Trust in Diversity: How to Make People Feel Welcome

Written by Danielle Duran Baron on November 13, 2018

Revamping has become a buzzword. Everybody wants to be different and do something that will make them stand out. This applies to all aspects of association culture, including diversity and inclusion. How can associations go from talking the talk to walking the walk when it comes to inclusion, at their events and in all aspects of their culture?

If you tap into the same resources - i.e. go back to the same people - every time you plan an event, you will ultimately produce a new version of the same thing. The packaging might be different but the content will not change. When you want to do something new, the first thing you need to do is to bring in different perspectives and people who will in turn bring in their own networks.

It’s not complicated: people just need to know that they’re welcome, that their opinion matters, and that their suggestions are valuable.

At one event I helped organize, we produced a program book including information and images. One year, the cover picture was the silhouette of an African-American woman with the backdrop of Baltimore City, where the event was taking place. It generated a big buzz. People could see small changes happening in a concrete way and wanted to help push it further.

One of our dear members and panelists was particularly interested in supporting our diversity and inclusion efforts. We opened the door to ways she could help and it was enough to make her feel validated in offering her opinion. We needed to fill some sessions and she referred to her network, who felt that we meant what we said and that their voices were going to be heard. That trust brought new people in.

For another event I helped organize, we overhauled the dynamics simply by listening. A participant responded to a feedback survey saying that while she’d enjoyed the conference, all the panelists were men, and most of them were white. It didn’t sit right with her not to see people of color or women in speaker spots.

Some people are quick to dismiss this kind of feedback. They might say that they would love to have people from these demographics at their event, but they can’t find them. That makes me wonder: where did you look? Did you extend your search outside of your inner circle? If you look among the people you know for speakers and panelists, they will probably look a lot like you.

Instead of paying lip service to diversity and inclusion, bring in people of color and bring in women and make all of your members feel represented. You create a bond with people when you bring them in. If you already have a relationship with someone and invite them to come on board for an event, they’re in step with your work; rather than inviting someone you don’t know out of the blue and making them wonder why you reached out to them at all.

The more diversity you bring in and the more inclusivity you foster, the greater an audience you’re going to be able to reach. By listening to your audience, you can revamp your events to give attendees more of what they want to see. With research to back up changes and transparency along the way, revamping goes beyond the ideas of individual staff and starts being about delivering on promises to members.

Danielle spoke in the “Revamp to Revitalize and Grow” session during SURGE Optimism 2018, an interactive virtual conference hosted by on November 7th-9th. Click here to watch the sessions on demand.