Want a more inclusive conference? Here are some practical tips to help boost your revenue and reputation*

Andrei Statu on Unsplash

Organisers of global conferences often struggle with a lack of inclusion. Here are some practical suggestions to ensure these events are more diverse — particularly from a gendered perspective.

By considering and applying these steps, this will boost not only the reputation of the conference but also the revenue:

  1. Consider ways to attract more diverse audiences by scaling the delegate fee structure. Conferences can be expensive for delegates to attend. This only serves to reinforce the sense of inequity and elitism. Sponsors could bring in diverse people to these events who might not be able to afford to attend otherwise.
  2. Make a commitment to ensure that every panel includes at least one woman and a person of colour. The brilliant network Second Source in the UK calls this The Pledge. It also asks those who cannot uphold this commitment to actively explain why.
  3. Ensure sessions on traditionally marginalised subjects do not clash with high profile sessions or speakers. Similarly, ensure that parallel sessions do not dilute the discussion by making sure that similar themes of marginalisation do not compete with each other.
  4. Ensure marginalised communities do not feel further marginalised. Make sure these conversations are threaded throughout the main event and that where possible, these take place on the main stage.
  5. Consider a creche — many women struggle with finding childcare and this means they have to turn down conferences. It’d be amazing if it was free too — so consider seeking funding for this.
  6. Speaking on stage can be daunting. Consider a mentoring programme that supports people who feel under-represented to gain the skills and confidence they need to feel comfortable taking part in these conferences, both from a panellist perspective but also as moderators.
  7. Understand that good moderators are hard to find. The best moderators know their subject, their audience, their panellists and can keep to time, ensuring that everyone feels they have an equal voice while also allowing for external discussion. The best moderators reflect a diverse society. Raise the bar in terms of moderation. So many great discussions are derailed by bad moderators. Just because someone is confident and likes the sound of their own voice doesn’t make them a good moderator.
  8. Ensure that panel discussions are discussions and not just a line of people delivering speeches; as well as ensuring a discussion on stage, make sure that the audience is involved. Find ways to keep the conversation alive afterwards for those who do not yet feel comfortable.
  9. Solicit suggestions beforehand for topics and questions that people want to hear discussed as part of these panels. This is particularly important for people who do not feel confident speaking in public. Solicit suggestions beforehand for topics and questions that people want to hear discussed as part of these panels.
  10. Encourage people to share their opinions and feedback, allow for the option for them to do this confidentially. Listen to that feedback.
  11. Invest in really good interpreters/translators who also reflect the diversity of your constituency. Because remember that not everyone speaks English and it is also the language of privilege and power.
  12. If you have external speakers, make sure that you communicate with them what is and what is not acceptable.
  13. Call out abuses of power, be that harassment, sexism or other. People need to be held accountable for their privilege and where they abuse that.

*The above advice is an edited version of an earlier piece written in reaction to the incidents below.

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The president of WAN-IFRA, which organised a global conference in Portugal last week, and his Portuguese counterpart were forced to apologise after the World News Congress played host to some of the most disgusting sexism I’ve ever witnessed at an industry event. This happened, not immediately after the egregious acts, but only after a handful of us called out the unacceptable behaviour on social media.

And yet, to my mind their apologies did not go far enough and failed to recognise the systemic gender inequity that pervades in the news media that means sexism and sexual harassment pervade for journalists worldwide.

This was a conference where women were sidelined. A fabulous event meant to celebrate Women in Media with some truly inspiring speakers took place before the main conference in a side room. Then the men took to the centre stage, a wall of them speaking ahead of the brave and brilliant Maria Ressa who was awarded for her courage fighting gendered online harassment in the Philippines. What should have been the highlight of the week, plumbed new lows, with the gala dinner hosting two episodes of egregious sexism — from the MC who made a joke comparing news media with breasts (the fake ones in his opinion are better) to the head of the Portuguese press association imposing himself on a female colleague on stage and humiliating several others.

When he apologised the following day, he refused to accept that people in Portugal would have been affected by his behaviour.

Colleagues from his own culture and others vehemently disagreed.

It’s clear that these episodes are part of a bigger picture that enables power to be used inappropriately because of the systemic inequities of the news culture. This conference was a symptom of a greater problem, but those who allow this to happen must be held accountable.

Organisers can and should take steps to become more inclusive and by so doing, hopefully this kind of behaviour will be curtailed and, if it were to happen again, they ensure those responsible are held accountable.

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Writer, runner, journalist, Mum, gender and media consultant

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Hannah Storm

Hannah Storm

Writer, runner, journalist, Mum, gender and media consultant

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