Like A Girl

Pushing the conversation on gender equality.

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We’ve Got To Stop Meeting Like This.

We’ve Got To Stop Meeting Like This.

Research shows the people who are most disadvantaged by meetings are women, introverts, and remotes. The first because of frequent interruptions (and bouts of mansplaining). The second because of the time needed to process information and participate. And third because they’re often out-of-sight and out-of-mind.

This is problematic because for many organizations business-as-usual means not optimizing the power of a diverse team. Moreover, doing so also risks alienating people from their colleagues and their work. So how can we get a better ROI (return on inclusion) from our meetings?

Whether you are facilitating or just participating, here are some quick and easy steps to make your meetings a locus of inclusivity.

Agenda: Get in the habit of setting and circulating an agenda prior to a meeting. This is not only a great way to structure a meeting, it’s also helpful for people who need more time to gather their thoughts and prepare. Some companies have gone as far as instituting a “No agenda, no attenda” norm.

Ritualize Questions: End key points in a meetings with questions such as, “Who haven’t we heard from yet?”, and “What are two additional perspectives we haven’t considered?” Doing so increases the likelihood that all voices have a chance to be heard.

Give Credit: When you notice someone else’s idea get pilfered, give credit to the original source. To address the problem of idea appropriation, women in the Obama administration, for example, famously adopted an “amplification strategy”: every time a woman made a key point in a meeting, other women would echo it back to ensure that credit was properly given.

Notice Interruptions: Train your mind to observe and respond to interruptions. When someone gets talked over, politely come back to the person who was interrupted, “Emma it sounded to me like you did not finish making your point, did you have more to say on this topic?” If the interrupter keeps talking over people, set up time to give them feedback (there is a good chance they are unaware they’re doing this).

Share and Rotate: Make sure meeting responsibilities — facilitator, note keeper, time keeper, technology steward, food collector — are shared and rotated. Sharing roles gives everyone a chance to develop meeting skills, create engagement, and develop empathy across the team. From the perspective of inclusivity, shared roles also means no one individual or group feels saddled with a task that prevents them from participating fully in the meeting.

Solo brainstorming: Traditional forms of brainstorming — where everybody shouts out ideas — favors extroverts, loud talkers, and fast thinkers. Research shows, however, that in comparision to individual brainstorming — where people take time to produce ideas alone — group brainstorming generates less ideas. In your next ideational meeting, set time for people to jot down ideas on their own and share them afterwards

Follow up: Create space for people to contribute ideas beyond the meeting itself (for those post-meeting bathroom “Aha! I should have said that!” moments). Send a summary of the key points in the meetings and ask attendees if any new insight emerged since you last met.

It’s no secret that meetings are a huge time-suck within organizations. Yet meetings can also be a tremendous source of collective power and progress. For that to happen, however, you need to create the conditions for all voices to be heard. Fortunately, small changes can have a big impact.