The Easy Way To Diversify The Speakers On Your Conference Stage – Ask Them

There’s a discussion on social media (e.g., on Twitter) about the lack of diversity of speakers at Christian conferences. Writers like Helen Lee are attempting to explain to conference organizers why diversity is important.

Helen LeeThis most recent conference featured the tagline “World Renowned Speakers That Will Help You See Life Differently.” But how would such a lineup do so if it is essentially a homogeneous group? If the goal is to help attendees see their lives differently, then would it not make sense to actually invite people whose experiences naturally reflect perspectives and life journeys different from most of those in the audience? …

The reality is that those in the dominant culture need voices from the margins way more than people of color need to experience voices from the majority culture, because we already do, all the time.

One organizer of the conference Helen mentioned responded to these concerns by saying that they asked a number of non-white people but everyone was busy. Every single one.

Ask, and Keep Asking if Necessary

My state’s judges’ association had it’s annual conference last month. I was on the planning committee and organized two of the sessions for the weekend.

One session concerned the Magna Carta, commemorating its 800th year. I and another judge presented the class, bringing in historical trivia and present day influences throughout the world. Now it’s clear that I’m a white guy, as are the majority of judges in California, and I was one of the speakers for that session. How hard would it be to diversify the stage with a person of color?

Not hard at all. I called a judge in a neighboring county and asked her if she’d be a co-presenter and she said yes. That’s how the stage for the session came to be occupied by me and an Anglo-African judge – she’s now an American citizen but was born in England to parents from Nigeria. She’d also been a British barrister before coming to the States and, among all the judges in my state, had a unique perspective to contribute to the class.

The second session I was responsible for concerned social media and judicial ethics. The two judges I asked to present that class for the conference are recognized experts in judicial ethics. One is a white guy, as the judicial demographics of this state might suggest would be likely. But how hard would it be to diversify the stage again?

Not hard at all. The other judge is an Asian-American woman who chairs our state’s commission on judicial ethics, and all it took was one email asking her to participate and she said yes. They did a great job.

So why is it that some Christian conference organizers say they can’t find people of color – and sometimes any women at all – to share their stage? Are we to believe that they have asked everyone qualified and not a single person is free that weekend? I hate to say it, but there might not be as much effort being put into the search for speakers as one would hope.

I’m glad Jesus puts in the effort to include everyone, though. In heaven they sing:

You are worthy to take the scroll
    and to open its seals,
because you were slain,
    and with your blood you purchased for God
    persons from every tribe and language and people and nation. (Revelation 5:9.)

Jesus gave his life to bring women and men from all over into the kingdom of God. I bet these organizers can make a few more phone calls until they’re able to do the same for their conference line-ups.


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7 Responses to The Easy Way To Diversify The Speakers On Your Conference Stage – Ask Them

  1. Pastor Bob says:

    I found this from some cultural ventures:
    There will always be some who have no interest in the topic presented, or they might have no desire to share, or they might have insufficient knowledge on the topic.
    Time? perhaps an excuse to simply say NO.
    The other conferences, hard to really compare to your experience. We can try, we can ask, we can do everything possible, but it looks like we need to go deeper. Why do we seek diversity? Further questions and answers are for personal reflection.

    p.s. all excuse cut across ALL cultural lines.

    • Tim says:

      I think inviting people to speak always includes the option for that person to say no. But a conference that uses the excuse “We tried but everyone was busy” is a little bit weird to me. Everyone?

      • Jeannie says:

        I think “everyone” probably translates into “the few well-known ‘diverse’ people that we’ve heard of and that we think would draw people to our event.” It’s so much about profile and platform — conference organizers may be casting into quite a shallow pool of bigger-name people and may be unaware of others out there who are lesser-known but are equally gifted and worth hearing. That’s something that needs to change and needs to be done with intentionality; it won’t just “happen.”

        • Tim says:

          I think so too. If the #speakersofcolor lists are in front of the conference organizers, how much of the conversation will be on whether the person will sell tickets versus whether the person has wisdom and insight to benefit the ticket buyers? I hope it’s not much of the former and a lot of the latter.

  2. Bev Murrill says:

    I agree with Jeannie as well.

    I have been a conference speaker for 30 years and find that there are some conferences that just don’t want someone like me… and I’m white! Heaven help those who are not … errrr… white! It’s tough to not be asked to be on the platform because you’re a woman, and tough also to be asked to be the token woman… and that’s without all the issues of racial diversity that need to be addressed.

    God help us. When will we get our act together and just ask the good people, whoever they may be, and if they say no, then ask another one… it’s very tiring.

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