3 Non-Obvious Meeting Strategies to Drive Inclusion

Meetings are a snapshot of a culture. Who speaks, who interrupts, who makes decisions, who stays silent. These are all telling signs of inclusion. Who is the space including and who is it excluding? There are three key non-obvious ways to facilitate more inclusive meetings – a clear purpose, lots of interaction, and a conclusion that has concrete action steps.

People spend 10 hours a week on average in virtual meetings. Meetings are a drain on productivity, and often are poorly facilitated. Rarely do people look forward to meetings and feel the time could have been better spent working vs. talking about work.

A meeting is a snapshot of culture. If meetings are inclusive, it is likely that the culture is inclusive. In cultures where diversity and inclusion thrive, it is likely that a wide variety of perspectives are represented in the meeting, people feel psychologically safe sharing their perspectives and those perspectives are welcomed and heard.

Inclusive teams make better business decisions 87% of the time.

Firms with more diverse management teams have 19% higher revenues according to Forbes.

Gender and racial diversity lifts profitability rates 20-36% according to McKinsey.

Inclusive meetings have three key ingredients – a strong set of expectations, are highly interactive and end with action. Yet rarely are all of three of these ingredients found in meetings. If you want more inclusive meetings, consider:

  • Paying attention to who is speaking and not speaking
  • Watching out for harmful non-inclusive behavior toward groups of people
  • Being mindful about meeting times and locations so that all folks feel included

The majority group (white, male, cisgender, straight, non-disabled people) tend to have more airtime in meetings, make most decisions, and are more likely to interrupt and speak over others. That means that those that are underrepresented (people of color, female, gender non-binary, transgender, LGBTQ+, people with a disability) are less likely to participate and contribute to meeting outcomes.

Reflect on your meetings…

  • How often do the same types of people speak?
  • How often do the same types of people make decisions?
  • What types of people get interrupted the most?
  • What types of people hesitate to participate?
  • How do you feel after meetings?

Those in the majority group often leave meetings feeling satisfied, and those underrepresented often feel unheard, unseen, and not valued. This leads to less inclusion, retention of diverse talent, and a self-fulfilling belief that “we’re trying to increase diversity, but we cannot find people, or they do not stay.”  Maybe your culture of exclusion is why.

Meeting behavior is a real factor holding teams back from being truly diversity, equitable, and inclusive.  How you feel after a meeting is a barometer on your overall engagement at work. It is a strong indicator of how included you feel. People do not stay places where they do not feel included.

Have a Strong Set of Expectations

Have agreed upon rules of engagement defined up front. Decide the meeting norms your team will follow for standing meetings and have a few ready to share for new meetings. Consider these starter points:  We want to hear from everyone (even if it is “I don’t know”). We want honesty (it is not about being good at this, it is about getting better). This is a brave place to be your full self (we want this to be inclusive for everyone). Let the team co-create rules of engagement. The meeting facilitator must hold the team accountable to these ground rules for them to work.

Ensure Meetings are Highly Interactive

Get everyone to share early. Take turns speaking until everyone has had an opportunity to share.  Realize also that not everyone likes to share publicly and may need time to process. To help those that are processors or introverts, start with a quick share question to get everyone talking early.

The sooner people participate, the more likely they will participate throughout the meeting. A one-word check-in on how people are feeling, a word to describe their week, or a short share on the topic of the meeting is a great start. No need for silly icebreakers about favorites or superficial trust building. Without interaction, a meeting could be an email.

End with Action

Strive for commitment, not consensus. No need to belabor the conversation until everyone agrees to the same outcome. That often leads to watered down and hard to implement decisions. Instead, anchor to a vetted idea early and ask people to build off of that idea. Inclusive teams have skilled facilitators that guide the conversation rather than let it meander. They reign people in with questions like “who wants to build off of that idea?” or “how does that idea relate to the idea we are working on now?”

Yes, inclusive meetings may take more time. In the long run, they save time. They also contribute to better business results – more innovation, better decisions, higher revenues, and profits. Invest the time in inclusive meetings, and you are bound to increase diversity, equity, and inclusion on your team.

Want to do better, and not sure where to start?  Connect with us to learn more.


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