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How Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion Can Help Associations Adapt to a Tight Events Market

Travel Portland’s EDI efforts have improved its vendor selection, internal hiring, and storytelling.

When faced with monumental challenges during the pandemic, planners adapted and found ways for people to meet. Now, as the events industry roars back to life, a new set of difficulties has emerged: Costs are soaring, and many organizations can’t staff quickly enough to keep up with demand.

Organizations are looking for efficiencies to counter these concerns. A growing number are rethinking their operations in a way that supports equity, diversity, and inclusion, including with vendor selection and internal hiring.

For the past decade, Travel Portland has been focusing on intentional change with its EDI efforts, said Angela Nelson, vice president of equity, diversity, and inclusion.

“EDI has an impact on the triple bottom line of an organization—people, planet, and profit,” she said. “When EDI is done well, it really evokes system changes and not just a one-off, performative act. You can get immediate results, but you also can embed it for long-term impact.”

Reevaluating Vendor Selection

Organizations focusing on EDI have the potential to see change right away by expanding their list of vendors to be more inclusive.

“Part of it is awareness that you’re casting your net wide and making sure that minority-owned businesses have the opportunity to bid for bigger contracts,” Nelson said.

Travel Portland recently reviewed its process for evaluating vendors when it issues requests for proposals and requests for qualifications.

“We hired a consultant to look at our scoring grid and make sure that when we ask for an RFP or RFQ, we can truly have an EDI-centered lens on it,” she said. “We ask the vendor about their business with their subcontractors. Are they sourcing diverse subcontractors? We also inquire about the demographic makeup of their internal team.” In addition, Travel Portland asks vendors if they have certification through Oregon’s Certification Office for Business Inclusion and Diversity.

An assessment tool helps each decision maker at Travel Portland be equitable in scoring submissions.

“The revised, EDI-centered evaluation has led us to a firm that was Black-owned and that has done some amazing work for our marketing campaigns,” Nelson said. “The process worked in that it removed bias, and it allowed for the scoring to push them to the top when it may not have done that for them in the past because we would have gone with who we knew.”

Picking from a deeper pool of diverse vendors also better reflects the diversity of Portland as a destination.

“Our partnership with local content creators to help tell the story of Portland—and having the diversity of those stories—is important for us,” Nelson said. “We’re striving to make sure that we optimize all the communities that exist here to help us tell the story about our destination. We want all points of view.”

When the story of a diverse Portland comes through, it shapes how association members who are attending a meeting will experience the city, which has longer-term benefits. Their positive perceptions also reflect well on the association hosting the meeting.

Hiring and Retaining Diverse Employees

Just as EDI can help an organization widen its network of vendors, having an inclusive mindset can open opportunities to find talent.

Travel Portland revamped its internal hiring practices and was able to hire a more diverse staff after the pandemic.

“We’re focused on making sure that our biases are removed from the hiring process and the interviewing process,” Nelson said. “We also ensure that we have diversity in our hiring panels so that we can get not only the best talent but also the most diverse talent that we can.”

For associations looking to follow suit, she recommends working with local minority-led institutions, such as the Urban League, and local multicultural chambers of commerce that have job boards.

“Fill that funnel as best as you can,” she said. “You’d be surprised at how diverse your pool gets once you do that.”

Although Nelson said Travel Portland has “moved the needle” in its hiring, the process can’t stop there. She is working to promote an environment where employees continue to feel welcome, enjoy what they do, and stick around.

“Once you hire a diverse staff person,” she said, “you have to also maintain a culture that supports them and develops their talent so that they have equitable opportunities to advance.”

Starting Off With EDI Efforts

For any organization looking to pursue EDI, Nelson is clear on the path forward.

“Hire a consultant, if you’re not ready to hire a full-time employee, to help you do an assessment of your organization’s work and see where the gaps are and where you can begin to make a good start,” she said.

This person can help the organization determine a strategy, set an action plan, measure success along the way, and then identify what else can be done.

“That’s the thing about EDI. It isn’t one and done,” Nelson said. “Travel Portland, while celebrating great strides in EDI efforts, is continuously improving.”

Travel Portland is a destination marketing and management organization that collaborates with meeting and event planners to bring conferences and conventions to the city. To learn more and connect with the Travel Portland team, visit