by Andrea Doyle | August 30, 2017
The recent demonstrations and violence of white supremacists in Charlottesville, VA earlier this month raised a question for some meetings industry experts: Is the growing role of diversity in meetings and events now in jeopardy?

"I fear that diversity might slip down the agenda as organizations accelerate the automation process and start reducing headcounts," says Rohit Talwar (pictured), futurist and CEO of U.K.-based Fast Future Research. 

He adds that the neo-Nazi protesters themselves were only part of his concern.

"There is also the risk of the rise of nationalism and anti-diversity organizations, as evidenced by the events in Charlottesville and the White House response; this may have a bearing on business diversity and hence meetings," says Talwar. "Organizations may start to change their behavior in subtle ways and think about the risks associated with hiring women and people whose color or religion makes them unpopular to the right. I am afraid there is going to be a shift to a whiter, more male audience reflecting what is coming out of the White House. This will bleed into meetings, a microcosm of business." 

Kristi Casey Sanders, CMP, CMM, DES, HMCC, the director of professional development for Meeting Professionals International (MPI) who runs the MPI Academy, sees a silver lining to the unrest. 

"Mr. Talwar's prediction is one result of polarization. But sometimes polarization has benefits. I think in this case, it's forcing people to be less complacent and more engaged in making change happen," she says.

A sea of pink poured into Washington, D.C. in January as an estimated 500,000 gathered for The Women's March in protest of President Donald Trump. The crowds at this march trumped the attendance at the president's inaugural address. Sanders says this shows how powerful diffraction can be.

"I would argue that awareness of race, gender, transgender, religious, cultural, and socio-economic diversity is growing because of social and traditional media's focus on a variety of sensitive issues, public statements, and acts of violence," she says.

She points to the fact that at MPI's World Education Congress held in Las Vegas in June, a session entitled, "Creating Radically Welcoming Conference Experiences," was attended by 200 people, and the crowd was anything but homogeneous, she says. That session was created in partnership with MPI's Diversity and Inclusion Task Force and is the first in a series of conversations MPI is planning to have at the local and global level about diversity. In addition, MPI's Women in Leadership: Executive Leadership Skills certificate course was launched in February.

"We're looking at a diversity and inclusion theme for our 2018 series of Plan Your Meetings @ Meeting Professionals International PYM LIVE Events," says Sanders. "So the topic is very much on our minds, and I think it will be something that continues to be a societal and thus a meeting professional's concern for many years to come. If anything, I think meeting professionals are focused on being more inclusive, more welcoming, and more accommodating of diverse voices, faces, and talents in their programming and meeting design."

Diversity has business benefits, she adds. The International Monetary Bank did a study of more than 2 million global firms and found a direct link between having at least one woman on board and an increase in company assets. 

"If diversity is tied to revenue growth, I have a hard time envisioning a future where members of the board say no to women because it might mean a 20 percent growth in assets," adds Sanders.