As more people grasp the importance of making the world (and their events) a more welcoming place, event diversity and inclusion have become hot topics for hosts and attendees alike. But while it’s currently trending, the work of diversity, equity, and inclusion is not new.
“If the people who you wish were coming to your events are not showing up, you have to do a deeper look at why that might be,” says Georgia Stitt, the founder of Maestra Music, an organization giving support, visibility, and community to female-identifying, non-binary, and gender non-conforming people making music in the theatre industry.
“The number of women musicians working in theatrical orchestra pits right now hovers around 22 percent,” says Stitt. “Part of the way you break the cycle of a male-dominated field is to create situations where the women are the experts.” Maestra’s music-focused, all-level educational events are open to everyone, and always hosted by someone other than a cisgender man.
In Cambridge, UK, Elmira Zadissa and her sibling Ramona co-founded the QTI Coalition of Colour, a volunteer-run network for self-identified QTI (Queer, Transgender, and Intersex) people of colour. The two siblings wanted to create safer spaces for queer BIPoC (Black, Indigenous, People of Color) in Cambridge, while bridging the gap between the University of Cambridge and the local, non-academic population.
The organization’s free events range from self care tips and cooking classes, to sexuality in film and the impact of identity on mental health, all while centring QTI BIPoC narratives. Although their first public events were local and in-person, they’re currently hosting virtual workshops and lectures, celebrating BIPoC talent from around the world while strengthening the global community.
“Our aim is to raise awareness about inequalities faced by queer BIPoC … [while celebrating and highlighting] the talents we have,” says Elmira Zadissa.
Both the QTI Coalition of Colour and Maestra Music celebrate specific groups of marginalized people, and before the event even starts, it’s important to both organizations to make sure everyone is welcome within those groups and beyond.
“It’s important for [Maestra] to state out loud [on the event page] how much we want men, women, transgender, and non-conforming musicians working in the same space, learning from the women+ who are leaders in their field,” says Stitt. Maestra’s educational event listings all include the phrase, “Open to all genders, all skill-sets, all levels of expertise.”
When this kind of information is included up front in a listing, it alerts the attendee that they are specifically welcome and heard by the event creators, and helps them feel more comfortable. “Early on in our work, someone pointed out how [a QTI Coalition of Color] event failed to list accessibility details,” says Zadissa. “We learned from that occasion to always make sure that the venues we use are as accessible as possible, and to share this information in our event descriptions.” Some aspects Zadissa looks for in a venue include wheelchair accessibility, gender neutral bathrooms, hearing loops, padded chairs, and blue badge parking spaces.
And when inclusivity is seamlessly woven into an event, more people feel included from the start. At Maestra events, various teachers have different ways of making this happen, from including pronouns during introductions to starting class with a land acknowledgement. At QTI Coalition of Colour’s online workshops, attendees are explicitly welcome to keep their microphones and webcams off, helping people with social anxiety feel comfortable and encouraged to participate.
Stitt is also a fan of having a moderator present during Q&A sessions, as a way to ensure that as many people as possible have their voices heard, as opposed to just one or two of the more outspoken individuals asking all of the questions. “The whole reason [Maestra] exists as an organization is to change the makeup of who gets to participate in our industry,” says Stitt. “So if we’re not doing that work in an intersectional way, we are failing many of the women we have promised to represent.”
Both creators stress the importance of acknowledging your past (and likely future) mistakes — and then working through them. “[Event creators need to ask themselves,] are you prepared for the conflict that could arise when someone challenges the way you’ve always done things?” says Stitt. “And if not, are you just nodding to the idea of inclusivity?”
Zadissa believes no event creator is too small to make a positive change in their programming. “QTI Coalition of Colour is a small, [volunteer]-run network, but we don’t use that as an excuse to ignore criticism about under-representations of experiences,” she says. “Don’t be afraid to make mistakes, and always have the courage to apologize, admit when you have been wrong, address them, and amend them.”
When it comes to event diversity, “What we know and are good at is what we have learnt from each other,” Zadissa says. “As a rule, it is wise to remember that real and actual change entails hard work and discomfort.”
“There’s not an easy answer,” says Stitt. “The only answer is: you must do the work.”
Change will take time and intention, and at Eventbrite, we’re committed to putting in the work to be the change we want to see. You can read the commitments we’ve made to help build a better world here.