On the road to excellence:

Why diversity at your events matters

Are you tired of seeing the same people at the events you attend and listening to the same voices on panels? Do your events seem unable to reach a level of sharpness, innovativeness and engagement? What if we told you that the missing ingredient is quite simply : diversity.

This toolkit is designed to help you think about diversity from all angles when you are organising a public debate, both online and offline. It is filled with questions to help you start reflecting on the format of your events, complete with tips and tools you can use to make them more inclusive, more critical, credible and impactful and therefore more engaging. Are you ready to think outside the box?

It’s not just about getting

women on panels

When we think of increasing the diversity of events, we automatically think of our panels’ composition, and almost exclusively focus on reaching gender balance. That’s a great first step! But there are many more aspects in your events which can be considered.

Did you know that less than 5% of events in Brussels feature non-white speakers?
Source: EU Panel Watch, 2019

European societies are diverse and include people from a variety of ethnic backgrounds; why don’t we see them take part in debates where policies that will also affect them are being discussed?


Did you know that 50% of the LGBTQI+ community hide who they are at work?
Source: Harvard News, 2019

top tips :

There is a lot of information accessible online on how to make people of all sexual orientations and genders feel welcome. Your staff should be aware how uncomfortable sexist, racist, homophobic and transphobic language makes people feel, and how it hampers their ability to grow and contribute with confidence.

Inclusive language should be used wherever possible, such as avoiding the use of pronouns to assume the gender of audience members or panellists. You should also make sure there is no discriminatory language in your events, by ensuring the moderator is briefed and actively establishing a rule against it. Check out our toolbox on creating a code of conduct and on working with your moderator.

Have you checked that your event is accessible to people with disabilities (reduced mobility, visual and hearing impairments, etc.)?

top tip :

If not, have you provided alternative means? Have you considered offering the possibility to participate online, if that would be a more accessible option? Make sure all the information on accessibility is made available to both participants and speakers before the event takes place.


Is your panel diverse in terms of regional representation, and does it represent different views?

top tips :

Why organise an event where your panel is expected to debate a topical question, if they are bound to have similar views? The discussion will be more engaging if your speakers come with opposing or different perspectives (sector-wise, politically, etc.). Don’t forget that Europe is also a diverse continent, make sure more that more than one region – usually Western and Northern Europe – is represented!

It’s not hard to increase

diversity and inclusivity

It might seem like a gigantic change to increase diversity and inclusivity at your events : but all it takes is a little thinking ahead of time! You can start by asking yourself these questions to reflect on the format and composition of your events.

Are you setting targets? Before you start working on your speakers’ invitation list, imagine what your panel should look like, set non-negotiable goals and proactively find ways of working towards it.

top tips :

For example, you can invite more (and/or invite first) women and people from diverse ethnic backgrounds. As speakers confirm or decline, make sure your next invitations include people with different perspectives and views.

If you cannot think of names, turn to The Brussels Binder and other databases of experts, and discriminated groups who are active in your area.

You can also proactively ask speakers who decline your invitation for specific recommendations, highlighting your approach, targets and goals so they don’t feel singled out because of their views, gender, sexual orientation or skin colour.


Who is speaking, and what are they speaking for? When you invite participants to your events, consider people’s expertise and look beyond the clichés.

top tips :

A range of perspectives and opinions stimulate debates and discussions on such topics, and can help to provide different and/or novel perspectives.

Avoid inviting women to talk only about gender issues, and people of colour to talk only about race.

Are you using the best format? Classic panel debates are widely used. As much as they are easy to set-up and allow for all speakers to express their views, they are not always the best format to ensure a variety of voices are heard on a given topic.

top tips :

Formats that include active facilitation/moderation and encourage more participation from the audience are not only more innovative, but they can also be more engaging and representative.


Who is in the audience? Your audience should also reflect diversity at large, and be engaged throughout.

top tips :

You can reserve spaces or offer discounted/free tickets for specific target audiences.

In big events, you can organise ‘caucuses’ or fora where people from under-represented groups can get together and discuss the conferences’ topics (and bonus! this also acts as an opportunity to raise awareness of the lack of diversity in your event).

Reach out to national branches/levels of organisations you want to target, they will have recommendations and channels to increase the visibility and diversity of your events (and bonus! this also helps to make your event more regionally diverse).

It’s time to walk the talk about

non-discrimination and inclusivity

Most people will know better than to make outright discriminatory and racist comments at a professional event. However, unconscious biases will always find a way to sneak in small remarks and comments during a discussion.

It’s important to call out such discriminatory and racist behaviour; if not for ethical or moral reasons already, do it for your organisation’s reputation and to increase audience engagement. A successful event starts with a safe and inclusive environment!

Check out our toolbox on creating a Code of Conduct for your events, it’s an incredibly useful, and a widely used tool.

Consider providing diversity training for your staff: raising people’s awareness of the issues, of their own unconscious bias, of stereotypes and systemic racism and exclusion are all key in fighting discriminatory behaviour and in encouraging positive change among colleagues.

Actively promote, support and communicate about providing a safe space for your staff to discuss discrimination, stereotypes, racism and LGBTQI+-phobia.

Adopting a code of conduct

Adopting a “code of conduct” will ensure that the event is a safe and inclusive space for all participants. It should be fully established and written out before the event takes place, it should specify what behaviour will not be tolerated during the event, and should be made available and visible (on the event’s webpage and distributed material, on email correspondence before the event, etc.).

Some examples include:
  • Educating event staff to have a zero-tolerance policy and recognise clear examples of unacceptable behaviour.
  • Have a point of contact in each event in order to report examples of harassment or misconduct: people should be able to report anonymously and staff on site should be adequately briefed on how to respond. You should have a policy in place to establish consequences (will the alleged perpetrator be removed from future invite lists?)
  • Make the audience and every panel member aware that they have the right to report behaviour which they deem unacceptable.
  • Create a checklist of responsibilities for the moderator that can be used for reference, with examples of decision making that can be used by staff or the audience when faced with a difficult scenario.

The perks of offering childcare

  • Childcare makes conferences more inclusive and available to women, parents, and may remove one of the reasons speakers decline invitations or have to cancel last minute. Childcare is relatively cheap, and in large ticketed conferences, the costs could be included in the price.
  • 53% of women would take a child to the venue if it was permitted and they had no other means of looking after the child.
    Source: New York Times, 2019
  • And for starters, make sure not to plan your events on weekends or after working hours!

Don’t forget to work with your moderator – make them a diversity sponsor!

Moderators who are trained to recognise unconscious bias and promote inclusivity in the discussion can be great allies in the organisation of inclusive and diverse events:

During a panel discussion
  • The moderator should stress professional qualifications rather than personal details of the speakers when doing introductions, and they should make sure to pronounce the speakers’ names correctly (or apologise if they don’t, making sure not to make comments on the speakers’ name(s) and identity(ies). 
  • The moderator should closely watch the speaking time of each panellist to offer the same speaking opportunities to all, regardless of gender, sexual orientation, age, ethnic and regional background or political views.
During a Q&A session
  • It is important that the moderator has a good visibility of the entire room and audience. It will help ensure that all audience members are allowed to ask questions. Proactively look for non-white, non-male audience members to ask the first question.
  • The moderator should ensure that questions are not too long and that people refrain from making statements (vs. asking questions). They can provide a short break after the panel and ask people to peer review questions with the person sitting next to them.
  • The moderator should avoid calling upon people they know. They should enable diverse people to ask questions – if necessary, they can state that they are looking for diverse perspectives; encourage women, young people, people from specific sectors, ethnic backgrounds or different countries to raise their hands. They should make sure to use neutral language when pointing at members of the audience who want to ask a question.

Think Digital!

Digital tools are great enablers for a diversity of voices to be heard:

  • Why not try monitoring speakers’ time to raise awareness of the issue? Figures and statistics speak volumes! Check out tools like lookwhostalking.se (app that calculates automatically) or arementalkingtoomuch.com (webpage to manually track speaking time).
  • Why not increase engagement in your Q&A sessions by using tools like sli.do or miro to allow your audience to write down or pre-submit questions (including anonymously), to poll your audience live, or to do virtual brainstorming?

Dive into the toolkits

Male Ally

This toolkit aims to provide practical advice to men in how to be an ally to promote women’s voices as an individual, event participant, moderator and organiser.

Stepping forward

This toolkit provides tips and advice for women experts on stepping forward and being visible at events and media interviews.

Network Building

This toolkit provides practical advice strategic network building for women but also for women-led initiatives on how to build synergies and collaborations.


This toolkit is designed to help you think about diversity from all angles when you are organising a public debate, both online and offline.

Gender Balance

This toolkit provides practical advice at improving gender balance at conferences as well as countering excuses for manel debates.


This toolkit aims to provide practical advice to journalists on how to make the media more inclusive as well as provide tips to women experts on engaging with the press.

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