This Is Why The Guest List For Your Next Event Is So Important

Thoughtful planning goes a long way.


The Huffington Post tweaked The New York Times‘ Dealbook conference just a bit on the issue of diversity, pointing out that women and people of color were few and far between among the special guests.

“The theme of the conference, hosted by the paper’s finance and deal reporting site, was ‘Taking Stock of the Future: Rebuilding the Economy, Growth and Trust,'” writes the site. “Despite focusing on the future, the cast on stage looked a lot like the distant past.”

But actually, the story points out later, the conference beat big business stats:

The conference did manage to improve on corporate America’s standards of inclusion. Reuters reports that women account for 4 percent of CEOs at Fortune 500 companies, and a 2012 McKinsey study found that women make up only 14 percent of executive committees on corporate boards in the Fortune 500. The Center for American Progress found that a similarly tiny fraction of Fortune 500 CEOs, 4.2 percent, was made up of people of color.

The story demonstrates the importance of being thoughtful about the events you and your clients are hosting, making sure that any panels or VIP lists really reflect the audience in attendance, the industry and the population at large.

According to HuffPo, four of 20 guests at the conference were people of color: Jessica Alba, the co-founder of Honest Company who is Hispanic, her business partner Brian Lee who’s Korean American, CEO of American Express Ken Chenault who’s African American, and Hosain Rahman, co-founder and CEO of Jawbone who’s Pakistani American.

Alba, GM’s CEO Mary Barra and Securities and Exchange Commission Chairwoman Mary Jo White were repping for women.

Stephanie Yera, a spokesperson for the Times said this to HuffPo:

“Our DealBook conference is inclusive of innovators in business, finance, investment, retail, sports, media and tech, among other industries. We aimed to provide our audience with a diverse group of leaders, which included the first female C.E.O. of a major automaker, the first woman to be U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York and our current chair of the S.E.C., and an entrepreneur who has found success as both an actress and a founder of a billion-dollar company.”

Irrespective of what you think about the make up of the conference, it’s clear from that statement that there was a good deal of thought put into the who’s who of this conference. They went, not just for people with impressive resumes, but people who represent the direction that business and policy is going in. A variety of backgrounds are showcased here (made even more diverse when you consider that government, entertainment, technology and other areas are also highlighted) and you get a good sense of where business leadership is going.

This is the sort of advanced thinking that also needs to be put into every guest list. Rather than grabbing at the names that you hear all the time, consider what your event is trying to accomplish, why you’re hosting it and who will speak to the mission of the event. The more points of view you have represented, the more attendees will get out of it, and the greater your success will be in the end.