5 Action Items for EDOs and DMOs to Champion DE&I in 2022 and Beyond 

July 26, 2022

In the summer of 2020, the death of George Floyd sparked a movement that has reverberated throughout every community and industry in the U.S. – economic development and tourism were no exception.

Like many organizations and agencies committed to purpose-driven work, DCI took the opportunity to reflect on our role in our country’s fight against racism and the work we need to do as an agency – and as individuals – to champion equity and inclusion in our personal and professional lives.

As a result, DCI launched its Diversity, Equity & Inclusion (DE&I) initiative in 2020 with the ultimate goal to close the opportunity divide and remove roadblocks for BIPOC to enter and grow in our agency. We seek to match the U.S. Census in terms of racial and ethnic demographics by 2025. We focused our DEI program on six key pillars to achieve this goal: Hiring & Recruitment, Sales & Marketing, Professional Development, Partnerships, DCI Cares (Volunteering) and Agency Culture.

To date, more than half of our staff have invested in serving as champions and/or coparticipants to achieve our goals – and we have collectively invested more than 480 hours this year alone to make this a priority for our agency.

In June 2022, DCI was awarded the “Best Internal DEI Initiative” honor in the Boutique Agency Category by the Diversity Action Alliance, a “coalition of Public Relations and communications leaders joining forces to accelerate progress in the achievement of meaningful and tangible results in diversity, equity and inclusion across our profession.”

Winning the Best Internal DEI Initiative award is an honor, as it serves as recognition for our efforts; but, more importantly, it is a reminder that we must continue to invest in this important work – and we encourage our partners and clients to join us in our pursuit of ensuring this industry is an equitable and inclusive place for all. As we reflect on the past two years, five themes emerged as action items for economic development organizations and destination marketing organizations to consider in their DE&I efforts. 

1. Commit to Accountability

To ensure that the work is sustained and the results tangible, we must commit to holding ourselves and each other accountable. At DCI, we signed the Diversity Action Alliance (DAA) Commitment, Destinations International Equity, Diversity & Inclusion CEO Pledge, and World Travel & Tourism Council (WTTC) Women’s Declaration. As part of our DAA commitment, we submit our staff demographic data to the organization annually. In addition, we added a sixth agency value to further engrain our DE&I commitment into our company culture: Champion Equity & Inclusion. Our values are everywhere from the walls of our offices to our performance reviews – so any individual or organization that does business with DCI must align with us on this important value.

2. Never Stop Learning

It’s important to recognize that the work to understand our roles in racial equity needs to be continuous. After participating at an executive level, our entire agency completed the implicit bias education program through the National Training Institute on Race & Equity (NTIRE). It’s critical as marketers and storytellers that we have an understanding of implicit bias and how it may impact our work.​ As Founder and Chief Equity Officer of NTIRE Dr. Bryant Marks says, to have implicit bias, you only need two things: you need to have a brain and live in society. These learnings have informed what we write about, what we speak about and how we strive to advance diversity, equity and inclusion in the travel and economic development industries. ​In addition, DCI established Juneteenth as a company-wide holiday in the U.S. to commemorate this historic day in our country and foster the opportunity for learning and deeper understanding among our staff.

3. Prioritize Representation

Whether it’s in marketing materials or the leaders and partners of your organization or community, representation matters. Our creative team made the decision to switch our photo subscription to one that offers more diversity in its imagery and developed an internal guide for image selection with an eye for inclusive representation, while our digital team became certified in ADA Compliance for web design, and our talent team developed strategies to recruit and retain talent with an emphasis on BIPOC individuals. We also partnered with the Black Travel Alliance to bring BIPOC creators to our client communities, and made it a point to prioritize telling the stories of diverse business owners and leaders through public relations – and to elevate Black talent year-round. In the last two years, DCI secured 105 unique media placements that celebrate diversity, equity and inclusion in our client communities.

4. Put Your Money (and Time) Where Your Mouth Is

Who we work with and where we invest our resources matter. Whether it’s evaluating your vendors and partners to prioritize doing business with diverse partners, supporting BIPOC-owned businesses in your own time or volunteering with local or national organizations, investing your time and money is key to advancing diversity, equity and inclusion. At DCI, we’ve partnered with Girls For A Change for the last two years to provide pro-bono professional development sessions to young Black girls considering a career in marketing. DCI President of Economic Development Julie Curtin was instrumental in establishing the International Economic Development Council (IEDC)’s first-ever Equity in Economic Development Fellowship Program. Six community and economic development organizations volunteered to host fellows this summer to connect diverse young people with opportunities and hands-on experiences in economic development and increase representation in the industry.

5. Measure Progress

With everything we do at DCI, we like to say, “if you can’t measure it, don’t do it.” For DE&I efforts, it’s important to establish clear goals and KPIs that can be tracked on a quarterly or annual basis. With each of our six pillars at DCI, we established at least one goal to complete per quarter – in addition to key metrics – to ensure that we’re continually working towards our DE&I mission. Just like with business, professional or personal goals, we encourage our clients and partners to establish SMART – specific, measurable, achievable, relevant and time-bound – goals for DE&I efforts.

Whatever steps you take toward making this industry one that is diverse, equitable and all-inclusive are steps in the right direction. Change does not happen overnight, but this is a cause that is worth advancing. We are so grateful to be recognized by the Diversity Action Alliance and energized for the great deal of work we have ahead of us.