How to Diversify Your Speakers

Attendees don't want to hear only from straight, white men

The world is full of variety. So why do event so often feature speakers and panelists that are consistently just straight, white and male? 

When Omar Johnson took over marketing for Beats by Dre, he decided to shake things up to get fresh ideas and reach new markets. He did this by creating a flat organization style where anyone could contribute ideas, curating a diverse team of people — that represented the world.

"Our team [was] roughly 55 percent female. Black, white, Asian, Hispanic, purple hair, blue hair, pink hair, no hair tattoos...if you walk in any major city and you picked a random 100 people, they would look like my team," says Johnson.

And we all know the result of Johnson's diverse approach: Beats became a billion-dollar international brand made even more famous by all the athletes and celebrities who sported the brand in public — without being paid.

At Domopalooza 2018, Johnson suggested businesses should get rid of the "manel" (panels of all white, straight men). According to Johnson, most companies have "a group of 40-year-old guys in a room making decisions." But if you want to have the explosive success of Beats, you need to break up the old school fraternity and bring in more people who look like the real world — outside of private colleges.

Here are few tips to help create a diverse panel. 

Make your planning committee diverse 
Panels tend to mirror the teams that create them. When you have all white men picking a panel, the panel tends to be all white men. But when you add diverse people to the planning committee, the panel will start to represent a more global view.

Provide travel funds and child care
A big part of breaking up the manel is including parents from all backgrounds and ethnicities. By providing child care and travel expenses, you are creating the flexibility needed for mothers and fathers alike to attend your event. 

Ask diverse people because they are experts
Ask people to be on your panel because of their expertise and point-of-view, not just because they are women, people of color, members of LGBTQ community or Indigenous people. If you have singled these people out, it should be because of their expertise in their fields and their work has caught your eye. So treat them like experts. 

Don't exploit your inclusivity 
Remember, your diverse panel is not a charitable act. It's about getting the best ideas possible. You do not deserve a trophy for adding diversity to the group. 

To help you find a diverse group of individuals across many industries, check out "Plz Diversify Your Panel" for a list of speakers who refuse to sit on an exclusively white, straight male panel. 

Ken Sterling is the executive vice president and chief marketing officer at BigSpeak Speakers Bureau, the leading keynote and business speakers bureau in the world. He holds a Ph.D. from the University of California and an MBA from Babson College. Ken teaches Entrepreneurship, Marketing and Strategy at UC Santa Barbara. He is a serial entrepreneur, keynote speaker, business consultant, and sales and marketing expert. For press interviews, contact