Employee Experience

How to host more inclusive meetings

Hybrid and remote work has accelerated the need for inclusive meetings where employees, no matter where they are, feel welcome to contribute their ideas. Get started designing inclusive meetings with this comprehensive guide.

Enabling people to feel heard and appreciated in meetings is critical – especially right now when some people may not be physically in the office. Incorporate these principles into your day-to-day meetings to make sure you hear every voice.

What is an inclusive meeting?

An inclusive meeting is when everyone gets a chance to contribute and all voices are valued and have equal weight. Whether participants are in the room or online, across the table or the ocean, everyone should feel welcome to participate.

How to prepare for a meeting to make it more inclusive

If you’re not sure how to get started planning an inclusive meeting, the good news is: you probably already prepare for meetings – now it’s a matter of shifting your perspective to be in (every one of) your participants’ shoes.

  • Consider these best practices:
    Be mindful of the time of day and local time zone when setting the meeting – aim for normal business hours and respect the time that attendees have blocked off.
  • Think about your participants’ family responsibilities.
  • Make sure the meeting is not being held on major cultural or religious holidays.
  • Try not to book meetings at the same time as company events.
  • Send the agenda out ahead of time and if appropriate, pre-reads.
  • Set expectations for any goals, objectives, and/or decisions that are to emerge or unfold from the meeting.
  • Identify and assign roles and responsibilities as appropriate and try to rotate responsibilities.
  • Review your list of attendees. Ensure that you’re not missing people who represent diverse or dissenting points of view.
  • Ensure the physical meeting space is accessible for those who may have mobility, ambulatory, visual, hearing, and/or sensory disabilities. This includes checking that any lifts or elevators to space are functioning properly.
  • Ask attendees beforehand if they require any visual or audio accommodations (note: this does not mean to ask for conditions). This can include subtitles/speech-to-text, text-to-speech, accessible fonts, and colors, or pacing discussion to allow for breaks in the conversations.

Supplemental reading: Run Meetings That Are Fair to Introverts, Women, and Remote Workers

What to do during a meeting to make it more inclusive

Now that you’ve planned and prepared for pre-meeting logistics, you can focus on being inclusive during the time you’re spending together.

Here are some tips:

  • As the meeting is starting, be mindful that pre-meeting chatter should be inclusive about topics that everyone in the room can relate to (e.g., your weekend, weather) rather than topics that only some groups may be able to (e.g., sports).
  • Be respectful of others’ schedules. Try to start and end meetings on time.
  • Introduce yourself with your pronouns. Encourage others to do the same.
  • Set clear ground rules upfront, codifying these will help attendees be aware of their responsibilities, as well as how they should engage and interact with each other (e.g., no interrupting or talking over others; encouraging alternate viewpoints).
  • Be mindful that some people might be in the room and some might be online when it comes to audio, whiteboard, or other forms of collaboration. Turn on the video as soon as you get into the room and stay in view of the camera and near the microphone when talking.
  • If some participants are attending in person, make sure that there are no audio or physical barriers preventing those online from participating.
  • Greet each meeting participant warmly, by name, so everyone feels welcome.
  • Formally introduce new participants.
  • Use inclusive language. Actively encourage others to do the same.
  • Remain engaged in the conversation from beginning to end and remove distractions such as your cell phone. Encourage others to do the same.
  • Ensure any accessibility assistance technology is working properly.

Tips for how to mediate and facilitate inclusive meetings

In addition to being more inclusive, you also want to run meetings that are effective and productive.

Here are a few ways to get the most out of your meetings:

  • Keep track of who’s talking and who isn’t.
  • Exhibit zero tolerance for interruptions.
  • Prevent anyone from dominating or derailing the discussion.
  • Give credit, acknowledge input from others, and highlight contributors.
  • Provide momentary breaks in the conversation so others can stay apace and not be left behind.
  • Help people to feel included, trusted, and that they are important team members to the work and the decision-making process.
  • Rotate responsibilities and be mindful to not always put certain responsibilities on underrepresented groups. Rotate tasks like note-taking, clean-ups, coffee, and supply bring, or anything else not part of day-to-day responsibilities.

Read more: 8 tips for running effective meetings in a hybrid world of work

What to do after a meeting

What you do after a meeting is just as important to make people feel included as what you do before and during a meeting.

To start, be sure to follow up after your meeting through email or instant message (such as Slack) to thank participants for attending and to ask for their feedback.

Also, share the next steps or actions following the meeting. Be sure to remind meeting participants how work will be evenly (and equitably) distributed and how you will ensure follow through on objectives.

Holding inclusive meetings helps every employee feel like they belong at your organization and that their contributions matter. With these tips, you can run more inclusive, and more productive, meetings in an ever-evolving world of work.

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