Meeting Mentor Magazine

June 2024

DEI Fundamentals: What You Need to Know Now

Greg Deshields, Executive Director, Tourism Diversity Matters (left), with ConferenceDirect Chief Talent Officer & EVP/Co-founder Brian Richey at CDX 2021

The many issues entangled in diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) are not new — they’ve been around since the civil rights movement of the 1960s. They’re just relatively new to many in the meetings and hospitality industries, said Greg Deshields, Executive Director, Tourism Diversity Matters (TDM) and a Qualified Tourism/Hospitality and Academic Professional Certified Hospitality Educator (CHE), during a session on the fundamentals of DEI at ConferenceDirect’s CDX, held Aug. 30-31 at the Grand Hotel on Mackinac Island, Mich.

“Diversity, equity and inclusion is everyone’s responsibility,” he said. It does start with an organization’s leadership though because the leaders are the ones who develop an organizational culture. They are the “why” behind a DEI initiative. Leaders need to be mindful of the communication you want the team to engage in, whether that’s self-assessments, a 360-degree analysis or a cultural assessment. “Leadership sets the tone.”

The “how” is the team, who must be engaged in understanding where the shortcomings are. “At the end of the day, it’s the team who has to do the work to make things better,” he said. Once leadership gets behind the initiative, it’s up to the team to listen and talk more carefully, challenge stereotypes and avoid assumptions, be aware of their privileges, be proactive in educating themselves about DEI, and stay open, curious and unafraid to make mistakes, he said.

Where most organizations fail in their DEI initiatives is not understanding that people come to DEI from different perspectives, so it’s important to ensure everyone understands the terms and engages in a consistent organizational agreement as to how the terms are defined.

Deshields offered these definitions to get started:

Diversity: All the ways we differ — and remember that diversity encompasses all those differences, from age, education, ethnicity, gender, marital status, and physical and mental ability, to race, religious beliefs and sexual orientation. “There are 19 different dimensions of diversity. Based on your constituency, you may decide that some of these are more of a priority than others,” he said.

Equity: Fair treatment, access, opportunity and advancement for all eliminating barriers that prevent full participation. Equity means distributing resources based on the recipient, unlike equality, which ensures that everyone has the exact same resources. “Equity means that everyone can contribute, regardless of how they come to the table, and realizing that some people will be engaged at different levels and will need different levels of access or compensations,” he said.

Inclusion: Enhancement of an existing idea, embracing and embedding additional points of view. “Inclusion makes everyone feel that they are contributing.”

Making the Business Case for DEI

The business case for DEI must be very clear, he emphasized. “It’s good for society, but it’s also extremely good for business,” Deshields said. Fortunately, there is research that shows the return on investment, or ROI, for diversity in terms of performance and economic outcomes that results from leveraging the variant knowledge, skills, abilities, talents, intellectual capital, perspectives, working styles, etc. of a diverse workforce. According to McKinsey & Company, gender-diverse companies are 15% more likely to outperform their national industry median, and ethnically diverse companies are 35% more likely to outperform.

He also cited a study by Deloitte that showed that inclusive teams outperform their peers in team-based assessments by 80%. In a Glassdoor study, 57% of employees think their company should do more to increase diversity among its work force. And, according to Diversity + Inclusion, 61% of employees believe diversity and inclusion strategies are beneficial and essential.

DEI Best Practice

• Start by defining and describing what DEI means to your organization, he said. Then conduct an organizational assessment that will give you clarity on what DEI goals and objectives you need to set to support the organization throughout the diversity planning process, he said.

• Form a strategy around DEI. Determine how DEI aligns with your organization’s top three strategic goals. Then develop a DEI strategic plan accordingly.

• Don’t forget to budget for your DEI plan just as you would for any other piece of the organization’s overall strategic plan. “Everything you do has to have a reason as to why it is relevant to the organization,” he said. “It should be resourced appropriately with an anticipated return on investment or outcome that is measurable…there should be clear measurements and expectations around outcome and performance.” Deshields advised linking these outcomes to a dashboard and developing a balanced scorecard.

• Communication is key, he emphasized. “This shouldn’t stay in the executive committee.” Put out a press release and be available to talk about it with the media.

• Make supplier diversity a priority. A proactive business program encourages the use of minority-, women-, veteran-, LGBT- and service-disabled-veteran-owned.

• Use employee resource groups to foster a diverse, inclusive workplace that is aligned with the organizational mission, values, goals, business practices and objectives. “These ERGs are the lifeblood of the culture you are creating. Create the environment where employees with similarities can gather, connect and establish a culture of diversity and inclusion.”

• Engage external support and stakeholders to add credibility to the work, including those from colleges and universities, industry insiders, board members and subject matter experts.

• Don’t overlook cultural diversity. Also known as multiculturalism, cultural diversity is a system that recognizes and respects the existence and presence of diverse groups of people within a society. This means gaining an understanding of the norms, languages, rituals and ceremonies, and food and fashion of the different cultures that exist in your organization and society. “We can’t overlook the fact that there are cultural nuances that allow us to be more effective in our efforts around diversity, equity and inclusion,” he said. “It allows us to be much more mindful of how we can be inclusive, but also more culturally competent in the ways in which we engage with individuals, whether they are employees or customers.”

He added, “To be a leader, we must go beyond simply accepting “Equal Opportunity” — we must value and embrace diversity, equity and inclusion as a strategic competitive advantage.” And don’t be discouraged, he added. Remember that “diversity, equity and inclusion is a journey, not a sprint.”



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ConferenceDirect is a global meetings solutions company offering site selection/contract negotiation, conference management, housing & registration services, mobile app technology and strategic meetings management solutions. It provides expertise to 4,400+ associations, corporations, and sporting authorities through our 400+ global associates.

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