Meeting Mentor Magazine

July 2024

At the Centers of DEI

It’s no secret that diversity, equity and inclusion is good for business. As reported in McKinsey & Company’s Diversity Wins study, companies in the top quartile for racial and ethnic diversity are 36% more likely to have financial returns above their respective national industry medians. Companies that are gender diverse are 25% more likely to have financial returns above their respective national industry medians. Diversity not just the right thing to do. It’s good for business — and that includes the business of meetings and events, and that of the cities that host them as well.

The Philadelphia Convention and Visitors Bureau (PHCVB) has known that for a long time. In fact, it was one of the first CVBs to create a division focusing on diversity, equity and inclusion, said Gregg Caren, PHLCVB’s president and CEO. “For more than 30 years, PHL Diversity has been connecting meeting and event marketers to local diverse businesses, suppliers and community leaders,” he said. The PHLCVB also works closely with the Pennsylvania Convention Center to ensure a welcoming experience for planners, exhibitors and attendees. “We know they will see themselves reflected in the Philadelphians they encounter at the center, their hotels, neighborhood restaurants and all facets of their experience in the city.”

The Seattle Convention Center’s commitment to equity and community also goes way back to the opening of the Arch building in 1988 when the center made a significant investment in affordable housing, resulting in 1,040 units, said Kelly Saling, SVP and chief sales officer with Visit Seattle. This legacy of community support continued during the construction of the SCC’s new expansion, the Summit building, which just opened for business this year. During the Summit’s construction, “$40 million was invested in affordable housing to benefit our most vulnerable neighbors. $150 million in work scopes was awarded to minority and women-owned businesses with 30% of workers sourced from historically disadvantaged communities known as Priority Hire ZIP Codes,” Saling added.

To highlight the diverse communities that make up the city’s identity, Visit Seattle supplies meeting planners with guides and recommendations on how to support BIPOC, LGBTQIA+ and women-owned enterprises while they are in town. “We seek to highlight these groups in a number of ways, including having developed a partnership with Seattle-based Intentionalist that easily connects consumers with minority- and women-owned businesses,” Saling said, adding that Seattle is the founding partner of the PCMA Ascent program, an initiative to promote diversity, equity, and inclusion across the business events industry in support of those who have encountered unfair barriers along their pathway to success. “We have the highest share of women-owned businesses in the country and are a top city for women in legislation and entrepreneurs. Our #weSEAlove celebration highlights our thriving LGBTQIA+ community with images that help spread a culture of inclusion around the world.”

Events DC President and CEO Angie M. Gates also is quick to mention Washington, D.C.’s DEI focus. “Planners and meeting attendees can access D.C.’s diversity, equity and inclusion efforts inside the Walter E. Washington Convention Center’s food, beverage and retail choices,” she said. They can also access The DEI District launched by Destination DC in mid-2021. “This content hub helps showcase Washington, D.C., as a global destination that promotes access to the different cultures and vibrant neighborhoods, global cuisine and multicultural arts, and most of all, the diverse people that call Washington, D.C., their home,” she said. Melissa A. Riley, senior vice president, convention sales and services with Destination DC, added that her organization “strives to promote and support local businesses that reflect diversity, equity and inclusion, and inform strategists of the resources available in Washington, D.C., to enrich their events, and by creating tailored experiences or supporting local businesses owned by minorities, delegates benefit by experiencing local flavor, products and culture.”

“We encourage clients to engage in these conversations as early in the planning process as possible to ensure that seemingly obvious pitfalls haven’t been overlooked. Detailed registration forms and a pre-event survey are just one way that we assist event planners to proactively mine necessary information from their attendees,” said Destination Toronto’s SVP Global Sales & Services Tara Gordon. “Our site inspections are then carefully curated based on this information in order to address the various needs that have been identified.”

She added, “Using inclusive language and content is also a big part of our 6ix Stack Attendance Building Solution consultative partnership with planners. Destination Toronto can help advise on various ways to market to potential attendees while using assets and content that help promote inclusivity.”

Putting DEI Into Action

That level of commitment to DEI is exactly what today’s meeting professionals are seeking, said Don Ross, vice president, meeting operations Las Vegas with Caesars Entertainment. “Planners are focused on [corporate social responsibility] CSR and DEI and want to work with partners who are aligned with them. We are seeing more-frequent requests for CSR certifications for events.”

CSR is one of the ways groups can experience Phoenix’s emphasis on DEI as well, said Lorne Edwards, chief sales officer with Visit Phoenix. “Visit Phoenix has fostered collaboration with the community collaborative, which is made up of all the minority chambers within the city, to better connect groups with resources that can enrich content and expand community reach,” he said. “Our destination services team works with a host of organizations within the city that groups can engage with to develop meaningful CSR initiatives that are legacy-building to both the planner’s organization and our community.” Edwards added that his organization also supports and promotes small and minority business owners as planners work through the event-planning process. “One Community and Local First Arizona are examples of prolific local organizations our clients can tap into for development of their CSR projects,” he said.

DEI is increasingly becoming part of the conversation for groups meeting in Denver as well, said Rachel Benedick, executive vice president of sales and services with Visit Denver. Groups are looking to make more of an impact than historically they were focused on, which is great for the cities and it’s great for the groups,” she said. While the focus has been more on the environmental piece of ESG (environmental, social and governance) work, the social, DEI piece is moving more to the forefront, she said. “We’re getting a lot more questions from our clients about providing a list of minority vendors that provide a service, for example.”

What groups want now, she added, is “far beyond what are the great restaurants and what are the great venues. It’s about really understanding everything that’s happening in your community and how to connect your clients to those community resources.”

Look for the Spring issue of MeetingMentor for more about what today’s convention cities, and their convention centers, are doing to meet the needs of today’s meetings and group events.

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About MeetingMentor
MeetingMentor, is a business journal for senior meeting planners that is distributed in print and digital editions to the clients, prospects, and associates of ConferenceDirect, which handles over 13,000 worldwide meetings, conventions, and incentives annually.

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