An Honest Discussion on Race, Culture and Meetings

By Marc Boisclair, October 2, 2017

If ever there was a time for an honest discussion on diversity, it’s now. Conversations about building a border wall, deporting immigrants and other polarizing topics have left the country divided.

We called on five veteran hospitality professionals (shown in order from left below) for their takes on diversity in the events industry and society as a whole: Dan Williams, vice president of convention sales at Experience Columbus (Ohio); Wanda Collier Wilson, president and CEO at Jackson (Mississippi) CVBFabian J. De Rozario, national president at National Association of Asian American ProfessionalsAl Rutherford, managing partner at Rutherford & Associatesand Anisha Lewis, executive director at The Association of Black Psychologists.

These are people who not only plan meetings but also attend them frequently, whose average age (51) and years in the industry (25) attest to their wisdom and experience. Their thoughts on subjects others often shy away from are enlightening.

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A generation ago, meetings began to change, becoming less a sea of white faces and more diverse. How have meeting visuals progressed in their racial and cultural composition since then?

Rutherford: When I first began my career a little over 30 years ago, I was often the only person of color sitting in a workshop, and one of only a handful in a general session. Today, the attendees are more diverse, but the numbers still aren’t representative of the diversity in our country. We still have more work to do.

Wilson: Twenty-five years ago, it was not uncommon to walk into a room filled with white males, only three to five nonwhites and veiled, unwelcome looks. I’m seeing a greater mix of racial and cultural composition now than in the past—more faces of color. However, in 2017, we should be further along in the process [than we are].

De Rozario: I’ve seen an uptick of more racial, age and gender diversity at meetings over the past 10 years. Planners and organizations are more thoughtful about improving ethnic and gender representation among their speakers, particularly for keynotes. Speaker agencies feature a greater diversity of women, Hispanics, blacks and Asians. Marketing and promotion of events and conferences are ensuring diverse representation of people in published collateral.

Williams: In marketing materials and pages of industry publications, it’s much more common to find a person who looks like me. And certainly there’s a wider range of diversity at industry events, in terms of both presenters and attendees. But the diverse makeup of these events is still not reflective of the wide-ranging diversity found in the general population.

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