Running meetings is hard. Running meetings that give all team members a sense of belonging is even harder. Here's how to be inclusive.
Research has shown that only 35% of employees surveyed feel consistently comfortable contributing in meetings. In meetings of five to ten people, that’s only two to three people who feel empowered to contribute. Historically, segments of the workforce are routinely overlooked, including introverts, remote workers, people of colour, and women. Further research shows that even when they do speak up, women are far more likely to be interrupted in meetings, have their ideas taken less seriously, and even co-opted by other teammates. It’s likely that leaders aren’t actively silencing these voices, but rather there are hidden biases at play. We can work to reduce this issue by implement inclusive and intentional practises into meetings. Here are some ideas to get you started:
#1 – Invite only those who need to there – but ensure it is a diverse list
You can start to have more efficient meetings within your organization by carefully screening who you're inviting to each meeting. Ask yourself if it's essential that this individual attend, or if it would be a better use of their time to not invite them.
#2 - Send out an agenda in advance
Meeting attendees cannot be informed or prepared if they do not know what's on the agenda. You should also inquire about accommodations in advance of the meeting. When sending your meeting invite, include a statement letting individuals know that they can request accommodations (such as ASL or captioning) for the meeting. For example: “Persons with disabilities who wish to request accommodations or who have questions about access, please contact [meeting sponsor’s email] in advance of the session.”
#3 – Ensure you are self-aware and engaged
The first step in facilitating inclusive meetings is to ensure that no one is actively being silenced. That means giving your full attention (devices down!), being careful not to interrupt someone that is speaking, and listening carefully as not to repeat what someone already said. Even body language can play a role in whether or not someone feels safe to voice their opinion—avoid head shaking, scowling or looking away when someone is speaking.
#4 – Begin with a Land Acknowledgement
A land acknowledgement is a way that people insert an awareness of Indigenous presence and land rights in everyday life. Check to see If your organization has one already. If not, you can consult resources such as https://native-land.ca/resources/territory-acknowledgement/
#5– Invite meeting participants to share their preferred pronouns.
If a person has never had to worry about which pronoun others use to refer to them, gender pronouns might not seem important. For most, their singular and visible gender identity is a privilege. Not everybody has this privilege; those that are referred to with the wrong pronoun can feel disrespected, invalidated, and alienated. Encourage participants to introduce themselves and share their preferred pronouns. As part of an introduction or icebreaker.
#6- Set the ground rules you might say, “Tell us your name, your role, and if you’re comfortable, your gender pronoun.”
Ensure your meeting runs smoothly and inclusively by laying out some key and non-negotiable ground rules for participating. For example, no interrupting or talking over others, staying on mute while not speaking.
#7- Build in alternative forms of communication
Provide opportunities for everyone to contribute in the way they feel most comfortable doing so. For example, being invited to speak up during a planned pause at the end of every discussion point; including text-based contributions added to the chat box of a video conference; allowing contributors to send first and final thoughts via email before or after a meeting takes place.
#8 - Amplify Voices
Another powerful way to be an ally in a meeting is by making space for all voices to be heard. When someone is trying to say something but getting cut-off, open up the conversation to them. When someone gets interrupted, give them back the floor. If someone hasn’t spoken yet, ask them what they think. When someone makes a good point, acknowledge their contribution and give public attribution to their ideas.
#9 – Beware of Group Think
Be mindful of group think or conformity bias, which occurs when people feel pressured to agree with everyone else in the room. Reduce this tendency by inviting people to share dissenting opinions or take on a “black hat” role.
#10- Ask for feedback on how meetings are going
One of the most foundational characteristics of bias is that we can't see what we can't see. There may be problematic or negative meeting behaviours going on within your organization that you don't see as clearly as others do. It’s important to offer ways for employees to provide feedback anonymously about how meetings are going and what could be improved.