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Words Matter! Becoming Consciously Inclusive

IAEE Executive Vice President & COO Cathy Breden discusses how to promote DE&I through your choice of words.

By Cathy Breden, CMP-F, CAE, CEM

I had the opportunity to attend the American Society of Association Executives (ASAE) annual meeting in Nashville. Two sessions I attended were helpful in providing ideas around conscious inclusion. The session, Becoming Bias-Aware, Making Sense of Language and Beliefs in a Complex Social Environment, was presented by Rhonda Payne with Flock Theory. While I like to think I’m consciously inclusive, this session was very informative in helping me be more bias-aware and understand how words matter. 

Some of the key takeaways from the sessions are below: 

The Dimensions of Diversity Wheel, a framework for thinking about the different dimensions of diversity, was created in 1990.

I did not know such a framework existed. Google it – it’s real! There are many visuals.  

Understanding the glossary of words around DE&I is important to personal growth as an inclusive leader. 
  • Diversity includes the wide variety of shared and different personal and group characteristics among human beings. Diverse describes a group, not an individual.  
  • Ensure representation through hiring minus attrition, that population demographics are appropriately reflected in participation, leadership, decision making, power, etc. 
  • Equality: treating everyone the same way, often while assuming that everyone also starts out on equal footing or with the same opportunities.  
  • Equity: Working toward fair outcomes for people or groups by treating them in ways that address their unique advantages or barriers
  • Inclusion: Being authentic in bringing traditionally excluded inviduals and/or groups into processes, activities and decision/policy making in a way that shares power
  • Belonging: The feeling of security and support when there is a sense of acceptance, inclusion and identity for a member of a certain group. It happens when an individual brings their authentic self without negative percussions.  
The presenter discussed different terms and language as examples, and some of these surprised me: 
  • Coded language: Culture fit, Ghetto, Boy/Gal, Guru, Master 
  • Examples of gender-neutral terms:  
    • Person/Adult instead of woman or man.
    • Humankind instead of Mankind.
    • Partner/Significant Other instead of boyfriend/girlfriend.
    • Sibling instead of brother/sister.
  • Other phrases to use/not use: 
    • Crowd or audience. Not Peanut Gallery.
    • They. Not he or she. 
    • Everyone. Not ladies and gentleman, or you guys. 
    • Lesbian or Gay. Not Homosexual.
    • Organized. Not OCD. 

Understanding what constitutes inclusive language is an important part of being a consciously inclusive person. Attending this session made me more consciously aware that there are many words and idioms used here in the U.S. that are not inclusive. We need to intentionally strive for our voice to be free from words, phrases or tones that demean, insult or exclude people based on their membership within a certain social category or group. I promise I will be more bias-aware and practice using language responsibly. I’m willing to be vulnerable and called out when I make a misstep, because I know I will not get it right 100% of the time.  

IAEE’s DE&I Committee is focused on developing initiatives and programming with the goal of elevating minority and underrepresented individuals, creating an inclusive environment in the exhibitions and events industry. Another important initiative is reaching high school counselors and minority and underrepresented students informing them on exhibition management as a career path. The IAEE Diversity, Equity & Inclusion Scholarship has been created to help them achieve their dreams. I hope you will consider supporting the scholarship fund.  

About the Author

Cathy Breden, CMP-F, CAE, CEM serves in the capacity of Executive Vice President/COO of the International Association of Exhibitions and Events® (IAEE), a trade association representing the exhibitions and events industry. She began her association management career in 1984. She is the 2022 Chairperson of the Events Industry Council Board of Directors. She earned the Certified Meeting Professional (CMP) designation in 1990, the Certified Association Executive (CAE) designation in 1995, the Certified in Exhibition Management (CEM) designation in 2019 and was recognized as a CMP Fellow in 2022.

Cathy is also the CEO of the Center for Exhibition Industry Research (CEIR). In her role at CEIR, Breden provides strategic direction and manages the day-to-day activities and business operations of CEIR. CEIR houses an online library of primary, exhibition-related research studies to help exhibition stakeholders with evolving norms, shifting marketing trends and other issues that can have an impact on the channel itself or how to use if effectively in light of trends. Reports include digital/technology, attendee/exhibitor engagement, attendee acquisition and retention, generational workforce shifts, economic performance and impact, and exhibitor studies evaluating motivations for use of the exhibition marketing channel. She has been working with CEIR since 2006.

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