People are becoming more aware about the perspectives of marginalized and minority groups in our society, and more efforts are being made to ensure that these perspectives are incorporated into the public sphere. Ultimately the goal in doing so is to make our society more inclusive of people of diverse backgrounds, and that inclusivity can also be crucial when planning and executing an event for your association. Whether for a conference, trade show or meeting, the more inclusive your event is, the better reach your organization will have to a broad and diverse range of clients.

In this blog, I discuss ways you can make your association event more inclusive, particularly to sexual minorities, or LGBTQ people. Inclusivity may not be on everyone’s radar, and even if it is, it may seem difficult to know where to start. The steps to making your event more inclusive can be relatively simple to execute and in fact, being open to shifting your assumptions and learning new ways of doing things is a great place to start.

Why is it Important to Be Inclusive?

Even if your event or meeting is not specifically targeted to an LGBTQ organization or group, you can still take several steps to make it more inclusive, as there may be LGBTQ individuals, family members or allies in attendance. Doing so will ensure that all of your attendees feel welcome and appreciated. The LGBTQ community represents incredible purchasing power when it comes to meetings, events and travel. When you make your events more inclusive, LGBTQ community members will notice and will show their support, whether that be through their membership, their purchasing or donation practices, or their involvement in your organization. In short, making your event LGBTQ-friendly is not just good practice, it is good for business. Not only will you be encouraging diversity and inclusion in your organizational practices, which in itself can become an essential part of your association’s image, but you will be creating an environment where diverse perspectives and experiences are valued and can bring a return on investment to your event.

How to Make Your Event More LGBTQ-Friendly

There are four areas to consider when making your event more inclusive.

Train Your Event Staff

The first step is to provide diversity training to staff who will be involved in planning or executing the event. Training should include review of any applicable discrimination and harassment policies, procedures or laws, and education around respectful and inclusive language (keep reading for more on this). You can also make the training available or even required for any staff who will be interacting with attendees on the day of the event. If you are not sure how to carry out the training, reach out to your local LGBTQ resource centre, which can provide workshops and educational materials on your behalf.

Diversify Your Staff Team

Another aspect to think about is the diversity of your staff team and your event participants. Including openly LGBTQ-identifying individuals on your event planning team, or as speakers or panelists on event day, will demonstrate your organization’s commitment to diversity, inclusivity and LGBTQ equality, and can help retain and attract new clients, donors and other key stakeholders to your organization. You are also setting an example for other organizations in your industry to follow.

Choose Your Event’s Location Carefully

There are several ways to ensure the location and/or space of your event is LGBTQ-friendly (welcoming to all regardless of gender or sexuality). First, you can seek out venues, vendors and suppliers that are LGBTQ-friendly themselves. The LGBT Meeting Professionals Association or an LGBTQ resource centre can help you find this information. You should also consider these logistics: Are there additional groups sharing the venue/space on the day of your event? Are there accessible, gender neutral washrooms available? If not, would the venue allow you to designate some or all of the washrooms gender neutral for your event?

Use Gender Neutral Language

Lastly, it is important that all event planners, speakers and panelists use gender neutral language in marketing and promotional materials, event publications and forms, and when speaking at the event (other things to consider when choosing a speaker are detailed in our article Speaker Agreements – The Key to a Great Association Event).

Gender neutral language is intentional and seeks to include all genders and sexual orientations. There are many ways you can incorporate gender neutral language into your event, such as using terms like “everyone”, “folks”, “attendees”, or “supporters” instead of “ladies and gentlemen” when addressing your attendees, or using terms like “humanity” instead of the gendered “mankind”. Pronouns are another important area: event attendees should be addressed and referred to by their preferred pronoun. Including that option on nametags, for example, could be an easy way to incorporate this. Above all, the key is to include, not alienate, individuals or groups at your event.

Managing Inclusivity in Your Association

I hope that the suggestions discussed here will help you plan your next association event with inclusivity in mind. These suggestions are in no way complete, but they are a start. Inevitably, making your events more inclusive can have a ripple effect into the organizational practices of your association. When this happens, you may encounter challenges or even objections within the organization. Negative attitudes, beliefs and behaviours can affect progress, which can be disheartening and demotivating.

Ultimately, to be successful in this endeavour requires the leadership of the organization to set the tone and give direction to staff, volunteers and members. The key is to communicate with your stakeholders: be open and honest about why your organization is making these changes, and have realistic expectations. Our article Managing Change within an Association discusses more on the importance of communication when implementing change. Remember, shifting organizational culture and practices takes time and hard work, just like creating a more inclusive society does. What is important is that your organization is doing its part, so stay positive and don’t give up!