Starting diversity conversations

  • Chief Diversity Officer, Destinations International
  • Mindfulness Meditation and Yoga Instructor
  • Certified in Human-Centered Design Thinking
  • Credentialed in GSTC Sustainable Tourism

How does being a yoga instructor overlap with your diversity and event work?

Yoga informs what I do every day. It is integral. I’m able to use the meditation and yoga mindset to create safe spaces. That is important to do work that is honest and without judgement so I can meet people where they are.

How did you get into the travel industry?

I used to do international development and social inclusion work in economic and gender empowerment, land rights and conflict mitigation around the world. At one point, I wanted to create an app that would provide packing and shopping tips and social etiquette advice for travelers. It still doesn’t exist, but it should. However, starting a technology company wasn’t ultimately what I wanted to do to further my goals of creating change.

I learned firsthand that the hospitality space is meant to be hospitable, but at the end of the day, we are human and we have biases. I saw a lot of disconnects even as a traveler because of how I look and because of my gender. Safety and security, both domestically and internationally are not where they need to be. I’ve been called terrible things. I want to create more awareness, connection and discussion.

I believe the meetings industry is the perfect place to affect change. A lack of empathy is limiting the connections meetings were meant to achieve.

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Is this a moment or a movement to change how people act toward those who don’t look like them?

The terrible thing that happened to George Floyd has sparked conversations and dialogue. Before that, it was an uphill battle to have people understand the importance of inclusion. The Black Lives Matter movement in the United States started people talking, even if it is uncomfortable. It is not a fad. We need to embed bringing more voices to the table into everything we do.

Does the “Great Resignation” make the conversation about diversity more urgent?

Yes, it has provided the discussion around the fact that we are not robots. We want to belong and to feel we have value. We are talking about mental health. We have families and lives…and we have seen all of it on Zoom calls. We have to start humanizing the meeting space to accommodate people bringing themselves fully to the event.

“If we understand ourselves, we can connect to others.”

How can planners learn what they don’t know they don’t know?

We need to have conversations. That requires trust and vulnerability. Ask open-ended questions of destinations and venues about how to find diverse local vendors, what resources are available and what DEI strategies they are implementing. You could spark new ideas and become an advocate for diversity.

The past few years brought an awareness of the importance of accessibility. Let’s not leave behind those who were able to join when the meeting was virtual. Ask about remote preferences. On-site, think about how to make physical accommodations with ramps, AV, lighting, closed captioning, braille, sign language, translation and dietary restrictions.

Looking for diverse speakers from your local destination to represent the community with different voices. Start early so these things don’t get left as an afterthought.

I have a lot of empathy for planners because it is not an easy job. There are so many details, and they are critical. We need to find a way to assist everyone without overloading an already big job.

You started in your role in February. What is the vision for saying you were successful in five years?

I hope to build a resource based on educational conversations and learning snippets that will be a place of learning without judgement. It’s not checking a box, but it is asking if you have thought about x, y and z.

I would love to see inclusivity embedded from the beginning in planning. I hope to help people have a more open mind and shift to seeing the opportunities. That takes time. It won’t happen overnight.

We will also be looking at our events so Destinations International can better fit the needs of all members.

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How to Know Thyself

Understanding starts with yourself. Take time for pause and reflect moments to think about your life and career. Ask:

How did you get to where you are today?

What opportunities and privileges have you had?

What barriers did you encounter and how did you overcome them?

What are the pieces to your puzzle?

This article appears in the May 2022 issue.