As conveners, our core function is to bring together communities for dialogue, peer-learning, and collaboration. Inherent to our success, is the ability to convene diverse voices. On February 9th, 17 impact-focused organizations and practitioners gathered in Manhattan to discuss the importance of increasing attendee diversity at convenings. The session was co-hosted by Echoing Green, Head and Heart Philanthropy, and Conveners.org. The two hour session, held at the Echoing Green offices in Manhattan, focused on strategies to increase attendee diversity and areas for growth. It also included a discussion of:

  • What does attendee diversity means to us?;
  • Why is it important?;
  • How do we achieve it?; and
  • When do we need to think about diversity within our planning processes?

Opening Conversation

To open the discussion of defining diversity and its role, session participants were invited to break into pairs and reflect on the following questions:

“What is your earliest memory related to diversity? How has this shaped your life?” 

and

“What is your relationship to diversity today? How does the topic of diversity influence or impact your work?”

The intention behind these question was to encourage participants to both introduce themselves to each other, as well as grounding personally to the topic at hand.  Following the lively paired discussions, the group then embarked on a reflection of the importance of diversity to their professional work – including its value, purpose, and role.

The discussion started with an inventory of our individual and collective challenge areas regarding attendee diversity.  Participants were invited to individually brainstorm as many challenges as well as their respective roots causes.  In small groups, they then compared and shared their lists.

Identified Challenges

A wide variety of challenge areas were identified and ranged from competing organizational priorities, aligning organizational leadership, improving attendee pipeline, thoughtful event design, and diverse speaker selection.

Competing Organizational Priorities

Diversity has to be an organizational priority that is clearly articulated at all levels from funding and design of the convening to impact outcomes. Without this level of commitment, it is easy for diversity to be an afterthought or overlooked altogether.

Organizational Leadership

In addition to the importance of organizational focus, the leadership must also have a clear awareness of the complexity involved with increasing diversity and a shared understanding of diversity as a value for the convening.

Attendee Pipeline

Two challenges in regard to pipeline were brought up. The first was on general attendee pipeline, with the same sources tapped year after year resulting in many of the same attendees. The second was that there tends to be a limited list of speakers, attendees, and organizations that are called on to represent their groups.

Event Design

Content and structure were two of the challenges raised when discussing how event design can hinder attendee diversity. When content is designed without a diverse audience in mind, the content can lack topics and speakers that attract and engage the intended audiences. The structure of the event can also pose challenges to everything from physical accessibility to attendance travel and ticket costs, and creating flexible and welcoming environments that encourage both discussion and constructive dissension.

Strategies and Solutions

What was particularly valuable was that participants highlighted both tactics they have found effective in encouraging attendee diversity, as well as when in the planning process diversity should be considered. The major take-away was that diversity has to be intentionally prioritized and fully integrated into all stages of the design and implementation process.  

The group then moved on to reflect on strategies to encourage attendee diversity and critical components for diversity success.  Individual and group answers included the following:

  • Incorporating diversity into the event’s definition of success from the outset;
  • Holding leadership accountable for attendee diversity;
  • Investing time in building relationships with community advisors;
  • Seeking stakeholder input during all stages of the design and implementation process;
  • Creating flexible agendas;
  • Using thoughtful event design;
  • Creating a diversity steering committee;
  • Investing financial resources to sponsor/subsidize attendee scholarships; and
  • Investing in building attendee diversity over the long term (and not just focusing on it in the months before your event.)

Outcomes

Following a collective reflection on areas of overlap between both challenges as well as strategies, the meeting concluded with an invitation for participants to share additional resources with each other regarding diversity and convening.  

In addition, the meeting’s outcomes included:

  • Upcoming Conveners.org guest blog posts to be written by specific co-hosted session participants;
  • A future co-hosted session on “Increasing Speaker and Facilitator Diversity at Social Impact Convenings” to be held at Opportunity Collaboration’s October 2016 convening in Mexico;
  • New “Recipes for Success”- adding  attendee diversity strategies to the Conveners.org online Knowledge Base (accessible to official Conveners.org members).
  • Invitation for conveners and social impact focused event organizers to participate in a Conveners.org Collective Impact Project to develop a “How to Guide on Encouraging Diversity at Social Impact Convenings” to be disseminated online.

Conveners.org would like to thank those organizations in attendance: