Along with the unprecedented COVID-19 pandemic, 2020 has also brought more discussions surrounding diversity and inclusion efforts within the MICE industry. As a planner, one of the best ways you can promote diversity and inclusion is through sourcing.
During a digital-only session for MPI’s World Education Congress, held in November, certified meeting planner Antwone Stigall led a session on how planners can partake in inclusive sourcing—which means including vendors in your program that are majority owned and operated by underrepresented communities. Stigall is also the facilitator for MPI’s inclusive event design strategy certificate program, which is holding its next class on December 1.
To kick off the session, Stigall asked attendees how they were sourcing pre-pandemic, and many answers included word of mouth, industry platforms like Cvent and online research. When asked how sourcing was going during the pandemic, many virtual attendees said it was non-existent.
“Sourcing during the pandemic has pretty much been put on the backburner, as most of our planner friends have had their hands tied with contract cancellations for their organizations and their corporations,” Stigall said. “People were also trying to pivot to virtual or digital meetings. And that has been the focus of our sourcing.”
Post pandemic, attendees agreed that when things return to a semblance of normalcy, they plan to source through some existing partners, but also plan to put a greater focus on small businesses.
Where to Find More Diverse Businesses
“As I was talking to some different colleagues about why they think minority businesses are underutilized in the meetings and events industry, I was getting the same trend of answers, which was that they can't find them, which I found very interesting,” Stigall said during the session.
So how can planners find more diverse businesses? There are certainly plenty of them out there. During the session, Stigall showed his virtual audience statistics from the U.S. Department of Commerce, including that there are more than 3 million businesses across the country owned and operated by underserved communities (including women) and people of color. And 13% fall under the category of accommodations and food service, while 10% are professional and technical (such as AV) services.
Stigall offered a list of organizations (see below) dedicated to promoting businesses owned and operated by underserved communities and people of color. Planners can reach out to these organizations when sourcing.
He also shared that a Facebook group he created, Black Meeting and Event Professionals, comprises about 1,000 Black, verified meeting and event professionals, and the group has a directory where these professionals are listing their services and how they can be used throughout the industry.
[Related: DEI in Tourism and Hospitality: A Look Back and Forward]
“We have AV providers, tradeshow organizers, event planners who own event planning companies,” Stigall said. “We have caterers, makeup artists. It runs the gamut.”
Stigall added that one of the reasons underrepresented businesses are not as visible as they should be is because of lack of resources.
“A lot of businesses in the minority sector don't have the resources and funds to do a lot of big advertisements and get put in some of our industry magazines and also to join our CVBs and our chambers of commerce,” he said.
To add, Diversity, Inclusion and Equality experts Zoe Moore and Greg DeShields have contributed to Meetings Today numerous time in 2020 on topics of diversity, including inclusive sourcing.
“As recent as 1970, minority-owned businesses were excluded from opportunities in both the private and public sectors,” they wrote. “Remembering this history will allow leaders to comprehend that a successful supplier diversity plan requires a commitment beyond compliance. Simply procuring businesses based on their diversity status but failing to learn the challenges that diverse businesses face will not help to make DEI strategies successful. Inequality impacts the entire business ecosystem.”
U.S. Minority Chamber of Commerce
U.S. Department of Commerce, Minority Business Development Agency
U.S. Small Business Administration
National Association of Black Hotel Owners, Operators & Developers
Women’s Business Enterprise National Council
National Minority Supplier Development Council
*When reaching out to some of these organizations, Stigall recommends mentioning the proper Northern American Industry Classification System code for the meetings and events industry, which is 561920, “so that you get exactly what you’re looking for.”
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