“Why am I the only brown person in the room?” I often ask myself this question.
Every week, I speak at conferences and events. Sometimes, I’m startled by the lack of diversity on stage.
Am I glad to be there? Of course. But it’s baffling that I’m one of New Zealand’s only professional speakers from an Asian background.
Kiwis enjoy celebrating diversity. However, many of our awesome events do not reflect this in a meaningful way.
If you're hosting an event, here are six simple tips:
- Representation matters. If you want to attract staff and customers from a wide range of backgrounds, they need to see themselves represented on stage. Ask: “Does our event reflect the future of New Zealand – and the role we want to play in it?”
- Avoid ticking the box. While diversity counts, there’s no point booking a speaker who isn’t the best fit for your event. Your audience is smart. They know when you’re simply trying to meet a quota. Make sure each speaker can add value.
- Build your network. Don’t pick the first speaker who pops into your head. Get creative. Cultivate a wide network of speakers and panellists from different ethnicities, genders, ages and backgrounds. Many incredible voices are just waiting to be discovered.
- Not all “diverse” people think the same as each other. While I’m proud to be a Sri Lankan Kiwi, I can’t speak on behalf of all ethnic communities. My ethnicity is just one part of my identity. Every speaker is unique, so give us space to be ourselves.
- Recognise the cost. Many people from diverse backgrounds have experienced trauma, racism, sexism, unconscious bias or social exclusion. Telling these stories on stage is tough – but we do it because it matters. Sometimes, we need a little encouragement.
- Think beyond “awareness” days. It’s great to bring in a speaker for Race Relations Day or International Women’s Day. But these calendar events can feel obligatory. Explore how you can share fresh perspectives with your people at different times of the year.
I'm grateful to contribute to important conversations across Aotearoa – about wellbeing, leadership and diversity. It’s a privilege to work with incredible event organisers who want to challenge and inspire their audiences.
When magic happens on stage, there’s no better feeling.