Many workplaces are so focused on diversity goals, they completely forget about inclusion. Yes, it’s an important first step to hire diverse talent. But that isn’t enough. To make the most of your diverse team and create a welcoming environment, it’s critical for leaders to consider everyone’s ideas, perspectives, and concerns. In part, that means holding meetings that work for everyone—meetings that encourage multiple viewpoints and make sure everyone’s voice is heard.
According to a 2022 article by NPR correspondent, Stacey Vanek Smith, “Getting interrupted, talked over and ignored in meetings happens to everyone — but more often to gender minorities, people of color and more junior employees.” If you fall into any one of these categories, you are probably well aware that this is true. In one study by George Washington University, men interrupted women 33 percent more often than other men. And Black people often report feeling silenced in the workplace.
Not only does silencing affect employees on a personal level, it can also affect a company’s bottom line. Higher workplace engagement can lead to higher productivity, a better attendance record, and improved retention.
There are clearly many benefits to engaging and including your people, and team meetings provide a great opportunity to begin fostering intentional inclusion. Here are 5 ways to invite multiple voices—and multiple perspectives—into meetings:
1. Set the Right Tone
It’s a good idea to lay out meeting expectations right away. Emphasize that you are hoping to hear from as many people as possible, and all thoughts, opinions, and perspectives are welcome. If there are some people on your team who tend to take up more air time than others, consider enforcing a speaking time limit (say, three minutes to get a single point across).
2. Be an Active Moderator
Pay attention to who is trying to speak, who is frequently jumping in or interrupting, and who has remained quiet. You can bring people into the conversation tactfully, without calling attention to their silence. For example: “Those are all great points. Ricardo, I wonder if you have anything to add, since you worked on a similar project last month.”
Or: “These are great ideas, but I wonder if we’re missing anything. I’d love to hear from someone who hasn’t had a chance to weigh in yet.”
3. Take Note of Body Language
Is someone leaning forward or making eye contact? That might mean they are highly engaged or want to speak. Is someone sighing, rolling their eyes, chewing on their lips, or making another sign of irritation or discomfort? That may mean they want to say something but are holding back for some reason. How about the person who hardly looks at the screen and is slumping in their chair? They may be disengaged, or they may simply be absorbing the information.
Don’t make too many assumptions about body language. For instance, if someone doodles in a notebook, that doesn’t necessarily mean they are disengaged. This might simply be their way of quietly taking in information. After a time, you should be able to interpret your team members’ body language and know when someone wants to share or is annoyed by something that’s been said.
4. Ask for Contributions
You don’t have to run meetings by yourself. Involve your team by asking a different person each week (or whenever you meet) to provide a brief update on what they’re doing, any roadblocks their facing, and how team members can contribute. This person may also provide other insights or lessons they’ve learned, if appropriate. By having different people run different parts of the meeting, you’re conveying that everyone is a valuable contributor and participant.
5. Provide Multiple Outlets for Sharing
Not everyone likes to speak up during a meeting. Make sure you provide a communication channel for those who prefer communicating through writing, in small groups, or even anonymously. Keep an open line of communication via email or private meetings; occasionally send out surveys requesting feedback; and encourage feedback through Slack or other online message boards.
The key to inclusive meetings is providing a safe space where all people can freely express their thoughts and opinions. This may take active moderation at first, but ideally these meetings will start to feel like an open idea marketplace, rather than a “members only” shop where only a few people are allowed through the door. With some conscious effort, your meetings can be a welcoming place for people of all backgrounds to share their perspectives.