Posted on August 12, 2021

Hidden Bias in the Wedding Industrial Complex

Valeriya Safronova, New York Times, August 6, 2021

Until it’s time to plan a major event like a wedding, there is little reason for most people to know about the existence of vendor lists: the directories of caterers, florists, event planners, D.J.s and others who work with venues to put on events.

They can be a major timesaver: Instead of compiling a team of their own, brides and grooms and their families can rely on a list of preferred contractors. And for those who make it onto a list, inclusion can help with supplying steady work.

But the the lists aren’t public, for the most part, and the process for securing a spot on one is rarely transparent. Because vendor lists are used by venues large and small, including hotels, inns, galleries, barns, museums and libraries, they can mean a permanently closed door for those who are excluded.

“The initial idea comes from a good place,” said Eliana Nunes, who has worked in the events industry for a decade, first as a florist and now as the head of a production studio. Event spaces are “trying to avoid vendors at their venue who aren’t professional” and are “making sure everybody knows what they’re doing and is licensed,” she said.

But the playing field is rarely level. Andrew Roby, a planner in Washington, D.C., who has worked in the events industry since 2005, said that one big problem is that some venues charge fees for inclusion on the lists, a pay-to-play structure. The fees, according to wedding-industry insiders, can run from several hundred dollars to tens of thousands. Some payments are expected annually, and others are collected as a percentage of the costs of an event.


A second problem with the vendor lists is that they often lack diversity, Mr. Roby said. Last August, Mr. Roby, who is Black, and others, formed the National Events Council, to fight for more diversity and inclusion in the event planning industry.

“After George Floyd died, we had so many people who went to Instagram,” Mr. Roby said. “So many people in the industry were using those black squares as a sign of support. That’s kind of odd. If you look on your Instagram, it’s all white people. If you look in your vendor lists, it’s all white people.”


William Gilbert, a D.J. in Los Angeles who is known professionally as D.J. Will Gill, said he focuses on building connections with planners who have their own lists. “When I’m doing events, I more or less crush it,” he said. “When they’re done, wedding planners will come to me. ‘I would love to work with you.’ Venues never approach me afterward. I talk to them, yes ma’am, yes sir and everything. I follow up afterward to ask. I’ve never been put on a venue’s preferred list.”

After the protests over police brutality following George Floyd’s death in June 2020, D.J. companies called Mr. Gilbert to ask about collaborating and media publications asked him to contribute guest posts, he said. But he still wasn’t added to any venue’s vendor list.


Besides individual change or intentions, there are a few broader efforts to address the vendor list system.

The National Events Council has started a diversity survey, issued a call to action to major companies to commit to a pledge that 20 percent of the people they’ll hire for events will be Black, Indigenous or people of color, and has begun work on a mentorship program.

The Knot Marketplace, a directory of contractors, began offering diversity-based filters in its vendor directory in January. Businesses can self-identify as Black owned or female owned, for example, making it easier for interested users to find them.

Ethos Collective was formed last June with the purpose of elevating the profiles of Black wedding and events professionals. Those who wish to become members can apply during open-call cycles.

Ivory Perkins, a makeup artist in Washington, D.C., has found a more informal solution: a group chat with about two dozen people who pass business to each other. “For people of color, it’s a comfort to see other people of color,” Ms. Perkins said. “You go into a room, you look for your people. It’s part of us to seek each other out and support each other. When we’re not in spaces where we’re welcomed, we create our own. In those spaces, we have allies.”

While these initiatives certainly help, clients can make a difference, too, using a crucial power: the purse.

Rhianna Green hired Mr. Roby, the Washington-based planner, for her April 2022 wedding. “I think it’s important as a Black couple, knowing that there are vendors that look like us that do great work, to highlight and support that,” Ms. Green said. “Keeping that money in the Black community is also very important to us.”

Dr. Meera Shah, the chief medical officer for Planned Parenthood in the Hudson Peconic region in New York, said that she wanted her wedding, which will take place this month, “to celebrate our cultures, but I also want to make it about commitment and equality and an extension of our values.”

Dr. Shah is working with Jove Meyer, a New York City planner who created an ally pledge that he asks every vendor he works with to sign and that he displays on his website. All of the vendors he has suggested for Dr. Shah have been people of color, identify as women or come from a historically marginalized group. Dr. Shah will have a female Hindu priest as her officiant. {snip}