By Cathy Leonard, Cathy Leonard Consulting
Facilitating meetings can be tough. Facilitating inclusive meetings where all participants have an equal opportunity to contribute can seem near impossible. But it is well worth the effort and can be especially important for introverts, remote workers, and women, who often struggle to be heard in meetings. (1) “Leaders who give diverse voices equal airtime are nearly twice as likely as others to unleash value-driving insights, and employees in a ‘speak up’ culture are 3.5 times as likely to contribute their full innovative potential.” (2)
Here are some ways to hold more inclusive meetings.
Before the meeting
Send a detailed agenda in advance. This gives introverts time to reflect and prepare, informs remote employees who miss pre-meeting chatter, and supports attendees for whom English is not their first language.
Budget enough time so all participants can share their views, have meaningful discussion, and bring topics to closure. Too little time may limit the input of introverts or less confident participants. Consider whether early start or late end times are an issue for people with child care or other responsibilities. Consider time zone changes for remote participants. Start and end on time.
To facilitate equitable meeting participation, ensure accessibility related to mobility, hearing, vision, and other needs. Accessibility checklists such as this one from InclusionNL (3) are available to facilitate these reviews. Also, in advance of the meeting encourage participants to identify if they require a specific accommodation.
During the meeting
Introduce all participants and state why they are attending.This engages people early and helps them feel included.
Seat participants in a manner that conveys equal importance and provides equal opportunity to contribute. For example, ensure participants all have seats around the table, rather than placing the minority or more junior attendees on the periphery when the room gets crowded.
Set ground rules to minimize interruptions. Research has shown that women are interrupted more than men in meetings (by both men and women), (4) so it’s important to address interrupters, indicating you would like to finish your comment, or to chip in on someone’s behalf when it happens to them.
Make space for remote workers and introverts. Whereas extroverts may tend to talk as they think, introverts want time to think before they speak. Give introverts time to interject, or ask them directly if they have something to add. Ensure remote workers have a way to get noticed, for instance by using a chat or virtual hand-raise function or checking in with them periodically.
Amplify and attribute great ideas. Women and minorities tend to be more collaborative and humble in meetings, so their ideas can lie flat until they are picked up by another attendee, who receives recognition for their idea. Women in President Obama’s administration famously developed an amplification strategy whereby they would repeat or comment on great ideas by female co-workers, to ensure credit was attributed appropriately.(5)
After the meeting
When there is a repeat offender who interrupts or dominates, pull them aside to share your concern. They likely do not realize their impact.
Recognize the importance of the influence that majority group member (eg., men, extroverts ) can have. Enlist co-workers to lead by example and hold others accountable fo ensuring everyone is able to contribute to the meeting.
Ask for feedBack. Let your group know you are trying to hold more inclusive meetings and ask them if there is anything you can do to make his happen.
Give one or more of these suggestions a try and watch the difference it make to the engagement of participants and the value of your meetings.
Cathy works with organizations to build diverse workforces and inclusive workplace cultures. Through consulting and training, she helps her clients connect diversity and inclusion strategies to improved business performance.
Prior to launching her consulting firm, Cathy spent 15 years working throughout Canada in the oil and gas industry, focused on human resources, diversity, inclusion, and financial management.
Cathy is a Canadian Certified Inclusion Professional (CCIPTM), has a Master of Business Administration, a Bachelor of Commerce, and a certificate in Leadership and Inclusion.