It is no secret that while the meeting and event industry is a female-dominated profession, senior positions still tend to go to males. Keynote speakers, judges and panelists also tend to be male…white male.
While the issue of male/female diversity has been explored from time to time, we tiptoe around the issue of racial diversity in this industry. As Antwone Stigall, CMP, DES, Memphis-based meeting planner and founder of the Black Meeting & Event Professionals group on Facebook, recently put it:
The lack of racial diversity in our industry is still the giant elephant in the room.”
If you’re black you don’t dare speak up about it for fear of being accused of having “a chip on your shoulder” or displaying “attitude.” Everyone has to earn a living and if one is branded as being “difficult” or an upstart, it can cost you jobs or business opportunities if you are an entrepreneur.
Every now and then, situations arise that are so blatant that one can no longer remain silent. For example, in the past two weeks, one publication and an event technology portal issued lists of the most influential people in our industry. Of the 85 influencers cited between those lists, Nan Marchand Beauvois, vice president, National Councils & general manager for the U.S. Travel Association, was the only African-American included. This is par for the course in our industry.
Why does this happen? Perhaps I am naïve, but I refuse to believe that it is intentional or malicious. I think it comes down to a lack of awareness and not doing one’s homework.
One of the lists claimed to be based on “science” and make use of data such as Twitter followers and Klout scores. If that is the case, just how and why were the following black meeting and event industry professionals excluded? And how are they excluded from these lists year after year?
- Preston Bailey is an icon known for innovation and awe-inspiring designs. His client roster includes celebrities, royalty, famous athletes and CEOs. In terms of social media presence, he has 47,400 Twitter followers and 149,244 likes on his Facebook page.
- Diann Valentine has 20,200 Twitter followers and 11,110 likes on her Facebook page. Her Klout score is 63.
- Tess Vismale, CMP, has been in the event industry for more than 20 years and has had a number of high-profile assignment including 10 years as a special events executive with Macy’s. She has 4,418 Twitter followers and her Klout score is 67.
- La Shawn Denise Witt, one of the top wedding and event planners in the industry, doesn’t have a huge Twitter presence but her Facebook page has 1,128 likes. She regularly gives event and wedding planning tips on E! News Daily, ABC’s InStyle Celebrity Weddings Special, Entertainment Tonight, CNN and HGTV.
- Robin M. Ware, CMP, is an event planner, writer, keynote speaker and coach. Church event planning is one of her specialties. She has 8,915 Twitter followers and her company Facebook page has 1,699 likes.
This exclusion isn’t just restricted to black meeting industry professionals. For example, while Liz King and Midori Connolly, who are both of Eurasian-American heritage, often make these lists, other event industry professionals of Asian descent are overlooked, including Kevin Lee. Kevin has a roster of A-list clients, has planned high-profile events for the Oscars, Grammys and Emmys, has 44,400 Twitter followers and his Facebook page has 2,500 likes.
I’ve only provided a few examples to illustrate just how glaring some of these omissions are.
Is social media reach really the litmus test of influence?
I would suggest that our scope has become too narrow. Consider:
- Leah D. Daughtery, CEO of the 2016 Democratic National Convention Committee, is responsible for all aspects of the planning and executing the Democratic Party’s presidential nominating convention.
- Delores Balogun has been planning events for the White House for more than six years.
- Derrick Roberts plans events and designs sets for blue-chip clients including Montblanc. He has also been involved in events for U.S. President Barack Obama and planned after parties for Celebrity Apprentice and a host of other TV programs.
- Melvin Chua (Chai Wai Zhe), an event planning and PR guru responsible for a host of celebrity events and events by top brands including Giorgio Armani, Louis Vuitton and Burberry. In fact, his company Ink Pak Communication Group orchestrates almost every major fashion event in China.
Leah, Delores, Derrick and Melvin may not have a social media reach as extensive as some of the other people I’ve mentioned, but their actual reach surpasses a number of individuals who make it to these “lists” regularly. In view of their accomplishments, just how can one not consider them to be high-profile and influential? What constitutes influence? For example, does TV no longer count?
Are we taking the easy way out by relying so heavily on social media scores? It’s easy to pick the “low-hanging fruit” but much more meaningful to do some research and find event industry professionals with a reach that extends beyond the virtual world.
Why does any of this matter?
It’s about the bottom line and earning a livelihood. People don’t hire professionals who they don’t remember. When there are business opportunities, if you’re never mentioned, people are likely to forget you. Mentions on lists of influential professionals can give someone a leg up during job searches. The consequence of being overlooked is that members of visible minority groups in our industry have to fight like hell for each and every opportunity. (That’s strong language coming from me as I usually don’t use strong language.)
The bottom line is we don’t have a level playing field in our industry or society as a whole. This issue comes up with the Oscars and a host of other high-profile events. We see the impact of racial inequities on nightly newscasts and in newspaper headlines on a daily basis.
- How can we convince the meeting and event industry that black lives matter, too?
- What strategies and steps will it take for event professionals from visible minority groups to become more visible and receive the recognition they deserve?
- Do we need more black organizations like the National Coalition of Black Meeting Planners, which was founded in 1983?
- Is it time to boycott mainstream event ceremonies and establish more avenues for recognition such as the Best in Black Awards, initiated in 2012?
- Has the time come to just create more lists like The Most Influential African-Americans In The Meetings/Tourism Industry and ignore the rest?
Your comments, reactions and potential solutions are welcome.