Businesses across the country are acutely aware of the need to improve their diversity and inclusion. From the boardroom table to staff celebrations, email signatures to salutations, talent attraction to encouraging the next generation to enter the industry – the defaults of old are being reviewed with fresh eyes, greater awareness and a desire to do better.
However, many of these incremental changes can be largely internally facing. Gatherings, events, conferences seem to have stalled in their embracing of culture. The obligatory opening welcome in Māori first, then in English is no longer enough. So how do you authentically weave culture into events?
A true understanding of the make-up of your organisation, industry and the event’s audience – in terms of ethnicity, age, identification, location – is vital to ensuring relevance when designing your event. Auckland is home to over 200 ethnic groups and is considered more diverse than London or Sydney; there is so much opportunity to mean more to more people by embracing more cultures and with greater depth. If 30% of your staff are Samoan, at least add Talofa lava to your welcome; if you have guests attending who have a hearing impairment, a sign language translator on stage is an important addition.
Seeking advice directly from those who represent the culture you wish to highlight is imperative. Embarrassment from “not knowing” often holds us back from asking but experience suggests anyone who is passionate about their culture loves the opportunity to educate. Advice internally from those that represent the relevant groups is a great place to start, or local Iwi, cultural groups, or stakeholders can also give direction on what is or isn’t appropriate. When we worked with Foodstuffs on the recent opening of their new facilities at Landing Drive, staff members, local MP’s and even supermarket owners were engaged for their advice on event inclusions.
Look also to the community in which you operate. Relationships you have with schools or community groups, charitable organisations or community elders can often provide cultural advice and the authenticity of your relationship tends to deliver the best outcome. Encourage them to brainstorm with you on the best ways in which to weave their culture through your event.
Cultural integration in events seems to be ringfenced to welcome speeches, waiata and haka performances. This is a good start, but we need to get better at identifying the opportunities beyond the formalities. Start by asking your advisors not for the translation you need, but what customs or traditions they think could resonate with your audience. A blessing before a meal, gift giving, menu inclusions, who should speak first; there are so many components to an event and defaulting to a welcome is severely under valuing the opportunity.
Authenticity comes from a place of respect and is developed by engagement. Guide your decisions by these and seek to grow the cultural components of your event and no one will be disappointed they have not been included.