Want to grow your event? Amplify underrepresented voices

Tequia Burt explores how increasing diversity at events can also boost the success of an event

It all started with a tweet.

After delivering a keynote at Content Marketing World in September, Moz CEO Rand Fishkin also delivered stinging criticism of the trade show via Twitter:

Joe Pulizzi, founder of the Content Marketing Institute and lead organizer of CMWorld since its inception in 2011, disputed Fishkin’s numbers.

“This was our best year [in terms of diversity], which is why Rand’s tweet hit me a little hard,” he said. “We tried so hard, we did our best, we really came through this year, and now somebody is tweeting about how we’re not doing our job.”

According to Content Marketing Institute, men made up 55% of its speakers this year, women represented 45%, while 9% were people of color. For those that frequent marketing conferences, those don’t sound like such bad stats. And it was a marked improvement over the previous year (men 63%, women 37%, POC 6%).

Ann Handley
Ann Handley on stage at CMWorld 2016. Credit: Wetzler Studios/Content Marketing Institute

But when all was said and done, Pulizzi admitted CMI still has work to do – he pointed to the fact that he and his organizers hadn’t managed to land a female feature keynote in the past couple of years. “I know that we have an issue; that’s why I’m completely open. We’re trying to figure it out,” he said. “At the beginning of every year in planning, we know we need to have diverse points of view and people coming from all different backgrounds and ethnicities to make sure the show gives a real representation of what’s going on in marketing.”

Invest in diversity

Pulizzi is not alone in his efforts to open up the marketing events industry to a more diverse speaker field. Fishkin is also the organizer of his own very popular trade show MozCon. And he holds himself to the same standards when it comes to putting together diverse events in terms of gender, race and even sexuality.

In 2012 Moz decided to focus on gender equity in terms of its speaker roster, Fishkin said, and soon after the group broadened its search for even more underrepresented individuals. This year, 61% of MozCon’s speakers self-identify as female, up from 46% in 2015.

The organization has also taken the 50/50 Pledge, which is designed to promote equal gender balance at tech events.

Tara Reed
AppsWithoutCode’s Tara Reed on stage at MozCon 2016.

“We’re looking for people who add unique perspectives, people who are going to introduce our audience to ideas that they haven’t heard before, ideas that they haven’t seen or thought of before, and we’re looking for people who help us represent the marketing world that we want to live in,” Fishkin said.

“Here’s some people of color, here’s some people who are able and disabled, here’s some folks who are men and women, here’s some folks who are straight and here’s some folks who are on the GBLTQ spectrum. And that is going to help us give a terrific, diverse set of ideas,” he continued.

Fishkin said the best part is that amplifying the voices of those diverse speakers has led to increased growth and diversity at the event itself. In 2012, only 10% of MozCon attendees were women; this year that number increased to 43%.

“Every year we have sold more tickets, every year our speaker scores and event ratings have gone up and every year we have improved the diversity of our audience as well,” Fishkin said. “And those are all of the results that you want to see. The crap reasoning I always hear is ‘I don’t want diversity at my event; I want the best speakers.’ And the counterpoint to that is those things are not mutually exclusive. In fact, they are one in the same.”

But Pulizzi said one of his challenges is simply that more men want to speak. “We had 500, 600 people submit to speak for Content Marketing World. It was [easily] 80% men,” he said. Because of that fact, Pulizzi said CMI needs to work harder in its outreach. “We can’t say this is just who we have to choose from. We can’t just rest on that and say that’s good enough.”

“The crap reasoning I always hear is ‘I don’t want diversity at my event; I want the best speakers.’ And the counterpoint to that is those things are not mutually exclusive. In fact, they are one in the same.”

Rand Fishkin, CEO & founder, Moz

Create inclusive environments

Microsoft Search Evangelist Christi Olson, who has spoken at numerous digital marketing events, including AdWeek, and is slated to be a keynote at our USA tech show in March, said one piece of the puzzle is to create environments that are friendly to women. She is part of Janes of Digital, which was started in June 2014 by Microsoft Senior Marketing Manager Frances Donegan-Ryan. The panel events piggyback on the Search Marketing Expo’s main conferences and aim to give women a safe and inclusive place to have frank conversations about the digital marketing conference industry.

“There were so few women speaking at these search conferences, Bing decided to host a full separate event that allowed women to get together and talk about what was important to us in this industry and space,” she said. “Even though we invite our male counterparts to attend, the panels are mostly women who talk about what it means to work in a male-dominated workforce and what it takes to get out there and talk at different events.”

Most of all, Olson said, the most important factor for encouraging more diversity at events is attendees asking for more diversity – and then holding conferences to it.

“Both men and women alike need to hold the conferences accountable for their diversification of speaker. They need to be reporting back on [how many] men versus women are speaking, how many minorities versus white individuals are speaking,” she said.

“It’s holding the conference accountable and saying we want to see more than just white men.”

Originally published at B2B Marketing on Nov. 4, 2016

One thought on “Want to grow your event? Amplify underrepresented voices

  • Such a great article. Diversity is so important – especially when it comes to marketing. While there are some improvements, there is still a very long way to go. Diversity is important when it comes to content – people want to connect with brands that they feel is representative of their lives.

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