Best Practices for More Inclusive Meetings
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To thrive in an increasingly complex world, organizations need diverse talent. But diversity is only the beginning. To unlock the power and potential of that diverse talent, they need each employee to feel a sense of value, purpose and belonging. Which means, they also need inclusion.
Getting both elements right isn’t always easy, but it’s certainly advantageous.
A growing body of research shows that diverse and inclusive organizations, when compared to their peers, are:
- 87% more likely to make better decisions (Korn Ferry Research)
- 75% faster at bringing products to market (Center for Talent Innovation)
- More innovative (MIT Sloan School of Management)
- Three times as likely to have satisfied employees (Boston Consulting Group)
An Inclusive Culture Starts with Inclusive Meetings
Here’s a fact that might shock you: A Harvard Business Review study found that only 35% of employees surveyed felt consistently comfortable contributing in meetings. In meetings of 10 people, only three to four people feel empowered to contribute — leaving six or seven unique perspectives unheard. That should be a concern for any team leader.
One way to counter this problem is with inclusive meetings. These aren’t just about meeting diversity quotas, but about fostering an environment where everyone feels empowered to speak up, share, collaborate, and make a meaningful impact. By embracing inclusivity, your meetings can become more productive, creative and ultimately lead to better decision-making, problem-solving and employee satisfaction.
6 Ways to Ensure Inclusive Meetings
- Take stock of who is attending and who is not. Are you missing people who could provide diverse or dissenting perspectives on the topic? If so, consider inviting additional people for broader viewpoints.
- Encourage equal participation. For the most inclusive meetings, you want all attendees to be equally involved. That means ensuring that everyone has an opportunity to speak, share their ideas, and contribute to the discussion. Meeting leaders and facilitators should be mindful of not allowing any individual or group to dominate the conversation.
- Be sensitive to cultural differences. Consider the cultural and linguistic diversity of the people who will be attending the meeting. Be prepared to provide materials in multiple formats and languages to accommodate everyone.
- Assess your accessibility. It’s also smart to consider the physical needs of all participants and make the meeting easily accessible to everyone. This might involve using accessible meetings spaces or using special technology to accommodate those with disabilities. In the meeting invitation, ask attendees to request accommodations if needed.
- Strive to hear from everyone. Plan on hearing from all participants, not just the most outspoken. See the attendees as a source of learning instead of competition or threat. Encourage a variety of people to share their different perspectives, which can help ensure that all voices are heard and that the best decisions are made.
- Be mindful of power dynamics in the room. Make sure that everyone feels comfortable speaking up and that no one person (or small group of people) is dominating the conversation. If someone is controlling the dialogue, interject to redirect the conversation back to the broader group. And watch out for conformity bias, which occurs when people feel pressured to agree with everyone else in the room.
How Technology Can Improve Inclusivity
Once you commit to making your meetings more diverse and inclusive, you may need to invest in some new technology to optimize your time together. There are several technologies that can go a long way to facilitate better communication, collaboration and accessibility. Here are few:
- Video conferencing tools – Video conferencing platforms like Zoom, Microsoft Teams or Google Meet can enable remote participants to join meetings from different locations. This is especially helpful for individuals who may have difficulty attending in-person meetings due to geographic or physical constraints.
- Interactive displays – Once considered a nice-to-have resource, interactive displays are becoming an essential collaboration tool for high-performing teams. They support a culture of inclusivity by ensuring that all participants, regardless of their location or role, have an equal opportunity to contribute during meetings. This contribution encourages the sharing of diverse perspectives, which is crucial for driving innovation, growth and engagement.
- Virtual whiteboards – Virtual whiteboarding tools like Miro or MURAL enable participants to collaborate visually, creating and organizing ideas and content in a virtual space. This can be particularly useful for individuals who may prefer a more visual approach to communication or those with certain cognitive disabilities.
- Webinars and webcasts – Hosting webinars or webcasts can be a more inclusive way to disseminate information to a larger or more dispersed audience. These formats also boost inclusivity by allowing for closed captioning and providing the flexibility for attendees to join from their preferred locations.
- Collaboration platforms – Online collaboration tools such as Microsoft SharePoint, Google Workspace and Slack can enhance inclusivity by allowing participants to share ideas, documents and feedback in real-time. This ensures that everyone has equal access to information and can actively participate in discussions.
- Polling and feedback tools – Polling and feedback tools integrated into meeting platforms can allow participants to express their opinions anonymously, promoting honest input and engagement from all attendees.
By leveraging advanced technologies like these, meeting organizers can create a more inclusive environment, ensuring that all participants have the tools they need to engage fully and contribute effectively to any discussion.
However, it’s important to remember that technology alone is not enough. Meeting facilitators should also be conscious of promoting inclusivity through their approach and behavior during the meetings themselves. That requires a commitment to practice inclusive meeting skills, such as managing interruptions, gender bias, groupthink and chatty extroverts. The key is to ensure that more voices are sought and heard — broadening every discussion and driving new levels of creativity and decision-making.
Research shows that inclusion is critical to keeping employees engaged, teams collaborative, and organizations innovative — all critical components of business health during dynamic times. Take some time to evaluate your meetings and how to make them more diverse and inclusive — the benefits will pay off in big ways.