August 04, 2022
By Mike Fletcher

Mike Fletcher reports on Cvent's inaugural round-table discussion on diversity and inclusion in the UK events sector.

Almost a year after the publication of ‘Black in the Boardroom’ - a report which explored racial disparities within the UK event industry, Cvent invited a dozen event professionals to come together at the W hotel in London to discuss what, if anything, has changed.

The 2021 report by The Zoo XYZ analysed 15 UK event trade bodies to discover there were no Black professionals in senior, board or leadership positions within these organisations.

Cvent’s Senior Marketing Manager Europe and Co-Founder of the Diverse Speaker Bureau, Felicia Asiedu posed the question, ‘Did highlighting this stark issue have an impact that drove positive change?’

Priya Narain, Director of Event First Steps, a not-for-profit that equips industry newcomers with knowledge and connections to help them progress while encouraging diversity within the sector, said: “It certainly got the conversation going but it feels far too repetitive with very little visible action.”

Anupa White, Director of Principal Global Events agreed. She said: “I’m still the only Asian female leader in many of the scenarios I find myself in. I’m fortunate to be able to attract culturally diverse talent to my agency because it’s London-based. I believe the industry’s leaders of tomorrow will emerge from more diverse recruitment policies. But change through hiring and career progression takes time and needs to be UK-wide. It won’t happen over-night.”

Donna Abberley has worked in the events industry for over 25 years and is currently a Corporate Events Manager at London & Partners. She revealed that for the first time in her career, she now has a minority ethnic as her boss.

“Unfortunately however, it’s still a rarity and post-pandemic, economic recovery is being prioritised over diversity and inclusion at leadership level,” Abberley said. “Black talent clearly exists but if you don’t recognise yourself when you look at the make-up of the industry trade bodies that are meant to represent you, you’re unlikely to step forward and make yourself more visible.”

One piece of positive action to occur following the ‘Black in the Boardroom’ report was the emergence of the Association of Black Event Professionals (ABEP) - a membership association launched by The Zoo XYZ’s Nadu Placca to offer a single voice to speak up for the needs of black professionals in the MICE industry.

In August last year, the ABEP won £25,000 of business funding, plus mentoring from experienced leaders including Holly Tucker MBE from Not On The High Street, in the AXA Startup Angel competition.

At the time Placca said: “We’re creating a community to share resources, experiences and opportunities. We’ll provide education programmes and training and we’re working with some recruitment consultants that are going to share roles from the events industry direct to our members, to ensure we’re at the forefront when new jobs come through.

“The ABEP is something I needed when I first joined the industry 14 years ago. An association that looks like me, that understands culturally the stresses that I might go through in this particular working environment, that’s lobbying my voice. And we want to help event professionals with their succession plan in the industry, no matter what level they’re entering in at.”

Everyone around the Cvent-hosted discussion table believed that the creation of the ABEP, plus moves by the long-established UK event sector trade bodies to involve and appeal to a more diverse representation of the industry, are positive drivers of inclusivity and will result in more long-term leadership roles from Black and ethnic minorities.

However, it was also agreed that more support is needed for the majority of white, middle-aged company and association board members to become true allies of the Black community by giving them the tools and techniques that will empower them to turn the inclusivity dial themselves.

“I’m not comfortable being assigned the role of Diversity & Inclusion Officer in my company just because of the colour of my skin. It’s not my job to educate you on my experiences. We need support and a change of mindset to come from within existing leadership structures,” one attendee said.

Another commented: “We need the status quo to meet us where we are, voice their willingness to be held accountable and have their mindsets challenged, work with us to change the language and tone, and help to empower a more collaborative path to diversity and inclusion within the UK events industry.”

Cvent’s round-table on racial disparities within the UK event industry was staged as part of a series of ongoing conversations designed to drive action, collaboration and change. If you’d like to be a part of the continued dialogue, look-out for future discussions and sign-up for Cvent CONNECT Europe, taking place in London from 4-6 October.

Mike Fletcher

Mike Fletcher

Mike has been writing about the meetings and events industry for almost 20 years as a former editor at Haymarket Media Group, and then as a freelance writer and editor. He currently runs his own content agency, Slippy Media, catering for a wide-range of client requirements, including social strategy, long-form, event photography, event videography, reports, blogs and ghost-written material.
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