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How You Can Support the Asian Event Community Right Now

Top event professionals discuss what we should be doing today—and in the future—to ensure a more diverse, equitable industry for marginalized communities.

(Clockwise from top left): Elle Chan, Jason Rhee, Candice Chan, Thuy Diep, Amanda Ma
(Clockwise from top left): Elle Chan, Jason Rhee, Candice Chan, Thuy Diep, Amanda Ma
Photos: Courtesy of Subjects

There’s no doubt that hate crimes against the Asian community have grown exponentially during the COVID-19 pandemic; in fact, Stop AAPI Hate, a nonprofit organization that tracks incidents of hate and discrimination against Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders in the United States, reported almost 3,800 incidents from March 19, 2020, to Feb. 28, 2021. (The organization adds that this likely represents only a fraction of the actual number.)

And once again, the event and hospitality industries are reckoning with their own questions about diversity and equity, calling on brands and event hosts to diversify their vendor teams, speakers and attendee lists to more accurately reflect the communities they serve. 

Here, we spoke to five top event professionals in the United States and Canada about what the event industry should be doing right now.

Candice Chan Candice And Alison May 13 201911848 Copy BPhoto: Courtesy of Candice ChanCandice Chan
Chan and her partner Alison Slight founded CANDICE&ALISON in 2009, designing and producing experiences ranging from live and virtual events to immersive environments. The Toronto-based team specializes in brand activations, custom pop-up shops and theatrical environments, and has worked with brands like YSL, BMW, Dom Perignon and Oprah Winfrey. She also just landed a spot on 2021's The BizBash 250 list! 

What you should do right now: I think the best way to support any marginalized community is to consciously, actively and authentically commit to making diversity and inclusiveness a priority in all aspects of our lives—not only personally but professionally as members of the events industry. In my experience, this could mean anything as immediate as ensuring diverse representation in your guest-facing brand ambassadors or doing the research to hire the best-suited Asian chef if you’re going to be serving Asian cuisine, for example.

Then for the long term, consider and value diversity as a business strength when putting together your team of decision-makers and designers. Having diversity and inclusiveness as part of your company’s core values not only ensures your relevance with the future of global markets, but more importantly, it’s the only sustainable way to create any real change—and in turn, offer effective support.

Why racial diversity is crucial: I remember I was in a meeting with a client discussing how to best showcase a brand’s ad campaigns at their upcoming event. All the images they wanted to use had no diversity, and as the only person of color (and female) in the room, I spoke up. Since the target market (our guests) were women of all different ethnic backgrounds, I didn’t think they were going to feel represented once they attended the event—and as a result, would not feel connected to the brand or the product. I think as an event professional, yes, we work for our client’s best interest—but the client’s best interest is the satisfaction of their guests, which we have to have the ability to empathize with. The more diverse we strive to be as planners, the larger number of guests we’re able to make happy.

Jason RheePhoto: Courtesy of Jason RheeJason Rhee
Rhee is the owner and director of celebrations for Rheefined Company, a West Hollywood, Calif.-based event firm specializing in weddings, fundraisers, corporate events, product launches and more. He has more than a decade of experience in customer service, venue management and full-service wedding and event planning and production.

What you should do right now: The event industry needs to start with acknowledgment—that you not only know about the news of hate and racism against our community and any other communities impacted by racial injustice, but that you are willing to fight against it. The meme-sharing is just the bare minimum. Supporting Asian and Black businesses is a start, but we don't just want support or one-time charity—we need active and conscious effort towards equity and inclusion. We need help. We want to know that if you witness discrimination, we can depend on you to speak up, call it out, especially when we can't, or when we try to and are silenced and ignored.

I understand that not every person is starting in the same place of knowledge, comfort or awareness of race issues, but you have to start somewhere. If you can post about a new puppy, fitness challenges, a new home remodel or a throwback to an event you did in 2019, yet still choose to be silent or inactive because your social media is just for "work," you are doing way more harm than good. And yeah, we all would love to go back to work—but let's start to value the souls of businesses just as much as the sales so we can actually be that "community.”

Why racial diversity is crucial: Diversity in any industry makes it stronger because it is an actual reflection of the population and the community we are serving. Representation is vital to do so. We truly can’t work toward diversity and inclusion without equity. There are so many powerhouses in our industry who have chosen to be silent, and it’s noticed. To make our event industry stronger, let’s begin to normalize speaking out against hate, racism and violence.

Thuy Headshot 2021Photo: Courtesy of Thuy DiepThuy Diep
Diep is the senior experience designer of Austin-based marketing and creative firm Haute Rock Creative. As a refugee, she is also a believer in giving back to the community by serving on the International Board of Directors for SEARCH Foundation, is currently the president of the Los Angeles chapter of ILEA and is a co-host of the Event Brew Podcast. 

What you should do right now: The event industry can best support the Asian community right now by simply making the first step in awareness. To be engaged in educating ourselves on the racial injustice happening now, provide a safe environment to hold those uncomfortable (yet vital) conversations with an open mindset, and be intentional in our actions in supporting racially diverse companies and colleagues all stems from being mindful. The Asian community is a part of our community as a whole, and to provide opportunities for collaboration is a win-win solution for all. From a human level, we all seek genuine connections and to be accepted as our authentic selves—your statement of support would greatly help reinforce that belief when followed by a shift in change and positive actions moving forward.

Why racial diversity is crucial: Racial diversity makes the event industry stronger as a whole because it showcases representation that’ll inspire our future generation of #EventProfs. Our community is full of creative, unique event professionals from all backgrounds—to learn their stories and be involved in lifting everyone’s voices can only positively enhance our experience. When I was a young professional starting my event career, it was discouraging not to see many colleagues that I could relate to—that looked like me—especially in leadership positions. Subconsciously, I instantly felt limited, and that moment was the catalyst in my journey to being that representation for our young professionals now. When you include diverse characters into the storyline, the adventure is much more meaningful and can truly impact our industry for the better—together.

Elle Chan Headshot2020[1]Photo: Courtesy of Elle ChanElle Chan
Chan is the founder and co-CEO of Trademark Event Productions, a full-service experiential marketing agency based in New York and San Francisco. In her 24 years at the company, she’s worked on everything from massive fundraising galas to social responsibility programs to marketing tours and conferences for clients including Charity: Water, Slack, Google and Lacoste. 

What you should do right now: At Trademark, we’ve committed to equality, diversity and inclusion by contracting with Asian-owned vendors and staffing our events with strong teams that include a diverse crew. Asians and minority representation in the event industry can be supported also by offering training and internship programs to give underrepresented groups the hands-on experience they need in creative and technical areas of the industry.

As the founder and co-CEO of Trademark, I have been proud to lead meetings with C-level executives from our client companies who are also Asian American women. There’s a connection of experience, especially in the tech industry, which is often cited for its lack of ethnic and gender diversity. Our clients acknowledge and value how our company leads by example. 

Bringing familiar faces to screens of all sizes is also an important way to support the Asian community. On our virtual and live events, we work closely with our clients on all of their content from concept to screen and stage. We select guest keynote speakers, thought leaders and industry experts, and manage their time onstage. We can bring more faces of diversity to the forefront, and also drive the conversation to address issues that impact our society. 

Why racial diversity is crucial: Racial diversity makes sense in the events industry because it reflects the world we live in. Events exist to express and connect a brand to its community, so it follows that if the brand is diverse, and its community is diverse, then the event company should be, too. Event producers are the interpreters of how to translate brand into experiences, and our teams need to be like the United Nations of translators! The Bay Area, where we have our largest team, has a very large and diverse Asian community—but that doesn’t mean that other geo regions are off the hook for reflecting Asian or POC voices. 

Recently, I was on a video shoot that took me back 30 years—I was the only female on set! I wrote to all our AV teams—a historically male-dominated profession—to let them know this isn’t OK, and to request their plan for rectifying this. Each of the teams acknowledged the emails and provided the on-ramp to diversity. We can be the agents of change if we work hard at it and make our voices heard.

Amanda Ma HeadshotPhoto: Courtesy of Amanda MaAmanda Ma
Ma is the founder and CEO of Innovate Marketing Group, a Pasadena, Calif.-based full-service live and virtual event production agency that specializes in branded experiences. Born in Taiwan and raised in Los Angeles, Ma has been in the industry for more than 16 years and has produced events and activations for the likes of Toyota, Marriott and TikTok. 

What you should do right now: Showing support through a statement of support is the first step. Set the benchmark for real actions and share that publicly. Create a zero-tolerance, nondiscrimination policy for your company, event, etc. Share this policy on your websites, beyond just posting a statement on your social media. That is a start, but it’s the action you take after that can make an impact. Show initiative, and put diversity practices and KPIs in place.

Representation comes from a wide range of ages, genders, races, ethnicities and sexual orientations being treated equally. Spark conversations about this, and be the driver of this change. It's crucial to show our support as an industry and take a stand against hate of any kind.

In addition to hiring diverse suppliers and hosting diverse topics, [industries can also] offer their support by donating or providing grants to organizations that champion change. Work to rectify the racial inequalities in our society. Here are some, for reference:

Why racial diversity is crucial: It is in all of our best interests to work for industries that have a team of people who represent the way the world looks. It is only then that we will be able to bring in thoughts that we’ve previously misrepresented or generalized. A diverse industry means we will be able to create events that people really want to come to. 

The need for increased representation and support for all cultures and backgrounds is needed now more than ever, and benefits both the people and the company. Studies show that diverse teams are 1) 33% more likely to generate better-than-average profits, 2) 70% more likely to capture new markets and 3) generate 19% more revenue from innovation than companies with below-average leadership diversity.

More Resources
To donate:
Centralized information on the #StopAsianHate movement
The Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund
AAPI Community Fund
Asian Americans Advancing Justice

To educate yourself:
Southern Poverty Law Center's guide on how to respond to COVID-19-related racism
Free bystander intervention training with Hollaback! and Asian Americans Advancing Justice

To report a hate crime: 
Stop AAPI Hate's reporting center
FBI's tip line

To raise awareness:
Sheila Wong, senior vice president of Toronto-based event staffing company BBW International and president of PCMA Canada East, has co-founded the Asian Gold Ribbon campaign, which was developed to create widespread visibility of anti-Asian racism across Canada and around the globe. In addition to community outreach and fund-raising, the campaign will host Asian Gold Ribbon Day on May 20, where Asians and non-Asians alike are invited to adorn facemasks and gold ribbons to signify hope, unity and solitary. Click here for more information. 

What other resources should we know about? Email us and let us know. 

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