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Agents for change

Agents for change

Gabrielle Austen-Browne, event industry DEI expert, discusses key concerns from agency leaders.

Exactly a year ago, I was invited to co-deliver an in-person workshop on inclusive leadership to 19 event industry agency leaders. During the session with agency owners/leaders there were some key challenges highlighted that called attention to the different challenges and concerns compared to that of their employees.

I tried to address these concerns, this is what I shared.

Diverse hiring just being a tick-box exercise 

Tick-boxing should never be an issue or concern if we are selecting a wide range of candidates to interview for a role in the first instance. We shouldn’t be trying to find one Black or Brown person, or person with a disability to give the appearance of diverse hiring practices, while then pitting them against 15 able bodied, white candidates. Of course, it will look and feel like a tick-box exercise if the Brown person is chosen in this case. Therefore, we need to widen the candidate pool, which may mean updating current hiring practices and training around hiring bias.

How do we do this? Research and engage with organisations who are working to highlight, showcase and support diverse talent. Connect with their community online and offline, support their work and partner with them.

Leaders say — “We just want the best person for the job” 

Meritocracy can only truly work when every young person has been given the same education, support and opportunity to grow, progress and learn. But they haven’t.

Meritocracy doesn’t take into account systemic inequality. So, instead, as an industry we should look at addressing the talent pipeline. We could be offering scholarships to increase access to education opportunities for underrepresented students, like the REACH Scholarship fund, offer and engage in mentoring and reverse mentoring for those new to the industry, take on apprentices and offer paid internships, work with grassroots organisations, schools, youth organisations and universities to provide more opportunities to access our industry. Let’s make our industry attractive to up-and-coming talent.

“You can’t say anything anymore”

Just a few years ago we (well, mostly men) were concerned with sexual discrimination or sexual harassment complaints. We (they) complained how we can no longer “banter” or engage in mild flirtation (even if the attention wasn’t wanted) or make inappropriate jokes. But we managed to navigate that, didn’t we? We just changed our behaviour and acknowledged what was acceptable and what wasn’t acceptable in the workplace.

Change is challenging, but as humans we are meant to learn, adapt, grow and evolve. It just takes being open to learning, admitting when you don’t know something, time and commitment. The same commitment we are demonstrating around environmental sustainability.

What do most of the employees we have spoken to want? Most employees want to work
in a diverse, inclusive and fair workplace and expect their leaders to listen to their needs and make this happen. They have a good grasp on the systemic issues and want positive change to take place as quickly and authentically as possible.