07 Jun 2023

Make Diversity and Inclusion a Part of Every Business Event

Auditorium of delegates at a conference in Sydney

Key learnings from the Sydney Worldpride Human Rights Conference 2023

We all know events have an extensive planning process. Sydney WorldPride 2023 showcased how to incorporate diversity and inclusion into major events. We spoke to Lily Stokes, Human Rights Conference Producer, Sydney WorldPride 2023 about her recommendations for making diversity, equity and inclusion considerations, a part of every business event.

1. How do event planners ensure diversity and inclusion considerations are as important as all planning elements for business events?

Diversity and inclusion should be top-of-mind for event planners, and certainly on par with any other element of planning. Making events accessible and inclusive widens the scope of audiences able to participate, meaning that your event will have better attendance from a more diverse group of people.

At Sydney WorldPride, we invested in diversity and inclusion as much as any other element of planning. We were lucky to have several whole-of-festival committees that advised on not only the content of our Human Rights Conference, but also the delivery. We also hired dedicated roles to advise on the accessibility of the content, ensuring that people of all abilities would be able to engage with the event.

In addition to our whole-of-festival committees and dedicated staff, we also partnered with Equality Australia and a coalition of community partners to ensure that the content and delivery of the event reflected the diverse audience it sought to serve. This started with our presenters reflecting our diverse audience in age, gender, orientation, religion, ability or race. As a result, we were able to engage with a wide and diverse audience, ultimately selling out the event weeks before it transpired.

2. What are the key elements to consider in the selection of the location for an event?

Our primary consideration regarding the location of International Convention Centre Sydney (ICC Sydney) was accessibility. As such, we were able to utilise and recommend public transport to the event and worked closely with the NSW Government’s transport department to ensure that travel routes were accessible. In addition, Iron Wharf Drive was perfect for drop-offs right in front of an accessible entrance.

ICC Sydney also has accessibility infrastructure built in. This includes lift access to all floors, accessible entrances to all spaces and designated seating for wheelchair users or those requiring extra space. With any items we were bringing into ICC Sydney, we also ensured they were set up suitably for those with accessibility needs. This included ensuring that there was a 2m (6.6ft) rather than 1.5m (5ft) space between round tables to ensure wheelchair users could navigate the space freely ensuring that any furniture hired was comfortable and accessible (no high-top stools, more couches).

3. How can planners ensure people who need support can be included in the event activities?

As part of Sydney WorldPride’s community engagement prior to the event, we asked what the biggest barriers would likely be to people attending the conference. The data allowed us to plan, and to setup various supports that would enable more attendees to overcome barriers they could face in attending.

This included accessible ticketing at reduced prices for target communities, a scholarship program that brought 100 attendees to the event free of charge, and reduced price for LGBTQIA+ organisations. In addition, we implemented a variety of accessibility supports at the event, including live captioning, Auslan and International Sign (IS) interpretation and audio description. We also provided a quiet, low sensory space for those needing a break from the event, and provided peer support and counselling services onsite, free of charge.

We also ensured our lanyard system was designed to support a range of accessibility and inclusion requirements. We leveraged the Hidden Disabilities Sunflower symbol on lanyards, a globally recognised symbol for non-visible disabilities (also known as hidden disabilities). We also understood that some attendees’ security may be at risk should they be included in any media about the conference. Therefore, we also provided ‘no photos’ lanyards to anyone who wished to opt-out of photography.

4. What about signage and languages?

We were expecting a number of international attendees at the Human Rights Conference, so we ensured that we were able to provide translation and interpretation where possible.

Our attendee app and steaming site (including the conference agenda, presenter information, timings, resources, etc) was translatable into six languages. Users could also enable AI-generated captioning which translated presentations in real-time. In addition, we also provided over 100 international users with free VPN licences so that they could bypass local geo-blocking to access the conference content.

In addition to language services, we also ensured that we had both Auslan and IS interpretation available, so that international attendees who required sign interpretation would have the option available to them.

5. How do planners avoid ‘gendering’ an event and their event marketing?

When marketing the event, we were sure to use inclusive language. A key example was the use of ‘presenters’ rather than ‘speakers’, as some of our panellists were non-verbal.

Beyond marketing, we also provided all presenters with inclusivity guidelines that detailed what sort of language was appropriate when addressing the event. For example, instead of using ‘ladies and gentlemen’, using ‘folks’ or ‘everyone’.

We also worked with ICC Sydney which replaced standard toilet signage with non-gendered bathroom signage through the event space in the Convention Centre to optimise an inclusive experience for delegates.

6. How can event planners factor in cultural or religious needs?

Community engagement is key.

Cultural elements of any event in Australia should be advised upon by the local first nations authority - in our case, this was the Sydney Metropolitan Local Aboriginal Land Council. They officially welcomed us onto Gadigal Country on day one of the conference – this is an important local cultural tradition, and then we followed with acknowledgements of country on days two and three.

After feedback from our dedicated First Nations committee, and the faith community, we transformed two additional rooms into a private space for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander attendees and a dedicated interfaith prayer room to ensure that attendees from all backgrounds would feel safe and included at the event.

7. Where can event planning teams get support to learn more about diversity and inclusion planning for events?

The key is to start planning for accessibility and inclusion from day one. Engage those with lived experience, establish sub-committees and budget for specialist advisors where possible. Work with your convention bureau or professional conference organiser or venue to get recommendations for local expert services providers for live captioning, Auslan and IS interpretation and audio description services.