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Case study: Bringing diversity and inclusion initiatives to IMEX in Frankfurt

Published 25th October 2019

case study

The IMEX Group’s organising principle is “the family table”, a place where everyone is welcome to pull up a chair and bring their true selves to the conversation. While this concept is well established in our everyday workplace, we wanted to ensure it was reflected in our events too. Diversity and inclusion are a top priority for us, but we acknowledge that there is always more we can do to increase awareness and act on our beliefs. We’re learning and encouraging others to join us by sharing our findings in MPI The Netherlands’ white paper, Diversity and inclusion: Changing the game of leadership. You can download the full resource for free here.

The IMEX Diversity and Inclusion ‘squad’ was established in the Autumn of 2018. It comprises of representatives from across all departments with an interest in making the IMEX office and our IMEX tradeshows as inclusive as possible. We developed a set of goals which were divided into short-term, long-term, or ongoing projects, focussing primarily on those we could achieve in time for IMEX in Frankfurt 2019.

This case study will outline the four main initiatives we focussed on during this period:

  • Producing a code of conduct
  • Creating a gender-neutral bathroom
  • Representing the diversity of the show in our visual marketing
  • Developing an inclusive language guide

Producing a code of conduct

We chose to implement a code of conduct because it’s important to be clear on the behaviour we expect from anyone at our show, whether they’re attendees, speakers, sponsors, exhibitors, or staff. We began by researching various codes of conduct already in existence, then using these as inspiration for our own and adapting the language so that it suits our events and tone of voice. This was given the seal of approval by our CEO, Carina Bauer, and then published on our website.

The challenge was to make our attendees aware of the code of conduct. We wanted them to know that certain behaviours were not acceptable at our show and that there were consequences to inappropriate conduct.

To overcome this, we provided a link to the code of conduct in our ‘badge emails’, as these reach all attendee types before they come to the show. We also showcased it on posters around the exhibition halls in high traffic areas. However, the most effective method for increasing the visibility of the code of conduct was through printed stickers placed on registration and information counters across the show. People who used these services had the code of conduct right in their eyeline.

Creating a gender-neutral bathroom

Transgender and non-binary people can feel alienated when they are forced to categorise themselves in binary terms they may not identify with. Going to the bathroom is an example of just one everyday situation that excludes this group of people. Inspired by multiple venues in our home town of Brighton, UK, we wanted to create safe spaces for attendees who don’t identify with the terms “male or female”. We aimed to create a gender-neutral bathroom at our show and produce signage for the male and female bathrooms that indicated “please use the toilet of the gender you identify with”.

While the signage was a success, being placed in around 80% of the bathrooms, unfortunately the gender-neutral bathroom faced complications. Due to a miscommunication across the English and German languages, what we believed was a gender-neutral bathroom was actually a bathroom block with male and female toilet cubicles, meaning a gender-neutral bathroom wasn’t present. This highlighted some complications that can arise when communicating across different languages to implement inclusivity initiatives. We are even more determined to take this forward next year, hopefully with success.

Representing the diversity of the show in our visual marketing

IMEX is an incredibly diverse show and we want our marketing to reflect that. With only one chance to get the photography we need to market future shows, we had to make sure the images coming from the photo and video teams were what we needed. Unconscious bias can often be to blame for images that don’t represent the range of ages, genders, ethnicities and abilities that surrounds us, therefore it’s important to familiarise our external team with the IMEX brand by giving detailed briefs each day of the event.

Members of the marketing team checked in regularly with what photos were being captured to make sure everything was on track. Now, we have an archive of photographs that truly represent the people that come to our show, available for us to use in future marketing to hopefully demonstrate that IMEX is open to everyone.

Developing an inclusive language guide

Language is constantly evolving, which means not everyone is up-to-date with terms that can cause offense or unknowingly create an exclusive environment. To make sure our staff is equipped with the knowledge they need we developed an inclusive language guide. This is a working document that will be reviewed once a year to ensure the terms listed are still acceptable. This guide will not only be given to our permanent staff, but anyone also who may come into contact with attendees at the show, such as our event support staff.

While the goal was to have this guide ready to roll out before IMEX in Frankfurt, the research and approval process took much longer. The closer it got to the show, the less time people had to read it, so we made the decision to postpone it until after the show. However, this guide will be available to staff before IMEX America in September 2019.


The biggest success at IMEX in Frankfurt was the implementation and promotion of our code of conduct. Having it in place gave all attendees a guide on which to base their behaviour, and empowered the IMEX team to stand up against unacceptable behaviour at our shows. We were also very happy with the visual content captured at the show, and will continue using the process which helped ensure the diversity of the show is reflected in our imagery.

While the Diversity and Inclusion squad will be working on even more projects in the coming year to make IMEX a more inclusive environment, we are particularly keen to see a gender-neutral bathroom at our show. Now that we understand areas of miscommunication we can hopefully progress further with this next time. We’re also excited to see our inclusive language guide in action in the office and at the show.

In between our shows, we look forward to focussing on making the IMEX office an even more inclusive place. We hope for all staff to receive unconscious bias training, to have a diverse range of speakers joining us for First Friday (our monthly office social) and to work on the accessibility of our office for all people.

If you’d like to learn more about diversity and inclusion in the meetings and events industry, download the full white paper from MPI The Netherlands here.