It starts in the office
There won't be more diversity
at trade shows until there is more diversity in retail offices
As a former Buyer for major retailers such as Chico’s and Office Depot, and often being one of the few Black buyers of a team of 30+, this itself is one of the biggest factors of why there is a lack of diversity in trade show attendees – diverse buyers rarely exist in the office to even have a chance to attend.
Other aspects of trade shows that are a hindrance to a more diverse attendance, is the cost to attend and the lack of education regarding their importance. I once spoke in front of 250+ buyers from all walks of life attending a trade show. I asked if anyone had a budget for their buying, and one person raised their hand.
Why is this an issue? What are hindrances to a diverse exhibitor presence as well? Keep reading.
Diversity, An Afterthought
The Industry Issue
It's no secret that the fashion industry has a diversity problem. It's been only in the past few years that we are slowly starting to see a few number of brands become inclusive of all size ranges and shades. The beauty industry is a not-so-shining example of this issue, as the vast majority of brands do not have shades that match a wide range of skin tones. Even Bandaid recently released more color shades. Have you ever noticed how bridal gowns only have white mesh for sheer gowns? If you look at your own social media feeds, do you see an equal balance of people from all walks of life? This sends a message of who you are ``inviting`` to attend.
The Funding Gap
Studies show that in regards to Venture Capital funding, less than one percent goes to Black founders. The number doesn't get much better when you include all Founders of color. This lack of funding, from venture capital or other funding sources, carries over to all areas of business. If businesses don't have access to needed funding, they can't properly build a foundation for growth. That growth includes the ability to exhibit at trade shows - but also, to have the funding to secure manufacturing partnerships and be prepared for fulfilling large orders received from trade show participation.
Profit Over Values
For so long, there has been more focus on profit margins of a product versus the story of it and the people behind it. Why can't the story of a product and its Founders influence the margin you can achieve? The richer the story, the richer the margin. Why can't artisan, slow fashion be the new luxury? (Guess what, it is. You can credit Coronavirus for accelerating it) We can't just care about products. We have to care about people too. Living wages for workers included.
Industry Know How
The Knowledge Gap
Because of the lack of diversity in the retail industry, that also often equates to a lack of knowledge of the retail industry operations in these diverse communities. There is a lack of mentorship, accelerator programs, and equitable job opportunities for people of color in our industry, which would help close this knowledge gap. There are several ways to begin to change this, which I am excited to explore with your organization.
What’s the Solution?
How can you increase diversity in your trade show or event attendees and exhibitors?
We become your diversity liaisons, ensuring that your values of creating a diverse and inclusive environment for all constantly align with your internal and external communication, company images and other collateral, and ultimately, any plans you put into action.
How many times have you recently seen a company be called out because their internal teams and values are not aligned with their “statements of support”?
Achieving a diverse and inclusive environment for all is a long-term strategy. It will not happen overnight, but we will be there to support you every step of the way.
For true dedication and effectiveness of your plans, it is critical to dedicate at least one role solely to this effort. We will put in place and execute formal processes and workflows to manage the outreach, training, onboarding, and success management of all brands and attendees.
The missing piece in many companies is that there are efforts to bring in diverse candidates, brands, or attendees, but no plans to ensure they are successful once inside.
Some ways we will ensure success are:
- Buyer Education before, during, and after the event
- Exhibitor Education before, during, and after the event
- Advising on advertising and content strategy to attract diverse attendance
- Creating inclusive programming during the event
- And more
Maybe You’re Thinking
We have educational seminars at our event already.
We have answers for that
This is bigger than what is currently happening at your event. The work starts before this.
Providing a diverse and inclusive environment starts way before someone arrives at your event.
It starts with the way you advertise it:
- Are your images showing people of all walks of life?
- Are you advertising in communities of color?
- Who is speaking during your trade show?
Sure, but do you have a diverse lineup of speakers?
The work begins before the event.
If potential attendees are looking at your speaker lineup and there are little to no speakers of color, this is sending a loud and clear message.
Does your team have direct access to, or knowledge of, places to discover people of color as your retail talent during the event?
Do you know what topics are especially relevant in these communities, to ensure you includes these at your event?
How many brands of color currently exhibit in your show?
If you don’t know the answer to this question, we have work to do, together!
Same question can be posed for your attendees. How diverse are they?