The Velvet Rope
I started music events in school. They were dances for under 18's. I progressed to doing night club events when I became an adult. Being a promoter exposed you to a whole new world. Lots of people wanted to be your friends so that they could come to your events. Printing costs were hugely reduced when you bought in bulk. Hiring a venue was a lot cheaper if you knew the venue manager and they could get friends into your events and have photos taken.
There was also a very dark side to club/music promotion, but that is for another thread.
Thinking back on my career as a music promoter it made me really think about the discussions and strategies organisations use when approaching diversity and inclusion. Walk with me.
One of the pivotal elements of building a club night was the guest list. People were stoked to be part of this list, knowing they could get advanced entry to a night rubbing shoulders with DJ’s, celebrities and others who just loved to dress up, look good and dance.
We would go to parties, club nights (shoobs), college campuses and events and give out plastic membership cards to selected people. The cards were similar in design to the Gold American Express card. People would inquire as to why some got a card and others didn’t. This piqued curiosity and built a firm following for our events. That it was invitation only made it more desirable.
The secondary effort we made was being creative in our flyers. Most flyers for club nights had a pornified image of a girl dancing on the front in some kind of trendy graphic font. We often had a velvet rope with a question mark or suggestive text telling people not to tell. The only way you could get in was to call the number at the bottom. This is in an age when mobile phones were quite new and calls were pretty expensive. But hey it worked.
Incidently, the phone number on the flyers was also the membership number on the Gold Card we gave to selected people.
So why am I using this analogy of the velvet rope for D&I?
Many organisations think they are quite innovative in the way they attract new talent. The truth is, like us, they are very selective. They go to the top venues (Russell Group uni’s) or use word of mouth by existing members (referrals) to get people to “come to the party”. They then think that they compliment this by using “inclusive” photography on the part of the website that talks about diversity.
Here’s the thing.
We discovered along the way that lots more people than we realised knew about our nights, but felt they couldn’t come. They knew the venues but were intimidated to come because apparently our velvet rope was too strict. They knew of people who had membership cards but felt they were excluded because they didn’t look like our ideal members. Sound familiar?
For many organisations people know of their companies.
They know about the blurb that they put out to get people to come and join their crew but don’t realise often how exclusive they are. Yes people know where your club is but they don’t know if they get in.
Diversity is about letting people know where the building is and that they can get in.
Inclusion is about actually letting them in and feel part of the community.
More importantly is creating and maintaining a culture that once people are in that makes them not only want to stay but come again.
So what is the velvet rope your organisation operates?
Can people really get in or is it all just talk?
Does your culture reflect inclusiveness or is that all in your mind?
Food for thought.