Are your meetings fair and inclusive?

An organisational expert provides insights on how to run a meeting where all types of workers are actively participating

Introverts, remote workers and women are the three types of workers that often get overlooked at meetings, said organisational effectiveness consultant Renee Cullinan.

“In the ideal meeting, all attendees participate, contributing diverse points of view and thinking together to reach new insights,” she said recently in Harvard Business Review.

In reality, only about 35% feel like they are contributing all the time.

To run an effective, inclusive meeting Cullinan suggests always setting the agenda for the meeting beforehand.

“Introverted thinkers [especially] make their best contributions when they’ve had time to process relevant data and space to choose words carefully and share thoughtful conclusions,” she said.

Extroverted thinkers, who tend to make sense of things out loud, might misinterpret their silence as disagreement or lack of knowledge on the subject matter and might not make an effort to include them, she said.

She advised meeting facilitators to proactively engage introverted team members by asking them questions directly during the meeting and afterwards, circulating an email summarising points covered during the meeting and soliciting ideas that may come to them after the meeting.

‘Out of sight, out of mind’
For remote workers, the biggest problem, said Cullinan, is the seeming ineffectiveness of conference calls.

“Although they often attend meetings via conference call, they routinely have a hard time making a contribution,” she reported.

Prior to the meeting, she said facilitators should consider assigning someone to ensure that virtual members are engaged during the meeting at all times.

Encourage them to use the chat feature as well by using it as a virtual ‘hands up’ should they want to add something to the discussion. 

Use video conferencing, if available, she added, then follow up the meeting with a short, precise note summarising key points covered.

Including the women
“Multiple studies have reached the same conclusion: Women are far more likely to be interrupted in meetings, and their ideas taken less seriously,” said Cullinan.

She advised “enlisting the help of progressive men to lead by example and holding them accountable for making space for their female counterparts”.

It might also help, she said, to talk to the worst offenders about their behaviour because they might not be aware that they have a bias against their female colleagues.

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