Best Practices for Diverse & Inclusive Meetings

When you look at your calendar, how do you feel?

Meetings are a huge indicator of employee engagement.  I often kid with my clients that I can watch a meeting (live or virtual) and guess how engaged the team is.  Meeting behavior signals inclusion, or often, the lack of inclusion.

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?

The tale of two groups

Data often backs up that the majority group (white, male, cisgender, straight, able-bodied people) tend to have more air time in meetings, make the majority of 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.

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 huge 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 inclusion. 

Strategies to lift meeting inclusion

  1. 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.  I like these as a starting point:  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 facilitator must hold the team accountable to these ground rules for them to work.
  2. 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.
  3. 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 just to name a few.

Invest the time in inclusive meetings and you are bound to increase diversity, equity, and inclusion on your team.

Curious to learn more? 

Check out my latest interviews with diversity, equity, and inclusion experts on the Next Pivot Point podcast, take our free team diversity and inclusion assessment, and schedule time with Julie to talk live about ideas.

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