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How a Diversity Organization for the Meetings Industry Came to Be

It was summer 2020 in Minneapolis and Mike Gamble had a brainstorm.

MeetingsNet’s 2021 Changemakers list recognizes outstanding meeting professionals for their efforts to move their organizations and the industry forward in unique and positive ways. Find the full 2021 Changemakers list here.

Mike Gamble 

President & CEO, SearchWide Global

For elevating industry efforts to drive diversity in the meetings and hospitality industry

Tourism Diversity Matters, a nonprofit with the goal of creating a more diverse, equitable, and inclusive meetings and hospitality industry, was set in motion last June during the weeks of protests over racially motivated police brutality. 

“After George Floyd was murdered, I think many people sat and thought, ‘What can I do to make a difference?’ And that’s honestly what I did,” Mike Gamble, CEO of Minneapolis-based SearchWide Global. “I thought, if there’s one thing that our greater industry can collaborate on and agree on, it certainly is diversity, equity, and inclusion.” 

His first call was to Elliott Ferguson, president and CEO at Destination DC, who now serves as chair of the organization’s 22-member board of directors. “I barely got the sentence out explaining what it was, and he said, ‘I’m in.’” Gamble found similar enthusiasm in the responses from Carrie Freeman Parsons, chair of Freeman; Roger Dow, president and CEO of U.S. Travel; Brian Stevens, CEO of ConferenceDirect, and other industry executives to whom he floated the idea.

With the objective of bringing more ethnically diverse talent into the industry, Tourism Diversity Matters launched in February with four focus areas: apprenticeships, workforce development, training, and research. “What we’re going to do is shine a light on all the great work that’s being done, and then try to create additional great work through to the TDM model.  We want people to go to the Tourism Diversity Matters portal and say, ‘Wow, I can find everything I need here, as it relates to how to be better and smarter when it comes to diversity, equity, and inclusion and the greater tourism and events industry.”

The apprenticeship effort is the furthest along, as it’s built on the framework of an existing program. Ethnically diverse apprentices receive hands-on work experience in one of three tracks—meetings and events, destinations, or sports—with a guaranteed job at the end. Gamble says TDM hopes to have 10 people in the program this year, but that the “real goal” is to have 30 to 50 apprentices each year. 

What Gamble set in motion continues to gain momentum. Greg DeShields, CDE, CHE, executive director of the PHL Diversity division at the Philadelphia Convention & Visitors Bureau, serves as executive director for Tourism Diversity Matters, and the organization recently set up a TDM foundation to raise money to ensure the work continues.

Advice for Staffing Up

As companies restaff after pandemic layoffs, Gamble sees this as an opportunity for change. “Our advice is, don’t just immediately go back to the old org chart,” Gamble says. “Our industry expects something different on a lot of levels. Don’t be afraid to rebuild [your organization] a little differently.”

On Leadership

“We’ve got to keep listening.  I’m not sure how we got so cynical and judgmental and divided on so many things,” Gamble says, “but I think that leaders who listen more than they talk and who are not afraid to look at things differently than they did [before 2020] will be the ones who make a big difference.”

View the full list of 2021 Changemakers

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