A Discussion on Diversity in Meetings

By Marc Boisclair, August 3, 2015

)730_RJWeb_MazdamugWhile some planners might seek a slower pace after 15 years working meetings and events, that hardly appears to be the case for Mazda Miles, CMM, president of Perfection Events. At age 36, the Philadelphia-based meeting planner keeps her schedule packed with noteworthy events like Project Management Institute Global Congress 2014—North America last October and the Art Sanctuary Celebration of Black Writing Festival last May. Here, she discusses the evolution of diversity in meetings, where it stands today and what work remains.

Think back to your earliest work meetings. What aspects of diversity and inclusion (or lack thereof) really struck you? 

My first meetings were with a property development firm focused on affordable housing in urban neighborhoods. They were diverse and inclusive because of the audience they served. We’d meet in community centers or apartment complex showrooms, and a lot of thought was put into what would make everyone feel comfortable and considered. The faces were multicolored, the conversation was relatable, and the speakers and meeting hosts were diverse.

Since then, what changes have you seen?

In the past three to five years, I’ve seen a marked shift. When I’m helping a client consider a panel, before I can ask them, they’ll ask me if I think it’s diverse enough. I see and hear others paying attention to how they can ensure their offerings are addressing a wider audience.

What still needs to be done to foster a more diverse and inclusive meetings environment?

I don’t believe planners, clients or attendees can stand alone in effecting change. It’s all about partnership and communication. For instance, I’d love to see us, as planners, stretch our executive chefs at venues to customize options that are more culturally diverse. But planners can’t step out confidently without the support of their clients. Clients can’t support us if they feel they’ll get negative feedback from attendees. We have to educate our audience on what we’re doing and why we’re doing it.

Do board members and the C-suite grasp the ROI potential from cultivating greater diversity and inclusion in their meetings?

The funny thing is the C-suite and board seem to be the most open to diversity and inclusion in their meetings. Every time I’ve pushed to get an idea past the gatekeeper at the management level (or equipped them with the courage to approach their senior executives), it’s been openly and warmly accepted. I think that level of executive has caught on much more than they’re given credit for.

Describe one ongoing challenge you face making your own meetings diverse.

My major challenge is when I am included too late in the planning process to make a true impact from a diversity perspective. Even if clients are open to my suggestions, they may have already run their plans up through their organization, and my opportunity for re-routing the course in progress is limited. At that moment, I have to decide if it’s worth it to infuse diversity in an impactful way in other areas of the program.

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