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EPISODE 13
Creating Inclusive Events with Shameka Allen-Lane

Shameka Allen-Lane (she/her) is the Principal Event Scientist of Catalyst Event Coaching, which offers coaching, training, and event management services to nonprofits and small businesses. Shameka modeled her business after her love of two things—chemistry and event management. She has cleverly infused a scientific theme throughout her offerings, including a framework for event management training inspired by the periodic table. She’s also an Adjunct Professor teaching hospitality and event management courses at Albany Technical College and Washington State University. Shameka holds two professional certifications; Certified Meeting Professional (CMP) and Digital Event Strategist (DES), a Masters in Hospitality Management from the University of Central Florida, and dual bachelor’s degrees in Business Management and Chemistry with a Mathematics Minor from Albany State University

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Discussed this episode:

  • Shameka’s relationship with feminism
  • How events have historically fallen short of being inclusive
  • Evolving interest in DEI in the event-planning space
  • Political decisions and their effects on events
  • The benefits of hosting inclusive events
  • Examples of accommodations to consider
  • Managing disappointment when you can’t accommodate everyone
  • Common barriers to planning inclusive events
  • How to gather information about your attendees and their needs
  • Shemka’s five-part framework for planning an inclusive event
  • The importance of communication during the planning process
  • Getting everyone involved in the event on the same page about values
  • How events can miss the mark when it comes to inclusion
  • Special accessibility and inclusion considerations for online events
  • How to fight for inclusion as an event attendee
  • Shemka’s vision for the events industry

Resources mentioned:

Learn more about accountability coaching with host Becky Mollenkamp at https://beckymollenkamp.com

Becky Mollenkamp:

Hi, Shemeka.

 

Shameka Allen-Lane:

Hi.

 

Becky Mollenkamp:

Let’s start where we always do, which is telling me a little bit about your relationship with feminism or the word feminist.

 

Shameka Allen-Lane:

The word feminist, I would say that I haven’t called myself a feminist. I share some of the values behind it. I think why I haven’t called myself that is there are also some more traditional things that I’m still okay with that sometimes people that identify as feminists are not. Um, and so like I have a husband that enjoys opening the door for me and things like that. Don’t get me wrong, there are times where I have to do things that are outside of roles and vice versa. Um, but I think that’s the part as to why I haven’t identified with it as much. But of course I believe in the opportunities. I believe that, you know, we should definitely have it available for everyone. So yes.

 

Becky Mollenkamp:

I’m going to do my best to see if I can scroll back on TikTok and find the creator, a young Gen Z millennial, I don’t know which one, but I think she’s maybe even Gen Z TikTokker who created a really great piece about why it’s still very feminist to expect men to pay on dates or to expect men to open doors and these sorts of things, which really has to do again with power dynamics and the fact that in a way like we’re owed. Right? We’re like, it’s okay to expect these things from people who have far more privilege. So that’s all right. But anyway, if I can find it, and if you’re interested as a listener, check show notes.

 

Shameka Allen-Lane:

I am. Look, make sure I get it.

 

Becky Mollenkamp:

I will. Hopefully I’ll be able to find it. It’s been a while ago, and I know who it is. So hopefully I can find her piece and share it because I thought it was great. And really eye opening for me too, as I think about my view of feminism and saying like, I think I went through a phase in college. where it was very like, no, no one does anything for me. And I think, boy, I don’t mean to get really off topic in this, but it’s okay. I think one of the reasons that we have this tendency to feel like that doesn’t fall within what some feminists think is because I have noticed men will turn that on us very often to say like, oh, but you say you’re so independent. So you don’t need me to open the door. You don’t need me to pay if you’re a feminist. And so that’s why I loved her response to it. And I think that does not in any way exclude you from the word.

 

Shameka Allen-Lane:

And you know what, if I could just add, I grew up in a household full of my mom plus guys, my brothers, my dad, all of that. It was a lot of testosterone around us. And we even have a conversation in our family about like my brother’s expectation for a wife, and vice versa. And my mom has this joke that says she’s a gentle woman. because she does all these things that quote unquote men are supposed to do and that’s just how we did things in my household, but coming into it my husband is totally different from the household i grew up with, so it’s definitely very interesting and something that we all should just explore in our minds like what those roles are and what they should be like, and I realize i don’t have to do all the things. I can but I don’t have to.

 

Becky Mollenkamp:

I think so much of it is around expectations and choice. And to me, that’s where it goes into that place of what I consider feminism or womanism or whatever words feel right. But it’s the idea that it’s about removing expectation and creating choice. And if you still are doing the same things, but it’s because it’s from a place of your choice and not expectations or shoulds. And to me, it still feels very much like it’s feminist. Okay. All right, moving on. We could talk a long time about those things, but really what we’re here to talk about. mostly is events because that is what you do. And as I was thinking about this season, I thought, it might, I don’t know, I think it’d be interesting to include events because I don’t know when we think about business, that it’s the thing that our brain naturally goes to as we think about inclusion, diversity, equity. I don’t know if events is the primary place people are thinking. They’re thinking about a lot of other ways around their pricing, around their offering, around who they’re serving. But I think a lot of people are still going about events in a way that doesn’t necessarily bring this into the conversation. I think it’ll be really interesting. And so I’m wondering for you, like as kind of a, just an entry point in a high level overview, what are some of the ways that you have found events like historically, how have they fallen short when we think about DEI around, you know, having events that feel more inclusive and accessible? How have they historically not met that mark?

 

Shameka Allen-Lane:

So often we’ve excluded people that would love to come to the event, but they don’t see themselves in the event. And I actually had a conversation even last week with a webinar that I did where somebody was trying to get people to come to their event because they were being told by this person that they would love to have at their event that they didn’t feel like it was for them. And how could that be? Cause the person that is holding the event is asking them to please come, so obviously it is for that person, right? But the thing is, if we don’t see ourselves in what is being portrayed in this event, then a lot of times we don’t feel welcome. And that could look like a variety of things. It could look like gender, it could look like age, it could look like being a parent or not, you know? It could look like so many things, but if we don’t have ways of showing that it’s okay for those people and this grouping of people to come then absolutely not. And I think another important thing is when you do events for a certain demographic, right, so like say you do empowerment events for women or something like that If there is a grouping of people that you’re doing events for, even within that grouping, there is so much that you should consider for people to feel like they’re included, because women come in all form, shapes, varieties, religions, and all the things, right? And so just being mindful of that, because if it is women, there are certain things that are kind of common to women, right? So kind of exploring those things. And it is very important to not assume what we think a group is looking for and not looking for and we do the answer based on what we think. We should definitely reach out to someone within that group, you know, and make sure that we’re covering the base so that we’re just not making the assumption of this is what all people would want that fall in that category.

 

Becky Mollenkamp:

I want to get into a lot more specifics in a little bit, but that makes me think of the assumptions. And I’m wondering, because I looked, I could not really find statistics about diversity in who’s hosting events and who’s planning events. So I don’t really don’t know. And I’m wondering as somebody who’s inside of that world, what do you see about how diverse, how much diversity there is within the types of people who are setting the agenda for events, and then also people like you who are bringing those events to life. Is that an area that is still not very diverse? And if so, do you think that’s what trickles down? Is that part of the problem? Is that trickling down into what those events then look like?

 

Shameka Allen-Lane:

I would say it depends on the category of events because people of all sorts of different groups are doing events, right? So they may not be always of this huge scale where it’s like this big conference, you know, that maybe you have to get a convention center to do. Maybe it’s more of, you know, an independent venue situation. So I think that plays into it. But in general, just like most other things in this country, you know, there is a certain group of people that are having, that are hosting these events that have the power, the revenue, the impact, all of those things to host these events. A lot of times it’s corporations, and sometimes it’s individuals slash corporations where, you know, I could have Shameka Allen-Lane Enterprises and now I have a team of people behind me, but it’s really about Shemeka Allen, right? And so there are a lot of those as well. The people that are planning the actual event is going to vary. The reason why I say it’s going to vary is one of the reasons why my business has gotten started. It’s because a lot of people that have not been trained in events, or have the actual title of someone that is considered an event professional, are the ones that’s pulling off events. So that could look like administrative professionals, which is very often the case. A hidden, I would say, statistic is about 80% of individuals that plan events are not event professionals, right? So that’s a very large percentage, many of which who are, like I said, executive professional, not executive professional, administrative professionals. But even within that, you have, at an average company, who’s planning the training? It’s gonna be a manager. A manager is putting that together. They might involve their admin or something like that. So it just kinda depends on the level of event that we’re talking about. But when you’re talking about the larger-scale events, for sure, we’re talking about just like everything else we say in America, we’re going to have larger corporations doing it, it’s going to be considered a predominantly white grouping of what we’re considering hosts, but it’s going to vary a lot. So I’m not saying that is always the case. And then same thing when it trickles down to who are considered vendors, because at the end of the day, The person that’s planning it a lot of time is a vendor unless it’s an internal person for that particular company.

 

Becky Mollenkamp:

Interesting. That 80% figure is definitely interesting to think that those folks are doing their best, right? But they don’t necessarily, they’re not up to date on what’s happening inside of event planning. And so that would probably make a lot of sense. And I’m going to guess that’s probably especially for smaller events that then end up feeling, that will fall short in a lot of ways around inclusion. What changes are you noticing about events? Because I would imagine, I’m gonna guess, in the ways that we’ve seen since 2020 with George Floyd’s murder and just the uptick in interest in DEI in general. And now again, on the other side of that uptick, we’re starting to see that decline in that interest. I’m gonna guess there was at least for a while more interest in creating more diverse and inclusive and accessible, I wanna make sure that I’m talking about, as you mentioned, all of the ways that we look at inclusion too, right? So that includes things like accessibility for people who have any sort of differences. But what are you noticing as far as change? Was there an uptick? Is there more interest in creating more inclusive events? Is that now starting to wane? Like what are you noticing out in the field?

 

Shameka Allen-Lane:

So, as you mentioned initially, absolutely. And we weren’t in in-person events when that happened either. We were still doing very hardcore, our virtual-based events. And so there was a lot of conversation of how do we become more diverse. There were some attempts in bringing in suppliers and speakers to diversify. So I would say speakers most certainly around the topic of diversity. So that’s what was happening more than anything. Like let’s have the conversation about diversity and not necessarily totally in the actions. And so those speakers. Depending on how you engage with them, there may have been some opportunity there to learn more about how do we really do this through and through, and not just today? And those that dug into that type of topic, I would say they’re doing their best to maintain as much as they can within their organizations. There are certain areas around diversity. You know, I always say there’s a big grouping, you know, a big four, big five. So there are certain areas right now that are doing much better than others. Accessibility is most certainly one of those areas that’s coming to the forefront. And if you’re not showing up that way, people are calling you out on it because they’re becoming used to it in other spaces. They’ve seen what it should look like and they’re like, oh, well you can do it too. So you’re getting called out on it a little bit more. So I would say accessibility is probably the biggest one, and then the whole LGBTQ plus movement. There’s some addressing of things like that, and it might not be as in your face to a lot of people, but things like unisex restrooms and things like that are most certainly things that are becoming for a lot of organizations in terms of expectations.

 

Becky Mollenkamp:

That just made me think also out of curiosity, kind of another little bit of a tangent, but with so many of the hot button kind of issues that are happening in specific states. The key ones I’m thinking of right now are Florida and Texas, but it’s happening in other states as well with certain laws and regulations that are targeting certain groups of individuals, specifically as you mentioned, the LGBTQ community and others, and that are receiving a lot of backlash from people saying, I don’t want to be, I don’t want to live in these states, corporation saying I’m not going to host events in these states. And you know, the NAACP issuing a travel warning for people of color in Florida. And I’m curious if you’re noticing like, has that affected your work? I don’t know if you’re planning events in other states, but is that a topic that’s coming up? Do these things matter? 

 

Shameka Allen-Lane:

Absolutely. I like you said, I’m in Florida. So I’m in one of those states, and I am seeing where one, corporations and organizations are pulling out of Florida for their major events with that travel advisory, certain groups are taking it to heart and being very serious about it. And I live specifically in the Orlando area. So when you think about events in Florida, most times Orlando is what you’re thinking about. And so it is absolutely affecting, tourism is our number one industry here. And so it’s affecting the everyday people, it’s affecting the businesses, some of which we haven’t seen all of yet because when you’re doing a very large-scale event, you have so much time to pull out without losing everything, right? So even if people have certain views at this point, by the time that information came out, they were kind of stuck in it. So, you know, it would be, I would say things like towards the end of this year. is where we would really start seeing and definitely feeling even more. But I do know organizations that have pulled out, there have been multiple in the news down here in Orlando, in different parts of Florida as well. Tampa does their share of events that are similar to Orlando. Miami does different types of events than Orlando. So we definitely have some larger cities that are most certainly being affected by this. And some of it is not that the organizations want to pull out, maybe they don’t have an issue with going forward, but guess what? The attendees have an issue with coming. A lot of people are saying that they’re boycotting Florida, unfortunately, because of these things. And so some of them are like, that’s great. You’re having an event. I’ll catch you next year. Let me know where you’re going to be.

 

Becky Mollenkamp:

And I would say maybe even fortunately people are saying, no, I won’t go. I know that’s hard when your industry in your state depends on it. And I think it’s an important reminder for listeners who are really values driven and who are running businesses that maybe they’re not hold. Maybe you’re not the head of Dell or whatever. I don’t know where I came up with Dell, but some giant corporation. You’re not the head of something that big and you don’t have that kind of sway, but you’re the kind of person who attends events. I know most of us probably attend different conferences for our businesses and decide where are we putting our dollars in travel and in where we’re gonna be attending conferences. And this is a way to walk your values and to make a difference, to force these states that are enacting these really terrible anti-human kind of laws to pay attention, because what makes them pay attention? Money, right? Money more than anything. And so I do think it is a way to maybe, just for people to remember, like you do have power, even if you feel that you don’t, like your dollar is your power and deciding where you’re going to spend that, whether you’re organizing an event or attending one. And that makes me think about the benefits, like that’s the flip side of the like not doing it wrong and what can happen. But let’s talk about the benefits of hosting, of really thinking through inclusivity, accessibility with events that you’re hosting, whether those are small or bigger in scale. I found an interesting study by the Meeting Professionals International, MPI, that said that 19% of event professionals are implementing DEI initiatives in their events to get better business results and an equal number are doing it to comply with legal requirements. Right? And either of those numbers is still really small. And it’s interesting because I think there have to be better business results that come out of creating events that are more inclusive, like you said, where people see themselves and/or they feel welcome. So what are the benefits that you are talking with your clients about of like the why to do this? Because I imagine it does cost more. Most things that are, you know, this usually is something that comes with a price tag and people push back against that. And I understand why when money’s involved. But what are you talking to them about the why to do it?

 

Shameka Allen-Lane:

Well first off for me, when I work with my clients, we talk about the goals and objectives specific for their event, right? Because a lot of times people get into what I call the vanity metrics, you know how many attendees you have, how much money, blah, blah, blah. And sometimes that is part of why you’re doing that particular event. Other times it’s not, right? So we have to get into the meat and potatoes of that and develop metrics directly related to that, right? So I have clients that absolutely have DEI initiatives as a part of their goals and objectives, but I have to ask them to define what that looks like, right? Because what I consider or immediately think about for diversity or, you know, any of it, you might not have that as a go-to, right? So we need to talk about what that looks like, define what that looks like so that everybody kind of is on the same page, and it really should be something that they’re not only creating for themselves as a reminder, but is being shared with all of the vendors that they work with as well. A lot of times when vendors understand what you’re trying to do, they can help you get there. If you just give them what you think they supposed to have that’s exactly what they’re gonna deliver on but If you’re letting them know that big picture, they’re like, let me help you get there. And so with that, a lot of times we are talking about who are you attracting? Who do you want to come to your event, right? Because a lot of times they have a group that they want to come that is not coming. So that’s one of the first things that we look at so that we can directly relate that to DEI efforts as well, is who are you looking to have come to your event? Why do you want these individuals to come to your event, right? So we’re looking at those. Most of the people I work with are already somewhat open to DEI, but again, they have their own thought process of what they’re thinking of in terms of DEI. And so with it, I will say this, as you mentioned, there is a cost that comes with DEI. I think that it is important to note who is your audience and when you recognize that, and you recognize what’s important to this particular audience, try to concentrate your dollars towards that. You can’t accommodate every possible DEI initiative at your event. So there’s no point in trying to do that, right? But very simple things like for instance, if you’re having a meal and being able to always ask for dietary restriction, you know, that’s something I always push for all of my clients. When we don’t ask this, we get on site and we still receive it as a challenge anyway. So why not ask it and try to get in front of it? You know, maybe even letting people know what some of the options are. I have one client that I was like, do you ask this? And they were like, nope. But when we talked about the reason why they don’t, it was like, you know what? In your case, I’m okay with it because in their case, they are working with a program that subsidized in the school system. And so meals are already being provided, it’s already being adjusted for whatever those dietary restrictions may be. And so when they bring in food, it’s a choice. You don’t have to eat their food. It’s not the only option that’s available. And so I’m like, you know what? It’s fair enough, I get what you’re doing. So there are cases where you don’t have to necessarily make that your thing, but there are cases where you absolutely should. There are women-based organizations that are always worried about child care and they’re not coming because they don’t have child care. And if that’s not addressed, then they’re just not attending. And in that case, we have to figure out something for childcare. And so that’s most certainly something that we talk with them about. So it just really kind of depends on what makes sense for that organization. You talked about a couple of other groups earlier. Some of them have aging populations, right? And because of aging populations, there are usually mobility issues. And so for them, they know without any questions, they have to do a lot that’s geared towards people with mobility issues or again, they’re not coming. So if it’s not something that just doesn’t work for those individuals that’s considered the primary target for that event, then they’re not going to come. It’s not realistic for them. It’s not worth their time.

 

Becky Mollenkamp:

I love that you said you can’t do it all because I feel like there can be this pressure we put on ourselves when we start to care about these kinds of issues, to feel like we have to get it right and we have to get it all the time, we have to do it right, it needs to be perfect and all of that. And this, like you mentioned, There are so many differences. For every person, there’s gonna be a difference,right? And trying to address all of those becomes nearly impossible when you have, you know, even the biggest events with giant budgets, like it’s highly personalized at that point and that becomes very expensive to do, to make it work out financially. So when you know you can’t do it perfectly and you’re going to end up, almost always, I’m gonna guess then, when you have an event, there’s gonna be someone who’s not happy. In some way you fell short of their specific need. So how do you manage that and help your clients through that? Especially those who really do care. The ones who are like, I really do want to do my best to be making this as inclusive and accessible as I can for all. And when they fall short and someone gets mad, how do you help them through that?

 

Shameka Allen-Lane:

I’ve actually had a couple of groups like that. One was a nonprofit and they do this very nice large program and they wanted to cater towards the dietary restrictions, right? And sometimes it’s not that you’re not addressing whatever that issue is, right? So if it’s dietary restriction, you’re asking individuals and you’re providing the food. You’re addressing it. It doesn’t mean they’re going to always be happy with the food you provide, for instance, right? So I’m going to say, I’m going to use the term plant-based. So there are a lot of people that use the term plant-based. Plant-based can mean different things. To some people, it means being a vegetarian. Some people, it means primarily plants. It means different things to different people. So let’s be clear. And so one, the practice that I work with my clients on, if they use a term like that, if they’re not specifying exactly what that looks like, you ask them, what does that mean? And if you know what you’re looking to potentially plan for a meal, you go ahead and suggest that. So if I take examples for vegans, a lot of vegans that are not newer vegans, meaning we’re trying it out within the first six months and we’re in the first year, like you’ve been doing this for a while they’re pretty routine they’re like this is what i like to eat, this and this and this, and if that’s not what you have on your menu they’re going to figure out something else anyway. You know even if you’re providing a vegan option they’re going to be like, nope I eat peanut butter and apples. You know, that’s my snack. If you don’t have that, then I’m gonna bring it. And they’re okay with that, right? So being able to reach out to those individuals, letting them know any accommodation. Right now I’m talking about food, but any accommodation. Letting them know what the accommodation plan is for that particular event. And you have an opportunity to talk through with them. Sometimes they’ll simply tell you, all I need is this. And if it, in the case of the apple and peanut butter, you might just be like, I can buy some apples. Like, you know, like if that’s what’s gonna help you, that’s fine, we’ll get some apples, you know. In other cases, you know, people just will make that choice that they’re going to make their own accommodations, but they know what you have available and they’re working with you on it. They may say, well, I’ll bring my own person to help me with X, Y, Z, but is there somewhere where we can have quiet time so that we can just touch base and make sure all of my needs and everything are accommodated. And that’s something you could just work with them on. So being open to having that conversation with them a lot of times and setting their expectation. And I’m just gonna go ahead and put it out there too. Sometimes, especially when we’re talking about things like accessibility, it’s about the venue. If you don’t choose a venue that already has accessibility things in mind, they, you know, had that in their, you know, building plans or they’ve made accommodations and things of, you know, as time goes on, then that might not be the location for you, you know? And so when you take on the approach that you’re going to use these, you’re going to have these DEI efforts, it does mean sometimes eliminating what you’ve done in the past or at least reducing what that looks like. So in the case of that organization with women that wants to do more of childcare, now that means some of the locations they go to, because they don’t allow children to be in a separate room, that’s not what their insurance allows for, then they can’t go to those locations. Same thing when we talk about accessibility. and things like that. So you just have to be mindful. That does mean that sometimes groups and places might eliminate themselves, and you have to be okay with, you know what, we can’t go to them if we’re going to stick with this plan. If we are standing by this and we believe in this, we unfortunately cannot go to them. We’ll let them know these are the reasons why. And if they want to and can make adjustments to accommodate that, then you give them that opportunity.

 

Becky Mollenkamp:

What I hear then is, going back to what I think you said earlier about planning, about getting clear about your reasons for caring about these issues, prioritizing what’s most important to you, you know, what you most, which audiences you most want to address, which of these issues are the things that you, you know, the hills you’re going to die on, that your event lives and dies by. Knowing all of that in advance then helps you later when you get to the place of communicating these things, helping people self-select whether this event is for them, it’s going to help you be able to stand behind those decisions when you have people say, hey, why this event isn’t made for me, then you can feel more confident in your being able to speak to the disappointment that they’re feeling and that you may be feeling for having to exclude someone, but knowing the why behind that.

 

Shameka Allen-Lane:

And that’s 100%, that’s 100%. Being able to revisit, you know, these are the goals, that’s why they need to be clear and communicated with more than just yourself as the host, but to everybody that’s a part of the team and really all of your stakeholders to be able to do that. And you know, you are going to get the individual that’s like, this isn’t the best thing for me. I wish you would do X. But if you’re able to show, if we did X, that will exclude this other group of people. And we’re trying to accommodate the most people that we can in this environment. So, you know, I think most people are kind of like either accepting of it or they find where they belong, you know, and you’re not necessarily trying to exclude them, but it allows them that opportunity.

 

Becky Mollenkamp:

Even if you’re not hosting events, you’re someone who attends events, maybe you have your own set of differences that accessibility needs or whatever it might look like for events. I think this conversation for me is really helpful in developing more empathy around event planning and event planners and events that I go to and why it isn’t so simple as just, well, all you had to do was add a vegan option, but there’s a whole host of things that go into that. So thank you for sharing that. And I wanna talk more again, we’re gonna get into even more specifics, but one last thing around the why of this, because that same MPI study, Meeting Professionals study, found that 61% of event professionals say that they experienced some sort of barriers to planning an inclusive event, 40% say it’s that they don’t have enough information, so I’m wondering if that just means they haven’t done enough learning and I wonder if that’s an issue you see people just haven’t yet, meeting professionals haven’t done enough learning around this, or if they mean they’re not getting enough information from the people who are trying to have the event on what their needs are. 20% lack the budget, so we talked about that, but it wasn’t as high as I thought. I thought that’d be the number one barrier and it actually wasn’t. 14% don’t have enough leadership support, which I think is interesting, and I’d love to hear you speak on that. And then 13% say they didn’t have enough time. So I’m guessing they weren’t given enough time in their event planning process so that’s some of what you talked about, this happens long before the event. But the ones I’m most interested in is that information and the leadership support. I’m guessing those might go hand in hand too.

 

Shameka Allen-Lane:

I think with the missing information, you’re right. It could go a couple of ways. And a lot of times it is not knowing information about the audience that they’re serving because that information isn’t being gathered a lot of times. And sometimes it is and it’s just not communicated. And sometimes it’s just not analyzed. Like they gather it, but it’s sitting the way that they gathered it. And that’s it. And that’s not very helpful, right? And so we want to make sure that we are using information. Don’t collect any information that you’re not using. That’s pointless. So if you’re asking me my gender, it needed to be a reason why you’re asking me my gender. If you’re asking me, you know, if I wanna do something at a certain time, it needs to be a reason. Have a reason for every question that you’re reaching out to in these feedback surveys and things like that. Because otherwise I’m like, why are you asking me? And it’s a waste of my time to fill it out, right? So if people see that there’s a reason why you’re asking, a lot of times they’re a little bit more open to actually giving you that feedback as well. So sometimes that’s part of it. But you’re right in terms of the leadership, a lot of times the concept of ‘if it’s not broke, don’t fix it.’ In their mind, it’s not broke, you know, like nobody’s asking about this or ‘this is the way we’ve always done it,’ you know, whatever that is. So we will continue to do things this way. And so that’s really what it is. They definitely don’t like to see an increase in budget on things, especially if it’s something that they cannot directly connect to revenue, especially upfront, then it’s kind of like, nope, that’s a lot of money. We actually need to have more going to the bottom line. So that’s a no.

 

Becky Mollenkamp:

You said something about the way we’ve always done it. And I think earlier you mentioned too, at the very beginning of this talking about who’s managing or putting on these events and then that can be that trickle-down effect is like they’re making events for themselves without thinking about other folks. And so I’m wondering, what is the best—and I know you can’t get into all the nitty gritty here—but like just kind of for people who are thinking about events and trying to think about it differently, and how do I know? Like I’m making assumptions about who I think will want to be here or who I want here or what they will need. What does it look like to actually figure out that data that you’re mentioning? Do you think like way in advance of actually getting to the place of putting the event on, or even putting it out there? Should you be doing surveying? What does that look like to get the information you need, that you as an event planner need, to do the very best job? Like how are you getting that information about who’s gonna be there or who you would want there?

 

Shameka Allen-Lane:

So first, it does go back to who is the audience, right? And the event owner, host, whatever you wanna consider it, that’s who’s responsible for giving that information. In the hotel world and event world, we have what we call pre-cons, and we go into those meetings, and the very first thing we talk about after we give an introduction of everyone in the room, is who’s the group, who is coming. And that’s always so important and that lays the foundation for everything else we’re gonna talk about and it gets people’s minds going. It’s the same concept with doing these event-planning exercises, you’re figuring out who’s coming. So the more information we have around that individual, the more we can cater towards that individual. Sometimes it’s what you did for today—research. Sometimes it’s okay if we’re inviting this group of people. You know, say they’re nurses, shey’re nursing students, whatever. You just have to have some level of point of reference, and if you’re inviting that group of people there may be studies or articles and things out there that already exists, where people have already done some of this legwork to help give you suggestions or just things that are important to them. If you realize that you don’t have that easily accessible, most of these organizations and companies have someone on the board that is the individual that you’re trying to invite, right? So talk to those people, even if you can’t create a big survey, because sometimes you don’t get the response that you would like to have in those surveys, reach out to those individuals and just start talking to them. Try to see if you can reach out to past attendees, and just ask, you know, what has that experience been like, you know, even just looking at the past surveys, hopefully they’ve asked some great questions, but looking at the past surveys that may have been collected for that event, looking at the verbatim, not just, you know, the percentages of everything, but a lot of times those verbatims have really good information in it, and you want to go ahead and capture that. Now, with me moving forward with people in events, we do this whole evaluation phase after each and every event that includes more than just surveys. It includes observations. It includes all sorts of things that is going to be helpful when you start looking at next time. We’re looking at all the goals and objectives, did we complete them, those metrics, where did we fall exactly, so that we can start making recommendations for how do we do this next time? So those are things that we look at once we’re involved but just that prep thing is what I’ve mentioned earlier

 

Becky Mollenkamp:

I will put out the endorsement for when you have the budget or can make the budget, or prioritizing the budget, to bring in a professional. This is where you know how to ask the questions, what questions to ask, who to be asking and all of that, which makes me think about, I know that you have a framework for keeping people on track with their event goals. And I don’t know, I’m wondering if that includes like a lot of this stuff we’re talking about. What is that? Tell me a little more about that and how it plays into some of the things we’re talking about.

 

Shameka Allen-Lane:

So the framework that I use is five main pillars, up under the pillars are other things, so it does get a little bit more nitty gritty. We won’t go over those things today. But number one is goals and objectives. We’ve kind of talked about that already. Number two is financial objectives, sorry, financial management, which includes things like your financial objective. I do work with a lot of nonprofits so it’s important to know if we’re willing to take a loss at this event if we’re trying to break even or not all events are trying to make money. And then third is logistics, and logistics is where a lot of this planning that we’re talking about today will actually occur. It’s that prepping for everything on site. Number four is execution, and that’s what we’re considering that go-live time. We’re on site, we’re making this happen. If it’s virtual, there is to go live for that day. And then number five is the evaluation phase as well.

 

Becky Mollenkamp:

I know we can’t talk about all the logistics because there are so many. But what are some of the like I’m thinking about things like we’ve talked about having a goal, which maybe that’s even before you get to the logistics. But then what about things like because I’ve heard you mention communication with attendees and I’m thinking about like, how do you, what’s the best practices around communicating your commitment to these issues, and soliciting either their feedback in advance, or when you’re there, how do you make sure that, because I think people who care about these things are gonna wanna make sure that there’s a value system at their event, that there’s like a code of conduct that helps to create more safety, as much as you can create safety, and that really communicates this commitment to diversity, inclusion, accessibility. What does that look like?.

 

Shameka Allen-Lane:

Remember when I was talking about having those goals and objectives where it’s something that’s shared with everyone? So that’s part of it. And I really do mean like for me in that framework that we called out, goals and objectives, it’s always going to be there in each step. We’re revisiting that in each step. So it’s almost like a flow chart. I joke with like the first two pillars, so like, if somebody has this grand idea like, oh my gosh, I love this speaker. We wanna get them to come, they’ll be so great for everybody. Well, we have to immediately go to our goals and objectives. Like does that speaker fit with that? Because if not, it’s a no. If that speaker does, let’s go to the second step, which is financial management. If we can’t make that happen, it’s again a no so we have to go to somewhere else. So like, we’re keeping on track with what those things are and what the values are throughout the process because of this, right? And when we clearly state what they are and we’re able to communicate it to all of those stakeholders, a lot of times it just falls in line for us because we’re telling them, this is our method of communication. These are our values set, and they fall in line with it, right?

 

Becky Mollenkamp:

It takes a lot of people to run, especially, you know, the bigger event, the more the people, but an in-person on-site kind of event, there’s a lot of people involved. There’s a lot. There’s speakers, there’s vendors, there’s attendees, there’s the space. There’s just a lot of people involved. And if you’re really committed to these issues and wanting to make your event really inclusive, a space where people feel really welcome, what do you need to do to get all of your, all of these different parties, like speaking the same language and on board together and making sure that everyone is on board with your approach and doing their part and that things don’t go missing?

 

Shameka Allen-Lane:

So, it’s similar to what we were saying about communicating with the attendees. You know, you have to make sure your team, your vendors are all on the same page, any of those stakeholders. So, you want to get out whatever that messaging is, right? So, there are a lot of organizations right now that they believe wholeheartedly in using your pronouns. And so everybody that’s a part of them needs to use their pronouns. So if we’re on a call together, please have your pronouns shown, on the badges that you’re gonna receive on site the pronouns are here so that they know that that’s important and they also then might be the same kind of group that will have a gender-neutral restroom, you know, and they may not necessarily have that blown up everywhere, but if they’re doing the pronouns, that’s likely something else that they’re doing, right? So they do things that kind of go together. So it’s important that, one, that everybody knows and respects that, and then two, that you may encounter someone that is different than what you might have. thought of, you know what I’m saying? Because they have the thing about the pronouns. So being mindful and prepared mentally to work with people like that, you know? Because if you approach me, and I can kind of see you doing a double take or you’re distracted, it’s not making me feel welcome, right? So you have to make sure that you are prepared to deal with whatever it is that they’re saying is their stance. so that you’re ready to go, you know, and you know how to still do your work professionally.

 

Becky Mollenkamp:

And you mentioned the pronouns on name tags, which again, that seems like a really small and simple thing probably to implement. But then there may be other bigger issues that come along with it, which could look like making sure you’re choosing a venue that then also has gender-neutral bathrooms. But when we talk about little things, or maybe not even little things, maybe big things too, but I’m just some of the things that maybe are outside of the box of what we normally think of or what maybe most people are thinking of when they think of creating more inclusive events. Because like you mentioned, they start off with thinking about who’s speaking, right? I just wanna make sure my lineup is diverse, but there’s so much more that goes into having a really accessible and inclusive event. And so I’m wondering what are some of those things like the pronouns, or thinking through the gift bags and are you giving away items that might be gender specific when you’re not trying to be gender specific with your event, or you’re trying to think outside of gender binaries. Or, you know, are you giving away one-size-fits-all t-shirts, and that’s not at all inclusive for people who have different sized bodies. So I’m just thinking, like, if you give some specific examples of, first I’m wondering, maybe you could share some examples of events you’ve seen. They don’t have to be events you’ve been a part of, and we don’t have to name names, but where they’ve missed the boat, they missed the mark. They didn’t hit it with diversity and inclusion. What that looked like, like what are some of the things they missed and then what are the repercussions? What were the repercussions that happened from that?

 

Shameka Allen-Lane:

Well, what immediately comes to mind, I think I may have shared with you is last year I was immobile. And it opened up a whole nother light for me. It’s something I’ve always tried to be sensitive towards, but when it’s you yourself, you start thinking of the simplest things that makes all the difference in the world. And so I did an event where I attended, so that’s what I mean, I attended, I was one of the people that was being honored at that event and bless their hearts that actually did a lift on the side of the stage for me and everything. I thought that was really awesome I really appreciated it,. But in addition to that, little simple things like they had a buffet. I couldn’t go through that buffet. And even if I could like work and get like my plate, I couldn’t hold a drink and everything because it wasn’t like they had the individual drinks like a bottle or a can that was closed. And so I remember sitting at that event feeling like, I’m gonna starve before I get out of here today. Because I didn’t know that many people. I’m gonna starve before I get out of here today, and oh my gosh, it just so happened I had hired a photographer for my moment. And that photographer was gracious enough, kicking off the morning when he was like, can I please get you something? Can I get you something? And then when lunchtime hit, someone else in the crowd realized they recognized me and came over and said, can I please get you lunch? And that person went and got my plate. You don’t want to look like you’re not grateful or anything, especially when they went through everything they went through to get the lift for the stage. But there are a lot of buildings that just don’t even have that option, right? Um, and so it’s, it’s sometimes little small, simple things, like if they did have where I could get my own drink, you know, and not have to have an open glass, which a lot of times that is preferred, right? I would normally like to have a nice glass, but on that day, I couldn’t because I can’t manage that. So sometimes what we think is just better because it’s better quality, or whatever the case is, in our scenario it might but we also just have to be open about having those other options. Same things have happened around the nursing rooms. People are trying to create nursing rooms, they’re getting so much better about that, but having somewhere for people to nurse. They need power. They need it to be clean. They don’t want it to be the bathroom. You know, it’s things like that. But if you haven’t nursed before, you may not be aware of these things because that’s just simply not your experience, right? You know, we have to realize what’s important to our attendees and try to make adjustments based on that because, and what’s included. So like, for instance, we set a quiet room, you need to specify what are the rules, at bare minimum, for that quiet room so people understand this is not a place for you to take phone calls. You know, if you need a privacy room, then this is another area, right? So being able to look at kind of smaller things like that, that I think people are just totally forgetting about. But if we’re talking about nursing rooms as well, having somewhere for them to store, what does that plan look like? And sometimes it may not be that the event foots the cost on all of it. Sometimes it may be an additional cost, but again, allowing people to understand what their options are and giving them that choice. Some people may opt to pay for that other option so that they can use it.

 

Becky Mollenkamp:

I feel like every time you’re talking through these things, it’s that reminder that there are so many details, especially when you’re talking an in-person event, right? There are just so many details to think through, and the fact that whatever 80% of people are doing this without a professional is a little scary. And also, but also fully explains why so many events fall short. And that makes sense. Most of what we’ve talked about here has been in-person, but you also mentioned online, especially during COVID, but even continuing people have gotten more accustomed to doing online events. They are typically cheaper, quite a bit cheaper to do an online event. And also they can be more inclusive in the way that it can allow more folks to come because  it removes so much a barrier around travel, around expenses and all of that. So there’s a lot of reasons to do online events. And I think people might not think of, you know, so much of what we talked about around food or, you know, the environment doesn’t have to do with the online space. Yet there is probably an art and magic to making an online event also more accessible and inclusive. So can you speak just a little bit to online events since we didn’t touch on that all that much?

 

Shameka Allen-Lane:

Like you said, when it comes to online, the accessibility is probably number one because a lot of those other things are not really issues as much. And so it’s sometimes it’s simple things with accessibility. Almost every platform that you use now has some type of transcription ability. Of course, if you’re using what they’re detecting and are automatically putting out as transcription, it may not be 100% correct. So, if that’s something that’s really important, it’s important to hire a company that does that, so that you can have that information correct going out the first time. But there are organizations that they believe in it wholly and they know that a good bit of their population needs this type of information, so they do it that way. Same thing with having translation in other languages and the closed-caption available. And then sometimes just even what social media posts and things like that, the readability on things. Making sure that is easily readable. We think, oh, this looks nice, look at these colors, they’re really bold. And sometimes that works, but depending on how many other colors you’re bringing in, that may be a bit much for some people. It may be hard to read if it’s too small, things like that that is really important to kind of be mindful of. And then something that affects both in-person and virtual, I would say is certain dates, certain religious holidays and times of year is really important to just be mindful around that. For some religions, they can’t really do much of anything so they’re not gonna attend your event, whether virtual or in person, especially those that are in-person. So those are things you have to be mindful around. And then a lot of times they come with dietary restrictions as well, and things like that. So it’s good to try to avoid those dates. And sometimes there are cultural dates too that are just better to avoid. This is not a good date for an event. And if we want to include everybody, we don’t need to do this around this timeframe because it’s gonna exclude a lot of people. So just being mindful of those. I would say those would probably be some of the top two. And then of course, goes back to like we were talking about speakers and that type of thing. That’s important. And along with speakers, just having diversity in your vendors, even with virtual events, you a lot of times use other vendors. You might not just use a production team and or events team. You might have other vendors that are coming in. And so having diversity in that grouping as well. It’s very helpful a lot of times that uh also take some of this guesswork out that you’re doing because they’re diverse, they’ll bring up like I don’t think that’s the best way to go about this. Can we include this?

 

Becky Mollenkamp:

Yeah, and you’d mentioned tools because I have been on online events that, I mean, by now most people are used to Zoom. The interface is more accessible in that more people are used to it, but I’ve been on other platforms that are very complicated, very confusing. So I think looking at the tool you’re using beforehand and maybe thinking through who you want to make sure is included, and is this something that feels like accessible to them. And the other piece I was gonna mention is video. Like when you’re doing a Zoom event or event where people might be on video, giving people that option, whether they want to be on video, whether they want to speak. Because I also see where people are sort of making people feel guilty if they’re not a video or if they’re not willing to speak. And so thinking through some of those things too, probably.

 

Shameka Allen-Lane:

Yeah, absolutely. That’s 100%. And sometimes it’s not even about just the comfort of if I want to be on camera or not. Sometimes if you would have caught me a couple of days ago, honey, I was not getting on anybody’s camera because I did not look the part, but there were times where I could absolutely sit in and listen. I didn’t want to miss the information. And because my voice sounded like something else altogether, I didn’t want to talk much either.

 

Becky Mollenkamp:

I mentioned earlier, if you’re a person who is maybe not hosting a big event, but you’re an attendee of an event, one way that you can affect change is thinking about where you’re spending your money, right? Looking at what is happening in various states, where do I want to put my dollars and show support? But when you look at just, you know, most events, either online or in person, as an attendee of an event, what are the things that we can do more proactively to, especially if we do have some sort of a difference that needs to be addressed, or just anything that will make us feel more welcome in the space or safe in the space? What are the things that we should be thinking about before an event? Like, what can we do? What should we communicate? How should we communicate? What should we think about on our own end outside of that and like in our own planning?

 

Shameka Allen-Lane:

So one, I would say in most cases, the average event tells you if you have any questions, any concerns, reach out to them, they give you a way to contact them, use it. They’re not holding that against you. It is very sincere. I can’t tell you the amount of times that I’m involved with the event or seeing where people have accommodations and somebody did reach out or they at least filled out the registration information, accommodations were made and other people get on site and they’re like, oh my god, I didn’t know. Do your due diligence so that you know what’s available because there are incidents where they’re taking someone else’s accommodations and that’s not fair to the person that let them know, right? So make sure that you let them know what your accommodations are. If it’s something as simple as, you know what, I’m coming to the event, but I do need to pray and I’m going to need to do this at this time, so is there anywhere that I can do that? I’m just trying to make arrangements now. And that’s really what it is. It’s just letting them know what accommodations you need so that you can be your best self in attendance, and they can help you with those options, right? So I would say that is one of the bigger ones. A lot of times there’s an FAQ section for a lot of these events, all some of the common questions that have been asked or that have come up in the past, you know, read those as well. A lot of times venues have their own website. So depending on what type of accommodations you might have, they may be able to answer that and sometimes some events’ hosts aren’t thinking about addressing it because the venue has already addressed it. So definitely making sure that you look at what the venue has available for whatever your needs are because some of them, for instance, accessibility. There are certain parts of accessibility that is for the host, the rest of it is the venue. And it’s a lot more on the venue side. So a lot of times they will like to pair you with the venue so that you all can have direct communication. They can make sure that you’re aware where to go and things like that, but they a lot of times will just completely own it. Beyonce is on tour. And that was like a big thing that came up where people were getting very upset about the accessibility at some of these locations. And it’s not on Beyonce. There’s seating for the individuals that may have accessibility issues, but the venue typically takes care of that. As artists, sometimes they may do a couple of things to bring in a few more accommodations, like having someone with sign language or something like that, but the rest is on the actual venue. So it’s important to always just look at what the venue has because sometimes like we’re talking about prayer rooms or nursing rooms or anything like that, the venue may have something already set up that’s marked that way. If they don’t, the organization that is hosting may have decided, can we convert this room? But sometimes they already have that, and if they do, then the organization that’s hosting is not as involved with the process. They’re leaving that up to the venue itself. So looking at that website, reaching out to them if need be, and then quite frankly, making your own arrangements for things that you know that you have. My mother has not had meat in, I don’t know, 20-plus years, and she has not made that anybody else’s problem. It’s not supposed to be anybody else’s problem, but that’s how she thinks of it. So she rarely even tells someone that she has a dietary restriction when she’s going. It just doesn’t even enter her head that way because in her mind, this is how I eat, this is my choice. So she has something else already set and ready to go on her behalf, right?

 

Becky Mollenkamp:

The Beyonce’s of the world, yes, it’s up to the event and we have choice on who what events we use, or what spaces we use. So it’s up to the space, but also as the person hosting event, we need to think about these things. If we truly care about these things, we need to look at a partner with events spaces that will accommodate that. Yes, and. Everything’s a yes and right? Like your mom can accommodate her vegetarianism and really event should be, event spaces, event hosts should be thinking about these things, right? It’s both. but I don’t wanna excuse the venues or the event hosts or anyone else because these things don’t change until they change, right? And it shouldn’t be upon individuals to have to, you know, do everything on themselves to be able to function normally inside of a space. And also this is how it is. So sometimes we do have to think that way. So hopefully, also, by thinking about your individual needs and expressing them, even though I know for some people it’s hard, like your mom, I don’t wanna be a burden, I don’t wanna impose on anyone, but if we don’t do that, they don’t know and nothing changes. The more they hear from people, wow, we’ve had so many people now asking about power in the nursing room, I guess we really probably oughta do that, but if they never hear it, they don’t know and they don’t do it. So there is this sort of both-and. The last thing I wanted to ask you before we go to my last two questions that are just standard is, what’s the change you want to see in your industry?

 

Shameka Allen-Lane:

I would love to see the DEI efforts just across the board. That’s what I would love to see. I think if they’re across the board, we all feel more welcome. You know, even, I’m a minority woman, you know, when I go and work with the event and I see another woman or another minority that is part of their board of directors, or you know what I mean, like, if I see that, I feel like I’m seen and heard, right? And so being able to see that, and that has nothing to do with the whole event, quote unquote, per se, but it lets me know, like, somebody understands, somebody has my back, somebody wants to make sure that, you know, they’re covering the base with everybody. And so that I think is important, but the reality is, I think, That’s kind of what attendees want to see too. You know, when they go to the event, they want to see that somebody that’s working the event looks like them or has other characteristics that are like them and they feel seen. And so in that moment, it’s just kind of like, oh, that’s one less thing to worry about. Because a lot of these events that we’re coming to, we’re coming to for connection. That’s really the top reason we’re going to it. We’re coming to it for connection. Whatever else was the draw to get you there, you’re coming for connection. And if you can get there and you feel like you can connect and you feel like, especially if it’s something that’s supposed to be teaching you or relief from your environment, if you really feel like you can do that because you feel welcome, it’s like, okay, I can let my hair down. You’re gonna get more out of the experience right? And so that’s what I really hope. I hope people get more out of the experience, that’s including feeling that connection.

 

Becky Mollenkamp:

Isn’t that what we all want? Just to feel more seen and heard and loved and all of that and connected. And that doesn’t happen by accident or happenstance or chance. It happens because of very thoughtful planning that starts long before the event and because from the top down throughout this process, from the top down from people who are organizing it, from the top down through the process, that this, that issue, that ‘will everyone feel seen’ is being considered at all points along the journey by all people involved in the journey. I love that and thank you for sharing that. Okay, so let’s finish up with the two things I ask everyone which is first, what is a resource that you can share that’s been helpful for you, that you enjoy?

 

Shameka Allen-Lane:

I don’t know. This is coming to my head so I’m going to go with what is coming to my head. It’s a book called The Birth Order. I enjoyed that book. I’ve read it once, but the reason why I enjoy the book is there is a lot of psychology around the birth order of individuals. And a lot of times, once you understand that, it helps you relate to people better.

 

Becky Mollenkamp:

Is that by Kevin Lehman?

 

Shameka Allen-Lane:

Yes.

 

Becky Mollenkamp:

It says, why you are the way you are. So now I have to know I’m an oldest child. You?

 

Shameka Allen-Lane:

Same.

 

Becky Mollenkamp:

Okay, then I think we probably know a lot about each other already. I do think there is something, from what I have experienced with people, that there is something to the birth order thing. Now, it’s obviously not universal and it’s not a rule, but that is something that I have noticed.

 

Shameka Allen-Lane:

Honey, if you read that book though, you probably might be like, oh, he got it. Like it’s pretty dead on.

 

Becky Mollenkamp: 

Okay, last thing, what’s an organization that’s doing good work in the world? It can be down where you live there in Florida, it can be a national organization, it can be whatever you want that we can support.

 

Shameka Allen-Lane:

I’m gonna say Women on the Rise International. I am a member. It was started here in Orlando, Florida. There are a few chapters here in the Florida area, but there are most certainly growth plans to go beyond Florida, hence the name, international. And it’s about the support and empowerment of all women. And so it’s so much goodness that we do. It is really a sisterhood. I love these ladies. One of my really good friends founded the organization, but we became friends after she founded the organization. But ever since then, I’ve supported, there’s a gala where we actually celebrate women in the community that are doing outstanding things. But we do all sorts of things with programming throughout the year as well. So it is one of my favorite organizations.

 

Becky Mollenkamp:

All of the stuff we’ve talked about can be found in the show notes and hopefully that TikTok that I mentioned at the very top of this. I’m going to make a donation to Women on the Rise to thank you for your time being here, and giving so generously. And for anyone listening who feels like they know how to run a better event or how to better advocate for themselves in events after listening, I hope you’ll consider also making a donation to Women on the Rise. You can find the link in the show notes to do that and as a way to say thank you to Shameka. So thank you so much for your time today and all that you shared. I really appreciate it.

 

Shameka Allen-Lane:

Absolutely, thank you so much for having me.

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