Well to be transparent, I suppose there is an argument that it has never been enough….
In today’s world of meetings, conferences, virtual experiences, pre-sessions and post-conference experiences the concept of engagement has become a bit more refined post-pandemic.
Pre-pandemic attendees would be queried about their conference experiences with a focus often on the appropriateness of the content, the skill of the presenter and their selected workshop when it was running concurrent with another interesting choice.
Post-pandemic, the impact of DEI was often felt in the kind of post-meeting questions, the way they were phrased and, of course, the nature of the content to which participants were responding.
There has been a great deal of refinement in the way in which meetings are designed, content developed, sites being selected and, of course, in the way that participants are being tested for the breadth and depth of their engagement. In so many ways meeting planners have had to sharpen their DEI acumen to ensure they are doing all they can to ensure a great experience for attendees.
I wonder, however, if a new lens might be useful in helping us to “see” ways to consistently improve the conference experience.
What if we used Belonging as the foundation for the experience we want folks to have?
Let me begin with a few definitions to ensure we are all playing from the same sheet of music.
- Diversity: All of the things about you and me that make us similar or different
- Inclusion: The Individual and Organizational practices and behaviors in your environment. It is driven by you, the leader, and measurable KPIs.
- Belonging: The feeling of Connection, Comfort and Confidence in an organization or team resulting in being treated as a full member of the group.
For many years I have said — and still believe — that if we are looking at Diversity to get to Inclusion and Belonging, we are looking through the wrong end of the telescope.
For years, decades and much longer, meetings, conferences, workshops, et. al, have been “Diverse”. Meaning — using the definition above — they are populated with folks who are different from one another. I do admit that in many ways the conferences may not have been populated with the kind of measurable or (sometimes) visible Diversity we may have wanted; however, they were Diverse.
I would argue that we missed the opportunity to utilize the Diversity that happened to be in those rooms to prepare leaders and attendees for the eventual tomorrow when there would be dramatically more visible and other Diversity in attendance, on the panels and keynoting from the main stage.
Using Inclusion and Belonging as the lens to see Diversity and drive its critical value is an easier lift and frankly has a much higher likelihood of success.
Let me attempt to illustrate my point with a few questions:
- How might the development of the post-conference survey shift if we consider a question that “must collect info on or measure whether the participant felt they were included as a full member of the meeting?”
- How might the presentations from the Opening Keynote to the After Party entertainment be shifted if we required — in the contract — their presentations were crafted and songs selected to ensure that attendees knew the conference was pushing towards the deep connection between members?
- What might change in the minds and approach of attendees if they were asked, told and encouraged — as a consequence of their registration — to find a person different from themselves and do all they could to make them feel comfortable, welcomed and a full participant in the conference?
What if these were the requirements for entry?
Imagine a professional conference where everyone associated was provided direction, tools and told their success at the conference was measured by actions and behaviors that drive Inclusivity and Belonging.
We can select the best presenters. We can identify the trendiest content. We can utilize technology to inform learning. We can invite the different looking, believing and worshiping, of all ages.
And none of these things guarantee that they will be included, feel like they’re included or like they belong.
Let’s look through… lead through… and develop our meetings through the other side of the telescope.
Define Inclusivity and Belonging for your meeting. Require and request it of all participants and presenters. Measure the success of it with smart observations, questions and other feedback loops.