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Shame on Event Sponsors: An INBOUND23 Observation

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Shame on Event Sponsors: An INBOUND23 Observation

Now, before you set out to read this feeling like you are about to run into the road and join the group of humans with pitchforks and torches, itโ€™s not that type of article.

If youโ€™ve been reading, listening, or watching me over the past ten years, you have most likely realized Iโ€™m a pretty positive guy! Inbound23-Mob-ArticleBut you probably have also noticed that Iโ€™m the type of guy who has always spoken his mind authentically.

Side conversation number two: you also know I love the INBOUND event and have attended and spoken there for years. So, this is less about the INBOUND event itself and more about some humans who entered the building as sponsors.

And before you go there, no, not all the sponsors. You know who you are.

Okay, with that out of the way, while I know this happens at most likely every event, Iโ€™ve never really noticed it before. But boy, did I notice it at INBOUND 2023 this year.


Because I brought my team or, best said, my Feam (article coming soon) to the event. Why does that matter? Simply put, the ages of my โ€œsmallโ€ team that attended INBOUND are 18, 20, and 21, and then, of course, my wife and I are 52.

And no, we did not bring our canes to the event. ๐Ÿคฃ

Okay, now letโ€™s have a discussion that I hope inspires change in what we saw.

INBOUND 2023, an event that promises to be an illuminating experience for professionals, took an unexpected turn for us as we noticed a disheartening issue.IMG_5417What did we observe?

It was shocking the differences in how sponsors treated others based on age and or being a smaller company. This also opens the conversation for race, sex, and other differentiating human and or organizational factors.

While it's crucial again to acknowledge that not all sponsors exhibited such behavior, a significant number did, shedding light on a concerning problem within the event space and, dare we say, the workplace.

In this article, weโ€™ll do our best to dive into the disparities faced by young professionals at INBOUND23, highlighting the broader issues of discrimination, unconscious bias, and unequal treatment based on age and company size.

Something my team and I saw firsthand.

The Unequal Treatment of Young Professionals

Young professionals play a vital role in shaping the future of industries and the workforce. However, at events like INBOUND 23, some sponsors fail to recognize their worth, treating them with less respect than their older counterparts. 

One example was when my daughter walked up to a booth as an 18-year-old female. She told me, โ€œThe booth gave me time but not respect, but I liked the product, so we brought you over, and there was a clear difference in how they spoke to you and treated you.โ€

This is a huge problem!

The implications of such behavior extend far beyond a single event; it reflects a systemic issue many young professionals face in the workplace.

Letโ€™s Talk About Ageism in the Workplace

Ageism, discrimination against people based on their age, is a problem that affects both young and older professionals. At INBOUND 23, it was evident that some sponsors treated younger attendees with less respect, perhaps assuming they had less experience or decision-making power.

However, I would have NEVER gone to this booth without someone telling me to.

This age-based discrimination not only undermines the potential of young talent but also creates a hostile work environment where individuals are judged not by their skills but by their age.

The Impact of Discrimination Based on Race and Sex

Aside from ageism, Gender disparities were also noticeable at INBOUND 23. Some sponsors prioritized specific demographics over others, resulting in uncomfortable experiences for attendees. Discrimination based on race not only erodes individual dignity but also hinders the creation of diverse and inclusive workplaces.

As an โ€œolder โ€white male, I don't experience being discriminated against because of my race or my age, but unfortunately, being discriminated against due to one's race, age, or sex is a lot of people's reality. 

Even typing that makes me sad!

Diversity in the workplace is essential for innovation, creativity, and overall business success. Sponsors who discriminate by accident or on purpose risk missing out on the unique perspectives and talents of individuals from different backgrounds.

The sponsor I ended up talking to should be thanking their lucky stars that one of the young professionals from George B. Thomas, LLC, was able to look past the way they felt for the betterment of what the sponsor might bring to our business.

The Unseen Consequences of Stereotyping

Stereotyping is a cognitive bias that can lead to unfair treatment. Sponsors who stereotype attendees based on age, race, or sex often do so unintentionally, but that doesn't excuse the behavior.

Humans have to be MORE aware! I have to be more aware. You have to be more aware. Everyone needs to be more aware!

This can have enormous consequences, limiting opportunities for growth and collaboration. Itโ€™s essential to challenge these stereotypes and foster an environment where every attendee, regardless of their demographic, is given an equal chance to engage and contribute.

The Problem with Treating Smaller Companies Differently

Another disconcerting observation at INBOUND 23 was the differential treatment of smaller companies compared to their larger counterparts. 

This hit close to home because we only have seven employees and two contractors making up a nine-person team; we are one of those smaller companies! 

Some sponsors appeared to believe that smaller businesses lacked the financial clout of more prominent corporations and thus did not invest as much time or effort in engaging with them.

This assumption is not only misguided but also detrimental to the spirit of entrepreneurship and innovation that smaller companies bring to the table.

While those small companies might be small, many times small can also equal very profitable and capable of spending money for things that empower their companies.

Iโ€™m just saying I like to spend money when it can make or save us money.

The Importance of Supporting Small Businesses

Small businesses are the backbone of economies worldwide, contributing significantly to job creation and innovation. Treating them with less respect or underestimating their potential sends the wrong message and hinders their growth.

INBOUND 23 should have been a platform for sponsors to recognize the energy and innovation that small companies bring, offering them support and opportunities to thrive.

The Danger of Neglecting Small Companies

Neglecting smaller companies can be dangerous not only for the sponsors but for the industry as a whole. Many groundbreaking ideas and disruptive innovations have emerged from smaller, agile companies.

By failing to engage with these companies, sponsors miss out on potential game-changing collaborations. It's a missed opportunity that can stagnate progress in the industry.

Why I Firmly Believe This Behavior Is Unacceptable

The unequal treatment of attendees based on age, race, sex, or company size is not just disappointing; it is morally and professionally unacceptable. 

Discrimination and stereotypes perpetuate a hostile work environment, stifle creativity, and hinder progress. Here are some key reasons why the sponsor's behavior at INBOUND 23 must be called out, reflected upon, and rectified.

When sponsors exhibit discriminatory behavior at events like INBOUND 23, they indirectly encourage similar behavior within the workplace. Attendees who witness this discrimination may carry these biases back to their organizations, perpetuating a cycle of unequal treatment.

Sponsors are crucial to the success of events like INBOUND 23, and their behavior reflects not only on themselves but also on the event organizers. Discriminatory practices tarnish the reputation of sponsors, potentially leading to negative consequences for their businesses and brand image. In an era where diversity and inclusion are recognized as drivers of innovation and progress, sponsors who engage in discriminatory behavior hold industries back.

Ignoring or belittling young professionals, smaller companies, or individuals from diverse backgrounds, they miss the opportunity to tap into fresh ideas and unique perspectives. Above all, it is an ethical imperative to treat all individuals with respect and fairness. Discrimination based on age, race, sex, or company size is unjustifiable and contrary to the principles of equality and human dignity.

The Inclusivity of INBOUND: A Place of Diversity and Inclusion

Amidst the unfortunate experiences of unequal treatment by some sponsors at INBOUND 23, it's essential to acknowledge that the event has been a beacon of inclusivity, championing diversity and providing a platform for underrepresented voices.

Prominent Women Speakers

One of the most striking features of INBOUND has been its commitment to promoting gender equality in the workplace. The event has consistently featured many accomplished women speakers who have addressed issues relevant to women in the workplace.

These speakers have shared insights, experiences, and strategies for overcoming the unique challenges that women often face, fostering a sense of empowerment and solidarity among female professionals.

Black at INBOUND Space

The "Black at INBOUND" space deserves special recognition for creating an inclusive environment where Black professionals can network, share experiences, and find support.

This dedicated area is a testament to INBOUND's commitment to diversity and inclusion, providing an invaluable resource for Black attendees who may face unique challenges in their professional journeys.

Diverse Speaker Lineup

INBOUND has made significant strides in ensuring that its speaker lineup reflects the diversity of the professional world. The event has welcomed speakers from various backgrounds, races, ethnicities, countries, and industries.

This diverse representation has allowed attendees to gain a broader perspective on the challenges and opportunities in the contemporary workplace. It sends a clear message that success knows no boundaries of background or identity.

Given INBOUND's apparent dedication to inclusivity and its history of providing a platform for underrepresented voices, it raises a perplexing question: Why do some sponsors at the event fail to embrace the same inclusive spirit?

Getting Upset Reading This? It's Time to Think.

As we delve into the issues surrounding unequal treatment at INBOUND 23, and like I stated at the beginning of this article, events worldwide, especially for young professionals, smaller companies, and underrepresented groups, it's natural for emotions to run high.

It's an uncomfortable topic, one that can stir feelings of frustration, anger, or disappointment. However, these emotions can serve as a catalyst for change, both in our outlook and in the broader professional landscape.

If you get upset while reading about the disparities attendees face at INBOUND 23, it's an opportune moment to pause and reflect.

Here are some key points to consider:

  • Self-Reflection
  • Empathy and Solidarity
  • Advocacy for Change
  • Open Dialogue
  • Continuous Learning

Now, letโ€™s dig into these and reflect on how they may impact our thinking patterns or general brain space.

Self-Reflection: Take a moment to reflect on your attitudes and behaviors. Have you ever unknowingly contributed to these disparities by making assumptions about someone based on age, race, or company size?

๐Ÿ‘‰ Acknowledging our own biases is the first step towards addressing them.

Empathy and Solidarity: Use your emotional response to empathize with those who have experienced discrimination or unequal treatment. Solidarity can be a powerful force for change.

๐Ÿ‘‰ Stand up for those who face challenges due to factors beyond their control.

Advocacy for Change: If you are in a position of influence or leadership within your organization, consider what steps you can take to promote diversity, inclusion, and equality.

๐Ÿ‘‰ Advocate for policies and practices that ensure fair treatment for all employees and partners.

Open Dialogue: Engage in open and respectful conversations with colleagues, peers, and acquaintances about the importance of inclusivity and the impact of discrimination.

๐Ÿ‘‰ Encourage others to question their assumptions and biases as well.

Continuous Learning: Commit to lifelong learning about diversity, equity, and inclusion. Understanding the complexities of these issues and staying informed about best practices can help you become a more effective advocate for change.

๐Ÿ‘‰ Remember that change begins with individual awareness and action.

Time to Reflect

By taking a moment to self-reflect and consider how you can contribute to a more inclusive and equitable professional world, you become part of the solution. While the disparities faced by young professionals, smaller companies, and underrepresented groups may be disheartening, they also provide an opportunity for positive transformation.

Let your emotions guide you toward a more just and inclusive future.

INBOUND 23 should have been a platform for learning, networking, and collaboration for all. Still, for many young professionals and smaller companies, it may have become a stark reminder of the disparities they face in the workplace.

While not all sponsors exhibited discriminatory behavior, it is crucial to address the issue head-on and work toward creating a more inclusive and equitable environment in the professional world.

As we move forward, sponsors, event organizers, and attendees alike need to challenge stereotypes, biases, and discriminatory practices actively. By doing so, we can foster a workplace culture that values diversity, encourages innovation, and respects all individuals, regardless of age, race, sex, or company size.

This is not only the right thing to do but also the path to a brighter and more prosperous future for all.

Speaking of the future, I canโ€™t wait to attend INBOUND 2024, where Iโ€™ll sit back, watch the humans walking around the HUB engaging with sponsors and each other, and ponder the questionโ€ฆ

Has the world gotten better in the last 12 months? I hope and pray that my answer is yes, yes, it has.