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Episode 72 / September 11, 2023

Debunking diversity and inclusion myths in the events industry with Mita Mallick

Mita Mallick talks about the power event professionals and attendees have in building inclusive and diverse event experiences and debunks common DE&I myths. 

In this episode, we talk with Mita Mallick about how her own event experiences inspired her to write a book debunking diversity and inclusion myths.

Mallick is head of inclusion, equity, and impact at Carta and previously led diversity & inclusion and cross-cultural marketing at Unilever. Her inclusive culture-building efforts led to Unilever’s gender-balanced management and recognition as the #1 Company for Working Mothers in 2018 and #2 for Best Employers for Women in 2020. She also co-created a Cultural Immersions series, training more than 5,000 marketers on enhancing cultural competency.

Mallick is a champion of inclusivity and belonging in successful event experience design. In our conversation, she shares her positive and negative experiences at conferences and encourages event professionals and attendees to prioritize diversity and inclusion, use their power to influence event planning decisions, and advocate for diverse representation. 

Despite facing rejections and challenges in the publishing process, Mallick is determined to share her insights and experiences through her book, Reimagine Inclusion: Debunking 13 Myths to Transform Your Workplace

Here’s what you’ll hear about in this conversation: 

  • The challenges of achieving diversity and inclusion at conferences
  • The impact that a lack of representation and self-segregation can have on an event
  • The importance of selecting diverse panelists and creating inclusive environments
  • The impact of the small things, such as makeup and hair services, venue selection, and catering

Mentioned in This Episode

the guide to building a DE&I-driven event strategy


[00:00:00] Rachel Moore: Welcome to Event Experience by Bizzabo, the podcast where we bring the best and brightest event experience leaders together to share stories, tips, and lessons learned from creating some of the world’s. Biggest events. I’m Rachel Moore, your podcast host. This week we’re talking with Mita Mallek, Chief Diversity Officer of Carta.

In this conversation, Mita shares how her own experiences at events and conferences inspired her to author and publish a book designed to debunk 13 familiar myths about inclusion. If you are an event professional, you know that inclusivity and belonging are crucial to designing successful experiences.

So hang tight because we’re going to dig deep into how each of us can build more inclusive experiences for attendees, sponsors, event content, and the world around us.[00:01:00] 

First things first, please allow me to introduce today’s guest. She is a corporate change maker with a track record of transforming businesses. She has a passion for inclusive storytelling that has led her to become a Chief Diversity Officer, and her mission is to build end-to-end inclusion ecosystems across organizations of all sizes.

Without further ado, I’d love to welcome Mita Mallick to our microphones on this podcast. Mita, thank you so much for joining us today.

[00:01:33] Mita Mallick: Thank you for having me today. 

[00:01:35] Rachel Moore: Oh, it’s wonderful. I would love to let you have a moment to tell our audience and our listeners a bit more about yourself. 

[00:01:41] Mita Mallick: Currently, I’m the head of equity, inclusion and impact at Carta, we’re a FinTech, late stage startup, I think of ourselves as being the ally to the founder. We really help innovators create their financial infrastructure, and so we have lots of amazing clients, [00:02:00] customers, many of whom I’m sure are listening to the podcast today. And I also consider myself to be a business leader.

My superpower is writing and storytelling. And the most important job I have is being a mom to Priya, who is eight, going on 18. Jay, who is 10, going on 20, and so I’m busy with them and trying my best to raise kind and inclusive human beings. 

[00:02:27] Rachel Moore: You have something coming out later this year, let go ahead and tell us really quickly about that, because this is gonna help bring it full circle.

[00:02:34] Mita Mallick: I have a book coming out. It’s called Reimagine Inclusion: Debunking 13 Myths to Transform Your Workplace. It is available right now on Amazon for pre-order. Please go check it out. Right now, available in the US, Canada, and the UK working on the other markets, and I wrote this book because I wanted to say all the quiet parts out loud of what holds us back.

The stories, the myths we hold onto that really [00:03:00] prevent us from making meaningful progress in the workplace. 

[00:03:03] Rachel Moore: The themes that we’re kind of sticking with for this season of Event Experience by Bizzabo is kind of telling, asking people how they’re building things, you know, how, and whether it’s a, an event or an activation, or in your case we’re talking about a book that you are, you know, you’ve authored and published, but let’s, let’s go to the beginning of this.

[00:03:24] Mita Mallick: Yes. 

[00:03:25] Rachel Moore: So, you are in your book, you are debunking myths, which means, let’s follow that logically. That means you’ve probably been witness to myths or people who believe myths. And, I’d like to ask you, can you talk to us a little bit about things that you’ve witnessed at events or experienced yourself at events, that kind of tie into myths around inclusion?

[00:03:48] Mita Mallick: Let’s think about conferences that I’ve been to. That I’ve attended and I walk in and I’m the lonely only. I do the scan. I’m the only person of color here, or a very, very few number. And then later on the organizers might say something like in the aftermath, but we, we were intentional. We really tried to get diversity of representation at this conference. And then you ask the follow up question, okay, well what did that look like?

What did you do? We sent it to everybody we knew, everybody we knew, we sent it everywhere in our network!

[00:04:28] So one of the things I talk about about in Reimagine Inclusion is this idea of, we can say that we are putting forth the effort and being intentional, but at the end of the day, if our networks look like us, act like us, and think like us, then the hard truth that we have to face as a country is that we’re still self-segregating. And the research shows that over two-thirds of white Americans are still self-segregating. Similar numbers for black Americans. And so you sent this out to everybody you knew, but how diverse are your networks?

[00:05:00] What’s the diversity of representation? And so that I see often happen. I often see another big miss will be, there’s a panel of all white men. Where there’s a panel of all white women. How did that happen? And anytime I am asked to be on a panel, I will ask who else is on the panel? I have stepped out of panels respectfully, where there were five people on the panel and I and a moderator, and it’s 30 minutes.

I said, now you just have people up there just to say you have them up there, but even if people are being respectful, no one’s gonna get enough airtime. So I’m stepping out or you actually don’t need me. You have another South Asian woman on this panel. I’d like to see you bring in. A black panelist and I have recommendations.

And so that’s the work that it takes, right? To be intentional and ask these questions. 

[00:05:54] Rachel Moore: I appreciate so many things you said there. I think all of us have experienced this. How receptive are event planners to [00:06:00] you when you do give them the feedback of either saying, I don’t think you have enough diversity or inclusion, you know enough backgrounds on this panel or at your event, can I recommend people? How do they, 

[00:06:11] Mita Mallick: Well, let me tell you, you all are in the event business. You’re all in the experience business. Money talks, you’re a sponsor. Anyone who’s listening, you’re writing a check. I don’t care how big or small, you’re writing a check. You pay, you play.

So you can ask these questions. I’m writing a check. I’d like to look at diversity of representation of speakers. Can I look at the agenda? If it’s not built, can I help? I’m very unapologetic about it. And here’s the thing, you can’t retrofit it. It’s really difficult, right? You have to do it from the start.

Inclusion’s a driver of the business. Inclusion has to happen from the start. And so it is very uncomfortable when you’ve built a panel of, let’s say, five South Asian women. I’m gonna use myself as an example, and all of a sudden you realize you don’t have enough diversity of representation. Who are you gonna ask to leave the panel?

That’s a tough [00:07:00] conversation, right? Yeah. And so really thinking about these things from the start and being intentional, I also, I have so many thoughts. I’m gonna pause cause I have more thoughts on experiences and things that I’ve seen gone well and things that I’ve seen gone sideways. 

[00:07:14] Rachel Moore: You talked about money, you know, and about how sponsors have power and you know, you have the power to be able to impact and say it’s important.

It’s a priority for us. As we participate in this event, I think too, for attendees, yes. For people who are going to events, or more specifically, let’s look in the business world. Perhaps you’re, you know, you’re asking your company to send you, or they want to send you to an event whether you’re gonna go attend. Or you’re gonna go speak, or you’re going to go exhibit, and you have power there to say, yes, you do. Are you making sure that, you know, as we are all in this mix together, , what, what kind of audiences are you going for? Is this accessible? Are you making, , making sure that that is diversity is reflected in the content?

[00:07:57] Mita Mallick: You make an interesting point. Let’s say we work together and I [00:08:00] write a check on behalf of Carta sponsoring. The other responsibility I have as a leader is to think about who I’m sending from my company. Yeah, how am I thinking about who’s chosen to event attend this event? And really thinking about that also as we do at Carta, as a retention tool, as a way to really honor value, recognize people to say, not everyone gets to go to a conference, but we value you and your contributions, and we’d love for you to attend.

And so thinking about it that way as well, can I share with you one of my least inclusive conference experiences and then most inclusive conference experiences. 

[00:08:35] Rachel Moore: I would love that. And our listeners would too. Let’s do this. 

Mita’s Least Inclusive and Most Inclusive Event Experiences

[00:08:37] Mita Mallick: Well, it’s really top of mind for me because the most positive I have had was one was recently, but one of the things I’ve noticed over the years at conferences, one of the popular things to do is give head shots.

And I’ll never forget years ago, I was really excited because I didn’t have a headshot and I was like, oh, I’m getting a headshot! For most of my life, I was born and raised in the US proud daughter of Indian immigrant [00:09:00] parents. I go back to photos, Rachel, I either look like Casper the friendly ghost, or I look like the back of the elementary school picture because there’s a whole conversation around makeup and lighting, right?

Particularly for dark-skinned individuals, and it really matters who’s behind the camera. And so I’ll never forget going to this conference and they actually didn’t have, like, they were offering head shots, but it was clear the makeup artists and the hair individuals were not ready. To help dark-skinned individuals with their makeup.

And I ended up looking like quite orange, I’ll never forget. And that headshot experience kind of really scarred me because I was like, oh God, I look terrible. Like oh my God. And we have, anyway, a lot of us have issues with. how we look, it’s like pictures and we’re, self-conscious about different things of how we look. And then this was just exacerbated. And I was like, oh my God, I look terrible. I hate headshots. Why are you offering headshots if you can’t do hair and makeup? that fills our needs. So [00:10:00] recently I went to the first inaugural conference that Bridge hosted, you can look them up.

And so I’m there. I do a talk and they’re like, would you like a headshot? And I’m like, I’m all set. Because I’ve had such terrible experience. They had, oh my God, the most inclusive experience when it came to makeup and hair and. They had the most inclusive experience when it came to the camera and a man of color who was taking photos.

And I tell you, these are some of the most amazing headshots I’ve ever taken. And I just felt so seen and I was like, wow, what an amazing experience. This was also a conference, so that was my story about non-inclusive, inclusive. But also really small details like they picked a venue where they asked for diversity of representation of staff and management, that they took a long time in selecting the venue because they wanted to make sure the venue’s values aligned with their values, and [00:11:00] then they went another step further and made sure all the meals had meaning and were catered from local restaurants, founders of color.

There’s so many. You think about events and you think about all the moments, those details. That you think don’t matter, that can really make a huge impact on how people feel seen and how they experience the event. 

[00:11:23] Rachel Moore: You’re experiencing all this stuff, you know, you are gonna create a book that is gonna tackle 13 myths about how we should and how we need to reimagine inclusivity and the myths that we buy into right now.

From the experiences you had, how did you decide you were going to write this and create a book? 

[00:11:40] Mita Mallick: I actually have been writing as my mother reminded me ever since I could hold a pen. I wanted to be an author when I left undergrad graduate school. I had a friend who just started in entertainment. She helped me find an agent.

I wrote three novels and the agent then dumped me because each time [00:12:00] I wrote the novel, they had feedback. The editors would have feedback, and I just didn’t. I was young and stubborn. So I wrote a second, and then I wrote a third. I then decided to go to graduate school for my MBA because I was passionate about storytelling, and I thought, okay, well marketing could be a good fit.

And then would you believe I leave graduate school and I write a fourth novel? And I try to find an agent and that doesn’t get published, and then I bury this stream of writing, bury it like a seed, as a friend of mine says, and it just starts growing and keeps growing. And then I four years ago I started writing this book and it took a very long time to get published.

And so every myth opens with a powerful story of something that’s happened in corporate America. And then I debunk the myth and really live people with tips at the end. 

[00:12:44] Rachel Moore: Are you self-publishing? 

[00:12:45] Mita Mallick: I am not, actually. I went through a very long journey. I have an agent, but let me tell you, I had lots of rejections.

I had people say, have her come back to us when she has a book more like Sheryl Sandberg. There are a lot of people like me to writing books like this. And [00:13:00] because I have, have you heard of the rainy day folder? You keep all the like accolades? I have a rejections folder. So I kept all the rejections and I was reading them the other day and there was one that said, Mina’s writing pops off the page.

She’s a masterful storyteller, but we’re unclear as to who’s gonna buy her book. She can come back to us when she has more followers. And so I keep that just to remind myself like I don’t take it for granted. I’m not an overnight success. I’ve worked really hard to build to this and to publish this book.

[00:13:29] Rachel Moore: It sounds painful. I mean, you have a folder of rejections. 

[00:13:32] Mita Mallick: It is painful. It is painful. Yeah. Actually, I, some of the people closest to me did not know I was writing a book and I had people in the acknowledgements who didn’t know I was writing a book because I had been rejected for so long.

That I didn’t think it was happening, and my agent said to me one day, well, our cover is final. Are you gonna tell people? But it’s really because I just didn’t believe it was happening because I had waited for so long to share this. 

[00:13:55] Rachel Moore: There are a couple myths that you brought in, again, 13 in the book that are coming out or that are out , but one [00:14:00] of the myths you talk about is, and I’m gonna read it verbatim. Of course I support Black Lives Matter. Why are you asking if I have any black friends? So talk to us a little bit about that myth and how did, how you debunked it. 

What’s going on with that? 

[00:14:14] Mita Mallick: So this starts with a story that I experienced years ago with a white leader.

This is the time of the murder of George Floyd May, 2020, when corporate America finally said, black lives do matter. I had a number of white leaders in particular coming to me to say, what can I do? I wanna show my support. Many of them wanting to post in social media. And so I had one leader in this story, getting very frustrated, didn’t know what to post, couldn’t post fast enough, and I said, well, have you talked to your black friends and colleagues about how they feel about your allyship and what you have been doing?

And his response was, well, why are you asking if I have any black friends? I can’t say that I support Black Lives Matter if I’m not showing up and being on a journey as an ally to the black community, if I’m not doing the [00:15:00] work, I always say each of us are an ally for someone. Like I said, the only people who can tell you if I’m an ally for the black community are my black friends and colleagues, and I’ll do this quick exercise that I do in reimagine inclusion with all of you and Rachel.

You can listen in. If you’re listening, you can close your eyes, but I ask leaders. Tell me where you live. Who are your neighbors picture your neighborhood, where do you do your grocery shopping? Who’s your cashier? Where do you get your haircut? Who’s cutting your hair? What are where restaurants you go frequent?

Who are the people you hang out with on the weekends? And as you’re going through these questions, just sort of close your eyes and, and try to imagine who’s there last family celebration, picnic, wedding. Celebrating life, someone passing. And then I ask the following question, which is, who are the five people you are closest to who were not your family, who you call when [00:16:00] you need advice or you have something that you’re excited to share?

And if they all act like you and think like you, the truth is we are self-segregating in this country, many of us are. And then we expect to be chasing inclusion in our workplaces. We want diversity representation, but the fact is many of us are not equipped to lead diverse teams because we are not taking the time to learn about experiences that are not our own.

I did wanna draw a thread to how this can actually help with how you build more inclusive. Events because we go back to that first conversation where you’re like, tell us about a time you walked into a conference and what happened. And if you are intentionally trying to build relationships, cross-cultural relationships with individuals who have different experiences than your owner from different communities, you can then easily transfer that into the workplace, into conferences, and so I have on many occasion worked with leaders from [00:17:00] Vermont who will say to me, Vermont, by the way, for anyone outside of the US or in the us, one of the whitest states, statistically. And they’ll say, well, what do you want me to do? Move. Okay, so the pandemic has proven this.

We are a global digital world, and so LinkedIn is amazing. We actually got connected back through LinkedIn, like I had known the Bizzabo team over time, but that’s how we got reconnected. And so you can meet fantastic people online, digitally, get on social with intent, think about who you might wanna meet.

Commenting, liking, reaching out and saying, would you be interested in getting a virtual coffee? Here are some of the things we have in common. You could also drive, like outta state. You could drive to different locations. If you have the privilege of taking vacations, you could think about where you wanna take vacations.

You can think about going to a different local restaurant, grocery shopping, somewhere else. There are so many ways, and so then what happens, Rachel is you are expanding your network. One of the other excuses I’ve heard [00:18:00] is, well, like there’s nobody from the black community, Asian community, Hispanic community, that would be a good fit for the panel.

One of my myths around, I’m all for diverse talent as long as they’re good. The myth we create around the fact that there’s not enough diverse talent. I hate that word. There’s not enough diverse talent out there. Doesn’t mean they don’t exist. You don’t know them. 

[00:18:20] Rachel Moore: If you could ideally get your book in the hands of specific roles or people who, who make events possible, who would you ideally love to not only read your book, but also really take the lessons from and start having have, have it make them change their approach to building events?

[00:18:39] Mita Mallick: The organizers. The sponsors, attendees, people who are helping with the event outside of organizers, suppliers, vendors. I think about all of that. Yeah. Gosh, I just thought about some of the big conferences that have tech crews. Oh, who’s, who’s running the technology? Have [00:19:00] we thought about that? You really could go through the entire experience of creating an event, creating that amazing, magical experience. And you could think about every single moment. I’ve been to conferences where they have in the woman’s room products from founders of color. Like if you want, you need deodorant or perfume or refresher. And this is maybe like a multi-day conference.

I mean, it’s just in everything that you do, inclusion’s a driver of the business. You can have a lens of inclusion and so, it’s really, I mean, this book is for anyone who’s committed to creating a more inclusive, resilient culture and culture is not just organizations. Cultures are, you know, you create cultures at events as well.

Like you’re creating a culture for that day or for those few days, and hopefully people take that experience with them and they think about how that experience has impacted them to show up differently in their own organizations. 

[00:19:58] Rachel Moore: Wanna get into a little bit, knowing [00:20:00] more about you, Mita. So, I’m gonna ask you a couple of just things like some of them might feel real random, some of them might be feel like, yeah, those are these relevant.

Is there an item that you have forgotten or tend to forget for work events that cause you to be like, ah, cause panic 

[00:20:17] Mita Mallick: Oof. Usually my phone. Because if I’m at events and I wanna know the kids’, the kids’ school’s gonna call keeping in, you know, touch with my family what’s happening, that’s usually the thing that will cause me panic.

[00:20:31] Rachel Moore: Is there anything that you’re listening to, watching or reading these days that you can’t put down? 

[00:20:37] Mita Mallick: Yeah, there’s two books I wanna recommend. My friend Mora wrote the book called The Anxious Achiever by Harvard Business Review Press, and I keep thinking about, people have said, I’ve been ambitious my whole life, and I’m like, is it ambition or anxiety that’s driven my career because I’ve always been.

One of the lonely onlys and I’m, you know, trying to constantly [00:21:00] exceed standards. And then my friend Liz wrote a book called, I’m Not Yelling, A Black Woman’s Guide to Navigating the Workplace. And that is a phenomenal read. And it’s not just for black women, it’s for everyone. Particularly allies.

Particularly allies. 

[00:21:15] Rachel Moore: Is there a particular social post or a piece of media or a hot take about events that you found interesting lately? 

[00:21:22] Mita Mallick: One of the things that I’ve been fascinated about over the years is, , as administrations change and decades have gone by the White House celebrations, the vol Ramadan Easter egg hunt, like it’s pretty amazing and you see.

A lot of different people I’ll see in social media being like I was at the White House celebrating this event. It means a lot that the US government is recognizing different religious holidays and cultural moments because it signals again that the demographics of our country have are quickly changing and we are honoring and including people with different cultural beliefs and religious experiences.[00:22:00] 

[00:22:00] Rachel Moore: All right, and lastly, where can our listeners find and follow you online? 

[00:22:04] Mita Mallick: You can find me on LinkedIn. I have a very small account on Instagram. I am on Amazon, so please go pre-order my book Reimagine Inclusion, debunking 13 Myths to Transform Your Workplace. And I also have my own podcast with my co-host, DC Marshall called Brown Table Talk.

It’s on Apple and Spotify and Amazon Music. It’s really about how we can help. Women of color thrive at work, and we need allies to help. So the podcast is for everybody.

Event Professional Upskilling with Mita Mallicl

[00:22:40] Rachel Moore: It’s time to skill up. When we asked Mita what she’d like event planners to know as they level up their approach to gatherings, here’s what she had to say. Prepare to go. Ooh. Because it’s awesome. 

[00:22:51] Mita Mallick: Watch for who has access to the mic, right? Watch for who has access to the mic. Like, who are you intentionally or unintentionally [00:23:00] putting on stage, giving airtime to, and how does that show up in totality?

And you know, for anyone who’s new in this space, why not just go to an event that’s not your own and just sit with a notebook and write down everything you see? Just be an observer. You’ll, you’ll be surprised, right? If you’re just sitting there in the quiet and you go there with the intent of, I wanna write down every single thing I see as if you were just transcribing the event and.

Noting everything and then you come back and you’re like, wow, I now have like more than 10 things I would do differently for my event. 

[00:23:37] Rachel Moore: Thanks again to Mita Mallek of Carta for joining us on Event Experience and thank you for listening. You can find Mita’s book Reimagine Inclusion: Debunking 13 Myths to Transform Your Workplace on Amazon.

If you’re enjoying the show, we’d love to hear it. Connect with us on social and subscribe rate and review us wherever you’re listening. Also, don’t forget to share the show with your colleagues and friends. You can find transcripts of each episode and key takeaways on bizzabo.com/podcasts. On behalf of the team, thank you.

We’ll gather again soon for a new episode of Event Experience.

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