The theme of this year's International Women's Day - #BreakTheBias - is hugely pertinent to the events industry. Recently we've seen a big effort by event profs to diversify their organisations and events, but there's still a huge amount of work to be done to open up the stage to under-represented voices.
We sat down with Lauralee Whyte, founder of SPECTRUM Speakers and Entertainers, to discuss what breaking biases looks like for the events industry. Read on for Lauralee's thoughts on where the pitfalls currently lie, and for tips on moving your own events or organisation in the right direction.
Biases In Events
What biases do you feel exist in the events industry, in particular for female-identifying speakers?
I would say the biggest bias is actually the industry's challenges with accessibility. It’s definitely getting better with conference-style venues but it still feels like making venues fully accessible is either an afterthought or viewed as too much work to be considered at all. There are a lot of venues which are listed buildings and therefore are very limited on what they can do to make venues more accessible but this has to change.
In relation to female-identifying speakers specifically, one of the biggest challenges is that women are still being pitted against one another by being asked to participate in female-centric accolades. There needs to be a better process for awards in particular where the best person wins, on a level playing field with men.
Breaking Down Barriers
How can those working within the events industry help to break down barriers around who has access to the stage?
Those working in the industry can make a difference by being aware and making the effort to understand what biases exist, and who are the different marginalised groups are, and then making an effort to reach out to them to participate. It’s great to see a lot more awareness in the first instance but more follow through is required to ensure implementation of that awareness and learning.
I say this a lot but it’s so important - diversify your supply chain. Put the onus on business partners too to make sure that they have equity, ethical and sustainability processes in place.
Going back to basics, why is representation and diversity important in events?
Events have a big role to play in ‘influencing’ attendees: whether an event is about awareness or actual consumer/business transaction, the aim is always for event attendees to be inspired by what they learn. If they never see people who look like them, share the same cultures, faiths, disabilities, gender, what they will take away from that event is that they are not seen as important and that they have reached the ceiling of what is achievable for them.
Flip that on its head, and having broad representation at your event means that you are reaching, inspiring and influencing a greater scope of people and solidifying better connections and advocacy.
What motivated you to start Spectrum Speakers and Entertainers, and what are the agency’s main aims or values?
I was motivated by what I saw as being a real need and solution to a problem within the industry. I had lots of event planners express that they were struggling to find speakers from diverse backgrounds. I couldn’t understand why, for the most part, a diverse speaker meant someone who was wheeled on stage to talk only about Diversity within their industry and not any exciting breakthroughs, trends or predictions. Somehow there was a massive gap, so I set about finding services which addressed this and I couldn’t find any! I felt it was up to me to make this happen, as once I had been made acutely aware of this disparity, I couldn’t go back to being complicit in the lack of change.
Where would you like to see the events industry headed in terms of diversity and inclusion?
I would really like for Equity, Diversity and Inclusion to be second nature. It will always require awareness and planning but it’s no coincidence that I haven’t referred to Diversity, Equity or Inclusion in the agency name. I would like for SPECTRUM and all other event services to evolve as just being excellent and knowledgeable purveyors of exceptional speakers - period. The same goes for sustainability and ethical practices, but for the time being it’s still important to highlight how we contribute to change.
What is one thing anyone reading this can do to help their organisation promote diversity within their events?
Educate yourself, and understand why it’s important for you and your organisation to represent diverse voices. Then audit and understand where the most changes need to be made in order to be more inclusive beyond what you do already, as there’s always more work to do. Importantly, admit mistakes: ask for help when you make them (because we all do), and then do better.
Lauralee Whyte, Founder and CEO, SPECTRUM - Speakers And Entertainers
Lauralee Whyte is an Inclusion Evangelist and Founder and CEO of inclusive talent bureau SPECTRUM Speakers & Entertainers. SPECTRUM was founded to recognise that speakers and entertainers who are Women, BIPOC, LGBTQ+, Differently Abled, Neurodivergent and Socially Disadvantaged are leading experts in their own fields, be that Finance, Technology or Wellbeing and not just called upon to discuss diversity issues.
Lauralee is an ambassador for change with a vision for SPECTRUM to address the diversity gap in the industry and to be of service to progressive organisations who are striving for inclusivity.
If you'd like to read more about diversifying your events and workplace, have a read of our write-up from our EventLAB panel on making your workplace and events more inclusive, and check out the advice of Gabrielle Austen-Browne of Diversity Ally, on making your venue more accessible. As an industry, we can work to #BreakTheBias for good.