by Matt Alderton | September 27, 2019
Education is a primary objective of many meetings and events, attendees of which expect to walk away with new ideas and fresh perspectives. Unfortunately many gatherings simply recycle the same viewpoints over and over again, because also recycle the same types of speakers -- generally white male executives.

"We know diversity in teams unlocks innovation and makes us smarter. So I'm routinely surprised at the reluctance of conference organizers to prioritize this," author Ruchika Tulshyan says in an article for the Harvard Business Review.

According to Tulshyan, a frequent event speaker herself, the key to giving attendees diverse ideas is exposing them to diverse speakers. "We must undo the fallacy that the most confident or engaging speakers are the most competent in imparting knowledge and learning to your community. They're often not," she continues. "Instead, we need to fundamentally understand and accept how different perspectives and life experiences among speakers will bring a richer conversation to any conference."

To increase diversity, start by changing your search criteria for presenters.

"Don't only look for experts by title," Tulshyan advises. "When we default to the 'best' in a category, we usually default to white men, a reality reinforced by long-held power dynamics in society. I've found this to be true even outside of the U.S. and Western Europe, including in countries I've lived in like Singapore and India. Sourcing speakers outside your traditional networks means looking for differences in experiences and points of view; for example, if you already have eight speakers with Ph.D.s, it could be valuable to bring in someone within a community organization working on the issue with a different approach."

If your organization can afford it, it might also be worthwhile to consider paying speakers. "Some of the biggest inequities are created when speakers are expected to speak for free exposure, learn to refine their skills on their own dime and keep doing that until they hit big-time conferences where they can finally begin to charge hefty speaker fees," Tulshyan observes. "Speaking for free isn't a realistic option for many people, especially people of color who are most disadvantaged by a large racial wealth gap. At the very least, offer to compensate for travel and lodging."

Finally, diversify your referral sources. "It's not a surprise when all-white conference-organizing committees draw from largely white speaker networks," Tulshyan says. "As a rule of thumb, ask for recommendations from a diverse group; whether it's for a job interview, to staff a project or, especially, to speak at your event."

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