In September, PRSA’s Minnesota Chapter hosted 150 attendees from throughout the Midwest District for three days of networking and learning. Our conference theme was “The Shake Up: Changing Times, Changing Comms.”
Shaking up communications to reflect our changing times also applied when planning the event. Led by co-chairs Candee Wolf, MA, APR, and Laura Hennen, MBA, the planning committee aimed to keep diversity and inclusion central to all conference elements. A diversity and inclusion subcommittee reviewed DE&I needs and provided additional guidance.
- Half of our four keynote presentations featured speakers of color. Three-quarters of keynote presentations included women, and at least one had a member of the LGBTQ+ community.
- We offered an all-female/Black panel, a first for the District Conference, to our knowledge.
- Attendees could also hear from a solo female breakout speaker.
- The conference offered four all-female panels.
Here are other examples of the DE&I efforts we made for our conference, which might help spark ideas for your next event:
- We ordered treats for the opening night reception from Cookie Cart, a Black-led nonprofit in north Minneapolis. Cookie Cart allows Twin Cities teens to develop the foundational skills and tools they need to succeed in their educations and careers. Its programs combine hands-on work experiences, classroom-work-readiness curricula, customer service education, leadership training and financial literacy classes.
- We opened the conference with a land acknowledgment, read by Minnesota PRSA president Dave Neuger. A conference speaker who is a Mdewakanton Dakota from the Santee Sioux Nation of Nebraska wrote the acknowledgment.
- We provided swag bags for attendees that included copies of the Minnesota Spokesman-Recorder, the oldest continuously operated Black newspaper and longest-lived Black-owned business in Minnesota. The gift bag also had magnets from Sheletta Brundidge, founder of Sheletta Makes Me Laugh, a multimedia podcasting and production company for women and people of color.
Overall, feedback on our DE&I efforts for the conference was positive. One attendee said, “I was incredibly impressed with the focus on diversity and inclusion — both in the speakers/topics but also with the organizers’ efforts to recognize inclusion in the email beforehand, plus acknowledging the land we were meeting on, etc.”
In addition, our “Positioning Your Power” session, which featured all Black women, received a 4.9 average rating, one of the highest audience scores for our workshops.
To make your next Chapter event more inclusive:
- Give attention to diversity of race, gender, age, geographic area and more. We found these elements crucial to developing our best content for the conference.
- Include people’s preferred pronouns on their name tags and ask speakers to include their pronouns in their introductions.
- Be prepared for pushback. One attendee commented that DE&I showed up in every session regardless of its topic and felt the conference leaned too heavily on the diversity theme.
In keeping with the theme of our conference, we believe that communication needs to be shaken up to reflect the changing times. By including diverse speakers and points of view, our event offered attendees a broader perspective on public relations and communications than they would have heard otherwise.
Leah Kondes is the diversity and inclusion officer for PRSA’s Minnesota Chapter.[Photo credit: rod bland photography]