Just as a choir is made up of many different voices, two women are challenging financial services to include a diverse range of voices on stage at industry events.
Sonya Dreizler and Liv Gagnon launched Choir, a diversity certification program for financial services conferences. Dreizler has spent 20 years in the industry, including serving as a broker-dealer and RIA executive. She has been a longtime advocate for greater racial and gender equity in the industry. Gagnon is a media relations specialist who focuses on social values.
Choir’s mission is to make industry events more representative of the U.S. population, Gagnon told InsuranceNewsNet. Choir’s proprietary algorithm uses hundreds of data points to assess the prominence and visibility of women, nonbinary people and people of color on conference stages – setting the first industry benchmark for conference diversity, the Choir Certification. Choir then uses this data to provide leadership teams and event organizers with actionable guidance to maintain diverse and increasingly representative speaker lineups year over year.
“Our goal is really to help connect more women, nonbinary people and people of color with speaking roles across all financial services,” Gagnon said. “Because we think that our industry has heard from predominantly one type of voice for a very long time, and it’s important to have representation to move our industry forward.”
Choir conducts an assessment of an organization’s most recent conference and calculates a score based on how well that conference represents women and people of color – and specifically women of color – on stage in comparison to their representation in the U.S. population. Each speaking spot is scored on seven visibility factors:
Stage visibility (main stage vs. breakout sessions)
Share of panel.
Length of presentation.
Continuing education credit.
In-person vs. virtual audience distribution at hybrid events.
Conferences with Choir scores of 60 or higher are eligible for bronze, silver or gold tier certifications. Conferences beginning July 1 or later must also meet all standards in the Choir Pledge to qualify for certification. Those standards are:
-An enforced anti-harassment policy.
- Diversity in keynote speakers.
- Diversity in all panel presentations.
- Women of color represented throughout the agenda.
Event sponsors, attendees and speakers can go to the Choir website and sign the pledge to attend only conferences that meet the following standards as of July 1:
At least one of every three keynote speakers is a woman or person of color.
Every panel with four or more people includes at least one woman or person of color as a non-moderator expert.
Women of color are represented throughout the agenda in expert sessions, not only sessions about diversity, equity and inclusion.
There is an enforced policy against harassment of all kinds.
Gagnon said more than 120 people have signed the pledge since the Choir website went live on Jan. 11.
In addition to increasing diversity among conferences, Choir will launch something called Choir Voices in the spring. This will be an online space for women and people of color who are interested in speaking or media opportunities. So far, 60 people have signed up to participate, Gagnon said.
“This will connect them with those opportunities to speak or be interviewed in the media,” Gagnon said. “We believe that once we establish the platform and establish these metrics for conferences, the next step will be to help fill more speaking roles. We’re extremely excited about that.”
Susan Rupe is managing editor for InsuranceNewsNet. She formerly served as communications director for an insurance agents' association and was an award-winning newspaper reporter and editor. Contact her at [email protected]. Follow her on Twitter @INNsusan.