Why now is the time to take accountability for representation
It’s 2020, yet barely a week goes by without an all-white, all-male panel hitting our social media channels, writes Nicola Kemp. The time for collective action is now
Picture the scene; five white men have gathered at a London hotel to discuss the future of media on a conference platform. You are sitting in the audience, you work in the creative industries, but you are not white and you are not male.
Does that mean there is no future for you in the industry you work within? Or that you will struggle to be heard within the organisations and the broader industry within which you work? Perhaps the CEO of the agency you work for is on the panel; what message does that send about the importance of diversity and inclusion at the company you work for?
In the midst of the coronavirus crisis that discussion might well be taking place on Zoom, but the message is nonetheless toxic to diverse talent. Representation matters because when you don’t see yourself reflected in the conferences or media channels you consume, the message is silent but simple: you don’t belong here.
It is pointless telling women or people of colour to ‘find their voice’ when that voice is so rarely elevated.
Creativity comes from call out culture
Then of course there is the challenge of the toxic narrative which surrounds ‘call out culture’. Somewhat inexplicably, the lion’s share of media attention still fixates on tone policing the individuals who take the time to call out the lack of diversity in any given event or platform.
The current crisis affords us something unique: the opportunity for a complete reset when it comes to representation”
Let’s be clear here: accountability isn’t about attributing blame, but securing a commitment to do better in order to build a more inclusive industry for all. To elevate new voices and promote the true diversity of talent in the industry. To actively listen and learn from each other and place intersectionality at the heart of the industry.
The creative industries are notoriously competitive, but collective action is vital to creating change when it comes to representation.
As individuals and organisations we all make mistakes; all too often we overlook the important in pursuit of the seemingly urgent. We don’t make the time to think about what it means when we fail to make representation a business priority.
At the same time, the glacial pace of change can lead to a feeling of Groundhog day amongst those pushing for progress.
There is no question that the current crisis has put incredible financial challenges on the event and conference industry. Yet it also affords us something unique: the opportunity for a complete reset when it comes to representation. For taking the time to truly create the space for new voices. For putting accessibility and accountability at the top of the agenda. To stop asking ‘is he a name?’ and instead ‘is it a good idea?’ To move beyond tokenism and elevate a broader range of industry talent.
Make diversity a KPI at an individual and organisational level
Our ask at DICE is a simple one: make representation a KPI of your event planning, not an afterthought.
Our 10 point charter provides a framework which conferences, events and individuals can follow to finally make the ‘manel’ a relic of a bygone era. It considers race, age, gender, class, disability, neurodiversity, and event accessibility, and urges conference organisers to ensure diversity within their marketing materials.
(It’s important to note if your headline speakers are all white men you have a problem that marketing cannot solve.)
We created the framework to drive change, but that change demands action from each and every one of us. It demands that conference brands follow the approach set by Mediatel Events, who asked ‘what can we do to create change’ rather than ‘who else has signed up to the charter’. Begin with the belief that change is necessary, rather than being reactive to competitors or criticism.
There has never been a more vital time to actively listen to diverse voices to ensure that an all-white, all-male panel, debating the future of any part of our industry is firmly left in the past. Nor one to ensure we all take on greater accountability for the events we create, speak at, sponsor or share.
We aren’t seeking perfection, but we are seeking change. A change that will only happen if collectively as an industry we recognise the opportunity we all have to do better, to try harder, and to finally change the ratio in order to create a more inclusive industry for all.
Nicola Kemp is a co-founder at DICE and Editorial Director at Creativebrief
DICE provides certification and guidance to help conferences and events deliver a representative and diverse set of speakers, perspectives, and attendees.