Diverse Meeting Teams Are Smarter

Overlaying silhouettes of faces in a diverse series of skin tones

Studies show teams with diverse backgrounds make better choices

Diversity is a word that’s used by people in all professions—from meetings to universities to Fortune 500 companies. But what do we really mean when we talk about diversity? Are we talking about ethnicity, socioeconomics or diverse life experience?

How about all of the above?

Better Outcomes

Workplace diversity isn’t just a buzzword—it improves team performance, which is vital to all professionals interested in maximizing their outcomes. This is especially true for meeting professionals. We welcome people from all over the world, so we should meet our audience where they are.

According to a Harvard Business Review article, teams with diverse members yield better results. Diverse working groups bring more information to the table, even before the task is set.

According to David Rock, diverse teams check each other on their own biases, so they are more likely to home in on the facts.

“People from diverse backgrounds might actually alter the behavior of a group’s social majority in ways that lead to improved and more accurate group thinking,” he said. He also noted that in a mock jury study, groups with diverse members focused more on objective information.

Thinking Outside the Box

How does this translate for meeting professionals? Faced with the challenging task of making everyone feel at home in a professional setting, the industry must recognize diversity in all its forms. Terrance Frederick, director of sales, events and marketing at Andaz West Hollywood, says that diversity allows people to push the envelope.

“Diversity improves team performance, as it requires a team to consider the perspective of someone from a different background, ethnicity and upbringing other than their own,” Frederick said.   

Frederick remembers an event that taught his staff the importance of learning about other cultures, in order to make everyone in his hotel feel like they were home.  No event is more personal than a wedding, and his staff leveraged the power of diversity by working with the couple to see what they needed to be happy on their special day.

“We’ve changed our perspective and approach to accommodate Indian weddings on a previous team,” Frederick said. “By having an Indian team member, that allowed us to understand the customs and the meaning behind them, which allowed us to be a preferred wedding venue. 

“Diversity improves team performance, as it requires a team to consider the perspective of someone from a different background, ethnicity and upbringing other than their own.”

Staff diversity isn’t just the right thing to do—it’s good business. Approaching the third year of the pandemic, when people are reassessing what they want in their professional lives, employees are more likely to stay in a company that feels welcoming. This should include people of different abilities and languages. It makes for a happier workplace for all.

Read More8 Steps for Building Back a More Diverse Workforce

What Counts as Diversity?

Everything counts! Diversity isn’t only about race and culture—although those issues are critically important—it also touches on things like physical ability, or food requirements. How comfortable will your guests be in the venue? Are there appropriate accommodations for people in wheelchairs, for example, who are on the venue floor looking at booths and spending the day traversing a large event space?

A research report by Meeting Professionals International concluded that diversity should encompass everything from dietary needs to physical ability. When that is accomplished, everyone can work at the peak of their talents, resulting in a better meeting.

Paula Sotnik, project director with the Institute for Community Inclusion, believes that using words like “inclusive” in promotional materials indicates what kind of event is being hosted. People with different needs may be more inclined to come just because of the use of one simple word.

“It is a message to the community, and people look for that message,” Sotnik said. “When the messaging is inclusive, people feel more comfortable identifying accommodations they would like to request.”

It may seem like more work for meeting professionals, but at the end of the day, a more diverse planning staff will lead to better accommodations for a larger number of attendees. Especially in Covid times, in addition to ensuring attendees’ health it’s important to draw as many people as possible to your event. That should include people who are a bit more hesitant to travel, so it’s up to planners to make it worth their while.

Diversity, whether in staffing or with attendees, can be hard to accomplish. There could be awkward conversations or fears of saying the wrong thing: “Are you gluten free, or do you have Celiac Disease?” It seems like there are pitfalls wherever you turn. Take heart in knowing that if you are genuine in welcoming your clients, they will recognize it.

The more we reach out to each other, and to our clients, the more comfortable everyone becomes with recognizing differences in order to understand what we have in common. The more voices we include, the better the meetings will go.

Read MoreTrying to Close the Diversity Gap? Quit Looking for the ‘Right Time’

Moving Forward

That’s why diverse teams are smarter—because the team members look at each other and recognize that they all may have different concerns.

It’s so easy to get caught up with our individual lives—working day-to-day and fulfilling our responsibilities can take up most of our 24 hours. That doesn’t leave much time to think about other people. But that is the best use of our time, because caring about others makes us smarter.

Frederick believes that pushing companies to understand the importance of diversity is vital.

“Our company has taken some huge leaps forward with promoting diverse groups into leadership roles,” he said. “And that’s also preparing those like me for general manager roles, and higher in the near future.”

Meeting professionals can lead the way in creating diverse workplaces. We have the information and the experience—now let’s meet the moment. Everyone is welcome.

Inclusive Resources

Are you ready to harness the power of diversity for your hospitality group? Industry organizations have been busy researching, training and modeling steps forward. Here are some places to start your journey:

Tourism Diversity Matters

Events Industry Council Equity Task Force

Destinations International EDI Strategy Roadmap

ASAE Diversity Executive Leadership Program

This article appears in the February/March 2022 issue.

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