RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) — The fifth annual Triangle DEI Alliance’s Diversity, Equity & Inclusivity Conference returned to the Raleigh Convention Center Tuesday.

It was held virtually the past two years because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

A record number of people from across the county — more than 1,300 — registered to attend the event this year. Because of the record turnout, organizers said the event completely sold out.

They said more than 1,000 people came to the conference, considering no-shows and people whose plans may have changed.

Organizers attribute the record number of attendees to two things: finally being back in person, and more companies placing more of an emphasis on diversity, equity and inclusivity in their workplaces.

“This is a year where the importance of DEI increased in the public domain and public memory,” Torri Staton, the Vice President of Diversity, Equity and Inclusivity with the Raleigh Chamber of Commerce, said. “I think folks are coming in with more knowledge and they want to increase that knowledge.”

Staton was responsible for the planning and oversight of the entire conference.

She said the conference benefitted companies at any level of their DEI journey.

It featured interactive events including virtual reality technology for cultural competence scenarios, using Legos to enhance team building and problem solving, using technology tools for disabled employees and a RACE exhibit — a traveling exhibit that explores the science and history of race in the U.S.

The conference also had an award presentation for the second annual Phil Freelon Diversity, Equity and Inclusivity Award.

Courtney White, an attendee representing chemical company BASF, was presented with the award. Organizers said he was nominated by a community member for his work in DEI.

Attendee Derrick Thornton, the DEI Chair of the Raleigh Regional Association of Realtors, said he learned a lot at the event and shared his thoughts about the first step toward inclusivity.

“I think the first thing is really just being open to having the conversation and realizing that you do have blind spots,” he said. “Even if you are someone who is very well-versed in the space and has spent a lot of time and resources dedicated to it, you still have to understand that there are things that you may not have noticed.”

The overall goal of the conference was to help companies build more inclusive work environments through cultural competency.

It was highlighted through this year’s theme – ‘A Better You, A Better Us.’

“I think this is going to be a really really great learning experience,” Staton said. “And I think the community we build will continue to thrive.”