Women at the Helm: Talking Diversity and Inclusion With Events Together Founder & CEO Meena Chander

July 8, 2024

What do you do when you hit an advancement wall at your job, finding yourself having to fight for your next opportunity or promotion, with nowhere to progress or develop yourself further as an events professional? You start your own company like Meena Chander, founder and CEO of Events Together, Milton Keynes, U.K.-based event design and management company that organizes corporate events, exhibitions, incentives, awards galas, and more.

“[After working] for an organization for 10 years…I was made redundant and decided to set up Events Together––the name deriving from the fact that events are about bringing people together and working together with a diverse team to create an event­­­––and offered my services as a consultant to various organizations,” Chander said. “I get involved with large-scale international exhibitions consulting for other event organizers who need a senior operations professional to help them on a particular project, but I also produce my own events.”

Boasting a 20-year track record of running and managing successful corporate events and exhibitions within the automotive, pharmaceutical, government, defense, consumer packaged goods and global banking sectors, it’s no mystery why large global event organizations seek out Chander’s consulting services. 

As a woman of color who has experienced her fair share of prejudice in the workplace, her passion for diversity and inclusion (D&I) led her to launch her own events: the D & I Conference & Awards – This Is Us, focused on celebrating and advancing D&I in the workplace, and the annual MK STEM Awards, honoring excellence in science, technology, engineering and mathematics in Milton Keynes, one of the U.K.’s leading STEM cities.

We had a chance to catch up with this compassionate and driven events professional to learn about her journey into the industry, the challenges she has faced as a woman of color, and how event organizations can further gender and racial D&I so everyone has a chance to contribute, progress and thrive in the meetings and events industry.

When and how did you get into the meetings and events industry, what drew you to it, and what do you like most about it?

I studied travel and tourism (in those days there wasn’t an events degree) and then started managing small meetings for a pharmaceutical client and worked my way up working for other more dedicated events agencies and organizers. Fifteen years into my career, I embarked on a master’s degree, which gave me more confidence and the strategic knowledge to further develop myself. My passion is bringing people together, so events are a perfect opportunity to do that. 

Why is diversity, equity and inclusion important to you and why should more meeting and event professionals support this important movement in our industry?

Many of us identify as more than one characteristic, so we are intersectional. Meeting and working with a diverse group of people brings diverse thoughts to the table and helps you see things from a different perspective, which contributes to the success of a project or event.  

Are you seeing any backlash against DEI in the UK as we are in some areas of the U.S., and if so, why do you think that is?

Sadly, there seems to be a lot of homophobic behavior and it’s sad to see that the UK is going 10 steps back rather than forward. I think it’s fear ­– fear of what they don’t know or don’t understand rather than embracing it and making a conscious effort to learn. 

What are the best ways that event organizations can navigate any pushback against DEI initiatives? 

I’d be surprised to learn of any event organization receiving pushback in DEI efforts or initiatives in the workplace or especially at events. However, should they be faced with this then I would suggest they stand their ground and educate employees and delegates and show that embracing DEI is the right thing to do and explain that supporting DEI in the workplace or at events makes them a much better place to be (although, it shouldn’t be a tick box exercise or lip service). Education is key. Visibility is key. Evidence is key. 

In your experience, what are the challenges of not only being a woman but also a woman of color in the meetings and events industry?

I have personally experienced unfairness, compared to other women who were a lot less experienced than I was and who were not women of color, during my career. I think it also depends on the geographical location and type of organization. Those organizations based in London are much more open and welcoming to people of diverse backgrounds due to the communities that live in London, and the types of events that they organize, globally, than those in more rural locations. 

What can the global meetings and events industry do to help create more gender (and racial) parity in the C-suite? 

There are more working groups and societies that encourage and support women in the events industry, so that’s a positive step. 

Openly and consciously giving women and women of different heritages the opportunities and experience to work on challenging projects, enabling them to progress their career to C-suite level, is paramount, so they can prove themselves but also giving them the correct level of training and support and a clear development plan. 

D&I is not only about race and gender; it’s about creating opportunities for everyone who comes from an underrepresented group, be it heritage, age, gender, sexuality, disability, etc. It is also important to bring that diversity or being inclusive as much as possible in the events that a company organizes. A lot of things should be “standard,” such as catering for all dietary needs, choosing a venue that has good accessibility within the building but making it easy for people to reach the venue, affordable ticket prices, and technology for those who require additional support, just to name a few.

Sadly, all this comes with a high cost and there should be a conscious effort to reduce such costs across the whole supply chain – it shouldn’t be the sole responsibility of the event organizer to absorb all the additional costs. Everyone is responsible for making events inclusive and that’s everyone across the whole supply chain.

Know a dynamic female event industry leader who deserves some time in the spotlight? Please reach out to lisa.savas@informa.com and danica.tormohlen@informa.com.

 

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