last week to do a talk.
And, you know, and you know you're able to achieve awesome things like this by looking at, okay they have something they need to promote; Let's get that in front of this audience. You know, there's a way to do things, things don't always cost money, irrespective of what people think.
That's awesome. If I'm sure people out there might have questions on how to get started, or what steps to take. Is there anything you want to promote or share with our listeners?
I'm releasing a perfume- I'm not releasing a perfume…
But, you know, I think if people do have questions, you know, they can reach out to me on LinkedIn or email me at Cvent and you know I'm always happy to take questions and help people kind of Navigate through that journey. You know, I've been working in the diversity and inclusion side of things now for about five years.
On top of kind of what I do Cvent. So, you know, I'm definitely not the 100% voice of everything, but I can give advice of what I think is correct. But ultimately, it's different for everybody. So it is going to be different kind of org to org, so people just people just need to remember that if they see one company doing something That isn't necessarily going to work for their company as well. So you need to look at, okay, what does our culture look like and where would this actually sit.
Well, that's awesome. And for our listeners, we will make sure to put a link to Michael's LinkedIn on the podcast description in case you want to get a hold of him. And who knows, maybe he might release that perfume someday.
Well Michael, it's been so great to have you on the podcast. Thank you so much for your time. We hope to have you back on again sometime soon.
Thanks so much for having me, guys. Bye.