The premier resource for exhibition and event industry professionals

DE&I Spotlight on Dennis Smith

IAEE Chairperson Dennis Smith offers his perspective on how far the industry has advanced in its DE&I efforts, where he would like to see it progress, and ways in which he believes it can get there.

By Mary Tucker, Sr. Communications and Content Manager

2023 IAEE Chairperson Dennis Smith is the Vice President of Business Development for the Asian American Hotel Owners Association (AAHOA). Previously Dennis held the title of Sr. Director for Exposition Sales and Business Development at AVIXA, the global trade association for the pro AV and integrated experiences industry. Dennis began his trade show career in Europe and spent close to 18 years living in Europe working for some of the top global trade show organizations.

Apart from launching his own trade show company in 1997, Dennis has held several executive level positions and has been directly responsible for organizing more than 250 different international events in more than 30 countries covering a multitude of industries to include textiles, automotive, manufacturing, technology, food and construction.

Born in Colorado and having served in the U.S. Army, Dennis has an MBA in International Business and is highly experienced in global strategy for events around the globe. He is married with two children and currently resides in Atlanta, Georgia.

Here, Dennis talks with IAEE about the importance of supporting diversity, equity and inclusion (DE&I) in the exhibitions and events industry.

What inspired you to serve on the IAEE DE&I Committee?

As the 2023 Chairperson of the IAEE Board of Directors, I’m excited to be on the DE&I Committee to amplify the DE&I mission within our industry as well as embracing our diverse community and showing those that may not think they belong in our community, that IAEE is an inclusive professional organization and they are welcome to get involved, be heard and be proud of their identity and enjoy a very sustainable career in the exhibitions and events industry.

As someone who has served in the U.S. military and traveled and lived outside the U.S. for many years, I had the opportunity to experience life from a different lens – not always a pleasant lens – and I truly believe I connect well with diverse communities, and I will always be on the side of the underdog and want those that are less fortunate to be successful and have a future in this industry.

What has been your experience and/or observations with how the industry addresses DE&I?

From a macro perspective, I believe many organizations have adopted DE&I policies and strategies, and I’m proud of the progress that has been made thus far. However, there is still more work to be done. We have a great opportunity at hand and with an aging workforce; we have the chance to attract and embrace to our industry the current and newest generation that includes people of color or those that identify as LGBTQIA or LGBTQQIP2SAA.

I constantly talk to young adults of all backgrounds and ask them if they know about our industry, and as expected the general awareness is little to none regardless of what group they represent. The key in my opinion is increased awareness, increased sensitivity to serve those in our community that are not treated equally or are victims of discrimination or bias and increase our efforts as volunteer leaders to keep the DE&I topic top of mind.

What overall advances would you like to see in the industry regarding DE&I?

I would like to see more commitments from our industry related to recruiting a more diverse workforce that better represents the U.S. population base. I would like to see more initiatives and campaigns showing how companies have closed the gender pay gap for women and for minorities. I would like to see more exhibition and event organizers visiting local high schools, vocational schools, junior colleges, black colleges and the other four-year degree colleges and universities to sell our industry and communicate our commitment to DE&I, and communicate that our industry has immense opportunities for those right out of high school to those that have completed a four-year degree and/or other levels of higher education. This is important; it’s a must and we need everyone’s commitment to prepare and employ for the future of our industry.

How do you think that companies can help advance DE&I?

Companies in our industry are special because so many of those employed did not originally choose this industry. Things happen organically for most of us, myself included. More companies in our industry should be telling their DE&I story through various marketing campaigns. Companies can also organize focus groups that talk about culture, code switching and intentional/unconscious bias and discuss why these are so important for all of us to understand. In order to get better, we need to identify what’s holding us back.

More companies can incorporate DE&I into their content and education programs for their events. They can also introduce sponsorships tailored to the promotion of DE&I in their own community. In terms of recruitment or talent acquisition, companies in our industry can promote in their hiring communication that they are DE&I compliant, and they can organize free workshops open to high school and university students and tell them their story and make it clear to those that attend that they can work in our industry.

What suggestions do you have for individuals who would like to learn more about and/or help increase awareness and advances in DE&I within the industry?

Whenever I start or embark on a new mission or initiative, I always look at myself first and make sure that I’m in alignment with this initiative. If I don’t know a lot about the topic, I try to educate myself and then I look for support from my family. I would suggest for individuals that would like to learn more begin with asking themselves a few qualifying questions.

The second step would be to identify programs within their organization and depending on the level of awareness and initiatives ask leadership to do more and volunteer to lead a special task force or committee to create a DE&I policy. Then the final step is to get involved in your IAEE community, whether it’s an IAEE chapter or on the national level. IAEE has relevant educational content and its own DE&I Committee – If it’s right for you please inquire.

Learn more about IAEE’s DE&I initiatives and how you can play a role in advancing the industry!

Share Post

Stay Up To Date

Related Posts

iaee blog station logo

Stay Up To Date

Join over 15,000 followers dedicated to learning the ins and outs of the exhibition and event industry!