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How to Get DEI Buy-In From Stakeholders

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To have meetings that are rooted in diversity, equity, and inclusion, planners need all parties to be aligned with the goal. Here are three steps to making that happen.

When hosting meetings that are rooted in diversity, equity, and inclusion, the principles matter. Having a DEI mindset moves the needle toward equal opportunities for all people, regardless of race, gender, sexual orientation, age, or ability. 

Beyond these principles, meeting planners should strive to get an authentic yes from stakeholders on DEI efforts. Without buy-in on DEI from the board, staff, venue, vendors, keynote speakers, and others, your events will never be as welcoming as they can be. 

“It’s business 101 to take into consideration as many stakeholders as possible to ensure that you’re addressing the needs of all of those stakeholders,” said Alexis Nicole Mootoo, associate vice president for employee experience: culture, employee relations, and equal opportunity at the University of South Florida. “And if you’re doing it with DEI embedded in your thought process and in your principles, you are much more likely to be successful.” 

Mootoo, whose professional experience involves DEI in the workplace and how to effect change in organizations, lays out three key steps for meeting planners to get stakeholder buy-in from a DEI perspective. 

Evaluate Yourself 

“The first step is to look inward and to be clear that you as an individual embrace all of the principles of diversity, equity, and inclusion, because when you bring them all together, you have this sense of belonging,” Mootoo said. “And when you do that, you start to understand your client base, your vendor base—all your bases.” 

Ask yourself questions—Mootoo used the word interrogate, underscoring the rigor required for this sort of self-reflection. Recognize that you may not know everything, and use the resources available to you to fill knowledge gaps. 

“If you embrace DEI, then you start being curious about things that you otherwise wouldn’t have known, and you stop making assumptions about people,” she said. “Because when you make assumptions about people, you’re just generally being rude.” 

Evaluate Your Organization 

Looking inward should be done at the organizational level, too. Do the people in leadership positions reflect the diversity of the members? Are meetings a welcoming place for all delegates? 

Visit Tampa Bay, for example, started asking these questions 10 years ago. 

“We discussed the values of relevance, inclusivity, diversity, and culture,” said Santiago C. Corrada, president and CEO of Visit Tampa Bay. “We wanted to ensure that these values were well represented in all aspects of our efforts, from board leadership to staff, from the groups we aimed to attract to the images we projected in our marketing, advertising, and PR. We always intended to showcase the warm, welcoming atmosphere that anyone, regardless of their background or origin, would experience when they visit the area.” 

Today, the destination marketing organization continues to ask questions as part of its ongoing DEI journey. In 2023, Visit Tampa Bay brought in Mootoo to present training to the whole staff about DEI and contributing to a safe and appropriate workplace. 

“It was remarkable to see the diversity in the group that I met,” Mootoo said. “That’s why they’re a credible agency. They’re able to specifically address the needs of different kinds of constituencies around the Tampa Bay region. I’ve used my experience at Visit Tampa Bay as a model for other organizations to see.” 

For DEI to be effective, it needs to come from a place of authenticity—it can’t be a cookie-cutter solution or a box to check. 

“When discussing diversity, equity, and inclusion, there’s methodology and strategy involved. In a process like this, the leader needs to provide a vision and a direction. We received backing from our board of directors, our staff, and our broader community,” Corrada said. “Here, we don’t just talk about these principles. We embody them in our actions. There’s no need for anyone to search for a handbook, policy, or procedure to see how our DEI efforts are reflected in our actions.” 

Evaluate the Businesses You Work With 

Although it’s convenient to call on the same destination, venue, audiovisual company, caterer, and presenters for your next event without getting their buy-in on DEI, it’s a shortcut that could prove costly, Mootoo said. 

Instead, give stakeholders the opportunity to be champions in effecting change, and it will spread like wildfire, she said. 

“Interrogate why you’re using the same vendors, and begin processes that force you to look at what could be new in the marketplace,” Mootoo said. “Stay current by identifying other companies that could deliver what you need in a better way, and then communicate what your values are from a DEI point of view so that at all times your stakeholders are aware that your values are based in diversity, equity, and inclusion principles, and it’s part of your value system as an organization, and you want everybody else around you to follow suit.” 

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