In our last V Awards Winners spotlight, we catch up with Gabrielle Austen-Browne, who was the well-deserved winner of our first Industry Change Maker Award – designed to honour and celebrate a stand-out individual who has been at the forefront of championing our industry externally or inspiring change within it.
Gabby is a diversity and inclusion expert delivering consultancy, education and training to the events and hospitality sectors in her role as founder of Diversity Alliance (and formerly Diversity Ally).
She is also co-founder of Diverse Speaker Bureau, dedicated to nurturing and elevating the voices of people from underrepresented groups and supporting businesses and organisations to diversify their speaker panels at events, a DEI committee member at Eventwell, an ambassador for the Fast Forward 15 mentorship programme, and part of the working group for the REACH Scholarship programme, supporting Black, Asian and Ethnic Minority events management students.
One of our awards judges described Gabby as a “a force within the industry” who is making leaders think about DEI.
How does it feel to have won this award?
It was a complete shock. It felt great just to be nominated, especially when I found out that the nomination came from agency leaders and I was up against people who are doing amazing things for the industry like Fay Sharpe with her Fast Forward 15 mentoring programme, and Rick Stainton with One Industry One Voice and now The Power of Events. I certainly didn’t expect to win, and sadly couldn’t make the ceremony but I was very pleased and excited when I found out.
It’s also amazing to be able to validate the work I am doing. With DEI, it’s quite a long and slow-moving journey, so it’s sometimes hard to see the impact I have made as an individual. Winning this award has has galvanised me to keep going and reinforces that I am doing the right thing.
Have you noticed a change in the events industry when it comes to DEI – is it on more leaders’ agendas now?
It’s on the agenda now, and I think that is where it is staying. Whilst there is more consciousness and awareness of DEI, many people still aren’t quite sure what to do. Some businesses totally get it and run with it, while others are tentatively dipping their toes in, and others are still not engaging at all.
I have been doing lots of consultancy and workshops with agencies and businesses. But I have realised that if I am trying to be inclusive and accessible to the whole industry, I need to look at how individuals, freelancers or smaller companies can get access to DEI training and education. So, I am working on a training course for those smaller companies to make it accessible for them too. I feel that if everyone has access to this information, we can move a bit quicker.
Steps have been made in the industry over the past couple of years, and hopefully what I have been delivering, along with the new training courses, is going to push the needle a bit more.
Are there similarities between the sustainability and DEI movements?
There definitely are many similarities although sustainability efforts are progressing faster. I often use the comparison with sustainability as an example when people say they don’t know how to address DEI. The strategies for DEI are similar to the strategies for sustainability, though the actions may be different because DEI is all about people.
I think that’s partly why people find it so challenging, because everyone is so different, and people are not predictable. With sustainability, it all feels very logical and practical, but DEI can be practical too, which is the message I am trying to get across. You address where your challenges are, think about the practical steps you need to take, and then set some goals for your first year, for example it could be changing your recruitment practice.
I am trying to help people understand that it needn’t be this huge project, which alongside sustainability can feel like another big thing to think about. but can be broken down into practical steps and managed alongside your sustainability strategy. DEI is still behind but I am hoping it can ride the sustainability wave.
What are your priorities for the next year?
I would like to build the alliance into more of a community – so that it’s not just me saying to the industry ‘you should be doing this’, it’s saying ‘as an industry, what can we be doing about DEI and how can we support each other to do this’. I am happy to be the guide, but my focus will continue to be consultancy and training because that’s the bread and butter. However, I am considering ways to broaden industry support for Diversity Alliance, potentially through a membership piece, so people can join and get access to resources, DEI training and education, roundtable and community events and more. This is the kind of approach I would like to take in future to empower the community around the DEI movement.