Zahra Matson: Diversity should become a business goal for technology events

Staff Writer Feb 14, 2023

As a senior event marketing manager, Zahra Matson leads Amazon’s presence at trade shows and third-party events such as Consumer Electronics Show (CES), the most influential tech event in the world. At CES 2023 , Amazon’s exhibit spanned 20,000 square feet of space, and Matson was responsible for leading the teams to craft a presence that brought the company’s vision of ambient computing to life. 

In this interview, Matson discusses her current job role, Amazon’s presence at CES, and how companies can create greater inclusivity at third party events and tradeshows.

What was Amazon’s vision for CES?

We started off with the vision of creating an experience that would bring our theme of ambient intelligence to life, and demonstrate how technology developed by Amazon and our partners can create meaningful experiences for customers at home, at work and on the go. We focused the entire experience around the theme of “More Possibilities.” People who visited the Amazon Experience Area could explore eleven different vignettes that showcased various products and experiences, ranging from the garage to the living room, hotel stays and so much more to see how ambient intelligence can unlock more convenience, more freedom and more time with loved ones in their lives. 

We worked with teams from Fire TV, Ring, Amazon Smart Vehicles, Prime Video, Amazon Ads, and numerous partners to showcase how our devices and services work seamlessly offering more value than any one device or service could on its own.

Executing on this vision required collaboration across several fronts: from high level strategy to detailed production and execution. I oversaw over twenty different work streams, that involved collaboration with internal teams and external vendors. But it was all worth it to see the vision come to life. We had over twenty thousand people visit our exhibit space that included larger brands like LG and Disney, and exciting startups like Spinn and Span, and showcased the next generation of computing experiences.

How can technology events do a better job of ensuring inclusion?

There’s a lot of different ways that inclusion can happen, whether at technology conferences, virtual events, or at hybrid events. 

I've seen a few things at other events I have implemented  myself. The first change I noticed is the use of pronouns. As part of the registration process, events have started to share attendee pronouns- either by collecting them through registration or making it optional for attendees by having pins or stickers at onsite registration to provide visibility and enhance the inclusion aspect.

Another area I think about is translation services to ensure inclusion of international attendees and even national attendees. Organizers can continue to translate event materials into multiple languages and multiple mediums. Another important way to be inclusive is the use of an  American Sign Language interpreter at larger sessions. For any video messaging, and especially at virtual events, be sure to offer closed captioning.

Another notable trend I’ve seen at events lately is the inclusion lactation rooms, and family- friendly and/or gender-neutral restrooms. Also, prayer rooms are becoming more prevalent, which I think is great. It’s really important to consider diverse vendors when organizing events: when going out to request proposals, I try to dive deeper and find companies owned by people of color, women and differently-abled people to provide opportunities to vendors that are sometimes overlooked.

You can also be intentional about being inclusive when selecting participants for a panel. Providing some color not only shows the diversity of your company, but enables diversity of thought. Prioritizing a diverse lineup with speakers is important. To that end, I would say diverse speakers can speak to so much more than just diversity. 

I think branding and marketing is a huge piece as well. When you're building out marketing collateral that features people, use images that showcase diverse backgrounds, different cultures, different body sizes and differently-abled people. Your marketing materials should be an inclusive reflection of the diversity of the world.

How have you seen Amazon implement some of these DEI initiatives?

AWS re:Invent did a really, really good job of addressing diversity and inclusion at their show. And it implemented a lot of the kind of the ideas I was just talking about. The show offered inclusion pins, so attendees could see not only each other's pronouns but also the languages that they spoke. Badges also indicated the comfort people had with networking, which I think is something that people don't often think about. You know, introverts don't want you coming up to them and having the same conversation you might have with an extrovert. So I really like that approach as it is so thoughtful in terms of considering all types of people. 

AWS re:Invent’s approach to content was refreshing to see: there were sessions that focused on the intersection between the technology that Amazon Web Services (AWS) is producing and how diversity and biases affects its development. I'm really excited that the conference addressed these issues head on.

As I look at what we can do at our third-party events, I would love to have a DEI champion as part of our event strategy development and planning process. Ideally, diversity should become an event objective or a goal, and something that is tied to the success of events. 

Recommended reading

Alexa’s Kabila Williams is designing technical curricula with a vision for a more inclusive future
How Spinn is elevating the coffee experience and the next generation of hardware
Tripp CEO Nanea Reeves is building the largest meditation community in the metaverse