How to Host a Diverse & Inclusive Virtual Summit

An issue I've noticed with online summits is the fact that you can look at a speaker lineup (or a lot of speaker lineups) and everyone tends to look the same. And I'm not here to point fingers - I've been guilty of it myself and actually got called out for it by an attendee who I really appreciate now, even though I didn't at the time.

To lead this conversation, I interviewed Nichole Beiner to talk about how we can work together to make online summits more diverse and inclusive. Nicole is breaking down:

  • Whether diversity in speaker lineups is actually a problem
  • The biggest issues with diversity and inclusion in virtual summits
  • Why these things are harmful
  • How to create more diverse and inclusive events

Is diversity in virtual summit lineups really a problem?

One of the first things I (Nichole) look at when I see a new summit pop up is the speaker lineup. What I'm looking for is to see if there's anyone who looks like me included on the list.

And all too often, there's not.

But I love it when I hear people start to ask things like:

  • Why is this happening?
  • What can I do about it?

And I'm excited to share those things with you today.

Nichole's background

I am an attorney by trade and also have a blog for women of color. I also offer consulting services where I help businesses, facilitate conversations that are difficult to have and help create empathetic leadership environments. 

I've been doing a lot of this diversity work, for about 14 years now. I'll tell you that it's often really thankless work that goes unnoticed, but it's so worth it when it IS noticed.

The biggest diversity and inclusion issue with virtual summits

The biggest issue with diversity and inclusion in virtual summits is the speaker lineup.

Too often, when people are putting together a lineup, they end up gathering a group of people who are just like them. And if they do ask others who they know, they are often asking people who also look just like them, which leads to the same results. 

This doesn't give them the ability have a well-rounded array of speakers. They'll get great names and great speakers, but they'll usually lack the diversity.

It's important that people either expand their circles or get comfortable with reaching outside of their circles.

Why this is harmful

Continuing to have speaker lineups made of people who are all similar perpetuates the problem. It says, "Only this type of person is capable of doing this thing."

For instance, if you see a summit made up of all single moms and you're not a single mom, you might assume that it isn't for you and that you aren't welcome.

Why it's harmful specifically to people of color

One of the things I've been working on is an abundance mindset. Which as a woman of color, is not easy. You grow up in a world of scarcity, a world where you have to try three times as hard. 

This idea that there's space for everyone is different from what I grew up with. And then when you see that replicated on a lineup, you say, "Well, if there was space for anyone and everyone, why aren't there people who look like me here? And why are the people whose voices are being listened to and projected, all people who look a certain way."

I believe that the more stories we have and the more perspectives we have, the richer our narrative is. The richer our understanding of one another, of what the space that we're trying to cultivate is.

Even within circles of women of color, I really try to get women with diverse experiences or things that you may not have thought about. I do think it matters, not only to the people who want to see themselves there, but it matters to the things that the media pays attention to.

I think those are small ways we can make little changes, to help stop the polarization that's hurt more of our society, and to also help people understand people you may never meet. The internet is incredible. I always feel so old when I say this, but it really is incredible and we have the capacity to be in two different places and have a conversation and see each other, and just really talk and get to know one another. I think we could use that more. Summits can be the place where we do that, where you make friendships across the world, across the country.

Unintentionally creating "unwelcome guests"

The diversity we're speaking of really does include diversity across all different areas. No one wants to be the unwelcome guest.

You might be saying, "Oh no, you're definitely invited!" But your actions generally lead them to ask, "Am I really invited?"

How to create more diverse and inclusive virtual summits

It can be tough to swallow when you realize you haven't been inclusive up to this point, but it's not too late to change. Here are some things you can do to start cultivating more diversity right now.

Quick tip: Stock photos

This first tip is really easy. When you're finding stock photos to promote an event, pay attention to what the people in the photos represent.

  • Is it just one gender and a specific subset of that gender?
  • Are there people of diverse body sizes? 
  • Are various races represented?
  • Are different ages represented?
  • Are differently-abled people represented?

Make your event accessible

One great thing about virtual events, versus in-person, is that they tend to be more accessible. Meaning someone doesn't have to have extra income and the flexibility to travel to attend.

However, accessibility is still important in a virtual event and it's something you need to pay attention to.

For example, can you caption your videos so that people who have difficulty hearing can access the material?

Look outside of your network for speakers

Pay attention to the speaker lineup you're creating. If you can't find people who are "diverse", who can you ask?

Who else is doing something similar that will have a different group of people you can get in contact with?

It's totally okay to say, "I want to create an inclusive space. Do you have anyone who can speak on this topic?" 

Or, "Here is my lineup so far. Do you see anything missing? Where's my blind spot?"

Because that's often the hardest part identifying our own blind spots.

It's not actually *hard*

If there is one key takeaway here, it's that this work is scary, but it's not actually hard to do.

It can feel hard, but that's really just the feeling of being uncomfortable.

We can face that and acknowledge, "Okay, I'm nervous" and move forward from there to find resources and people to help.

Once we understand that this isn't impossible, we can all start making progress.

Know that you're not always going to get it right and be perfect. But if you can put yourself out there and get feedback, you will make progress and that progress will make a difference. 

Connect with Nichole

Nichole is an experienced attorney, a social justice advocate, blogger, educator, community-builder, and a woman who believes in living wholeheartedly. Nichole's blog and community, Melanin + Moxie, is dedicated to helping women of color connect with, uplift, and empower one another to be their full selves. She also offers Leadership Strategy and Diversity & Equity Consulting to schools and businesses interested in creating inclusive, engaged organizational cultures. Nichole believes that equity and compassion makes us all stronger. 

If you need help diversifying your summit, feel free to contact Nichole at [email protected]

Instagram @melaninandmoxie - Community

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