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National Outdoor Events Association (NOEA) CEO Susan Tanner outlines the work it is undertaking to encourage diversity in the organisation and wider events industry.

Back in 2021, Black in the Boardroom released a report on ‘racial disparities within the UK Event Trade Bodies and Associations’; it didn’t make for positive reading. Around the same time, comedian and highly articulate campaigner, Lenny Henry, began what has been a continual call for more understating around why so much of the audience, at some of the biggest events in the UK, are predominantly white.

NOEA wasn’t mentioned within the Black in the Boardroom Report, maybe because, that in the preceding years we had made some significant moves to revolutionise our own association, but also work with our members to address the subject directly. Equally, we had listened and heard the voices calling out for more diverse audiences.

This isn’t easy, but once again NOEA are gifted in having incredibly smart people around us. Our colleagues at Wasserman produced a series of high-quality educational workshops that began our own self-education around the subject and provide education to those of our members who wanted to tackle the subject head on. They are available on our website and are now open to both members and non-members of NOEA, we’d highly recommend them.

At the same time, we began honest conversations, through our educational content at our own convention, but also through our partnership with the Event Production Show, where we put on a day of content. I’ll try and summarise some of the findings.

Firstly, diverse organisers lead to diverse audiences. It’s a simple equation but all the research, both anecdotal and empirical, tells this story. Black in the Boardroom were right to look to our trade associations, this needs top-down influence. Secondly, events are community based in nature. This means that they speak to specific communities, often at the expense of others. Not every event wants, or should be required, to speak to those outside of their own community, be they based around geography, race, or sexual preference. This needs to be factored into any conversation around diversity, nuance needs to be applied, but it doesn’t excuse those events that are mass participation.

Lastly, and one of the underheard challenges to true diversity, is economics. We’re in the middle of a cost-of-living-crisis, and at the same time the cost of putting on economically viable (and safe) events are going up and up. These costs are passed onto our audiences in the form of elevated ticket prices, and this causes marginalisation. This issue transcends race, ethnicity, and sexuality, and goes down to underprivileged, underrepresented, marginalised, and even just younger people seeing the events industry as something that is not for them. It means that not only are we losing the next generation of event organisers, we’re also denying increasingly larger portions of society the chance to have memorable and enjoyable experiences.

This is an existential issue for the industry, and it cuts across diversity, inclusion, and equity. It’s an area NOEA is fighting for. It sits alongside our continual learning around representation and our desire to be a leader in this regard. There remains so much to do, and we are way off where we want to be, but we continue to work with smart people and pass on these insights to our members and the wider events community.

This piece was featured in the Autumn edition of Access All Areas. Read the magazine HERE