Promoting Inclusivity in Conferences: Embracing Diversity and Equity in Knowledge Exchange

Conferences serve as vital platforms for dissemination of research findings, networking, establishing collaborations, and facilitating professional development across various fields. However, most conferences have failed to prioritize inclusivity due to participation barriers and unequal representation. In the recent years, there has been a growing recognition of the importance of promoting diversity and inclusivity in conferences. This blog aims to discuss strategies to promote inclusivity in conferences and why it’s important to make all voices heard and valued.


Why Inclusivity Matters

Bringing together diverse perspectives enriches discussions, creates new avenues for thinking out-of-the box, and facilitates better understanding of complex issues.  It fosters a culture of respect that validates the contributions of every individual, irrespective of their background or identity. It is essential to recognize that creativity and innovations are inherently connected with diverse viewpoints and experiences. We should be able to challenge stereotypes and biases without having to worry about facing repercussions. Inclusivity is key for cultivating a sense of belonging to the community. By building a supportive community, we should strive to strengthen connections and become effective allies.


How to promote inclusivity

  1. Ensure diversity in the organizing committee

Include all to empower all. Form a team with organizers from diverse backgrounds in terms of race, region, gender, ethnicity, age, and career stages. They will be able to provide their perspectives based on their experience and expertise. This helps in informed decision-making and create a welcoming space. Having representation from underrepresented communities and seeing people with similar experiences in key positions of authority and leadership not only boosts confidence but also inculcates a sense of belonging among the participants. Moreover, insights from individuals who lived through the challenges inherent to marginalized communities are extremely valuable. However, it is important to keep in mind that the assignment of duties should be based on individual choice; people from diverse backgrounds should not be exclusively tasked with DEI-related activities.

  1. Create a welcoming environment

Open hearts, open minds. Use inclusive language in all conference materials, presentations, and interactions. Promote the use of pronouns as preferred by the attendees. Arrange for private and quiet spaces required for religious practices or lactating mothers. Provide childcare facilities to ensure full participation of attendees with children. Offer dietary accommodations including vegetarian, vegan, gluten-free, lactose-free, halal options to name a few. Designate spaces where attendees can freely and safely talk about sensitive issues and seek support. Establish and enforce a Code of Conduct that explicitly defines forms of unacceptable behavior, its consequences, and how to report violations.

  1. Address accessibility issues

Accessibility is not a privilege, it’s a fundamental right. Ask about participant needs during registration and plan to incorporate accessible features during the conference. The conference amenities, including registration desks, seating, podium, and restrooms should be accessible to people with wheelchairs and mobility aids. Accommodations should be available for service animals. Apart from physical accessibility measures, quiet rooms  should be made available for people suffering from anxiety, depression, post-traumatic stress disorder or PTSD. This arrangement is also helpful for neurodivergent people with autism who are hypersensitive to their environment and may need a break in between to decompress. Conference planners should carefully consider communication methods and materials to ensure accessibility to all. Starting from online booking to presentations, written materials should be easily perceivable and understandable. Large fonts, proper color contrast, and color-blind friendly palettes are few examples to help people with vision loss, color-blindness, learning or intellectual disabilities. Using closed captions during presentation or having a sign language interpreter can benefit people with hearing impairments.

  1. Prevent biases

Challenge and champion. Actively seek out panelists, speakers, and attendees from underrepresented groups including women, people of color, LGBTQ+ individuals, and researchers from developing countries. Offer them leadership positions or positions that would be typically presided by people from privileged groups. Bias may also exist in the scope of topics covered or during abstract selection. Double-blind reviews should be encouraged to mitigate bias based on author names, affiliations, gender, country of origin or ethnicity. Work to remove linguistic barriers and encourage non-native English speakers to actively participate in the conference. Abstracts should be evaluated by the quality and relevance of research rather than by English language proficiency. Additionally, sessions focused on advances in teaching and mentoring could foster professional developments. These are as important and relevant aspects as scientific research, however, often overlooked in the academic community.

  1. Allocate financial resources

It’s not an expense, it’s an investment. Estimate the costs to support DEI goals of the conference. Current conference registration fees often prevent participation of researchers from developing countries (Arend & Brujins, 2019). Therefore, restructuring registration costs based on country of origin should be seriously considered. Registration fee waivers can be offered to students who do not receive financial support from their advisors or departments to attend conferences. Moreover, travel assistance for women with caregiving responsibilities will enable their participation in in-person conferences. Such travel grants are equally beneficial for people with disabilities who need personal assistance during travel and stay (De Picker, 2020).

  1. Step out of your comfort zone

Talk out loud. Normalize conversations about sensitive topics, including but not limited to, racial injustice, systemic oppression, microaggression, and discrimination against marginalized communities. Acknowledge your ignorance if you are not familiar with certain crisis situations and respond humbly. Act with empathy towards people who have suffered through these situations. Create a space where people can openly identify as LGBTQIA without the fear of discrimination. Talk about mental health issues that are plaguing academia to remove the stigma around it.

  1. Ask for feedback

Improve and excel. Assess if the implemented practices made the participants feel welcome and included. Use surveys and conversations to identify potential areas of improvement. Share results from the survey and feedback from the participants with current and future organizers to ensure a wholesome experience for future attendees and bring about a positive change.



Our goal should be to create a safe space where diverse voices have equal opportunity to lead, participate, and engage without the fear of discrimination or marginalization. It should not be a mere check box aimed to fulfill diversity quotas or tokenism by including individuals from under-represented groups. We need to lead by action by breaking down systemic barriers and biases.



About the Author

Abira Sahu is a Postdoctoral Research Associate in Michigan State University Plant Research Laboratory, and a 2024 Plantae Fellow. Her research focuses on the regulation of isoprene emission from plants and its significance in plant physiology and atmospheric chemistry.  You can find her on X: @AbiraSahu.