Simple Strategies for Diverse Meetings

Read Time: 6 minutes

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Doodle Content Team

Updated: Jun 21, 2023

Five chairs with different colors in a row.

When it comes to diversity and inclusion in the workplace, the statistics tell the story: ethnically diverse workplaces are 35% more likely to outperform their less diverse competitors, and companies with a diverse makeup of genders are 15% more likely to outperform, according to research from McKinsey. Market analyst Josh Bersin finds that diverse companies are 1.7 times more likely to be innovation leaders and the Harvard Business Review reports that they are 70% more likely to capture new markets. Not only that, but recruitment agency Glassdoor finds that 67% of jobseekers rate diversity as an important factor in evaluating potential workplaces. Aside from reflecting the diverse world we live in, diverse workplaces are more desirable and more competitive than their counterparts. And yet…

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Let’s take the U.S as a case study: In 2016, Fortune reported that only 4% of CEO positions at Fortune 500 companies were held by women. In fact, not only were there fewer female CEOs than male CEOs, there were fewer female CEOS than there were male CEOS named Dave. And a recent study has revealed that black Americans are 16% less likely to be called in for a job interview, a disadvantage that begins even before they get through the door. The situation outside the U.S is much the same.

What’s the stumbling block, then, when it comes to diversity in the workplace? The long answer is that there’s a lot of structural and systemic bias that needs to be overcome. But there are also actionable, easy to implement workplace strategies that can have real impact when it comes to fostering and nurturing a diverse, inclusive work environment. At every level of the workplace, from hiring to promoting to holding meetings, there’s work to be done. At Doodle, meetings just happen to be our wheelhouse, which is why we’re excited to share our insights for creating and sustaining diverse, inclusive meetings.

Before the Meeting

The work of creating inclusive meetings begins before the meeting itself. With some simple, practical preparations, you’ll be well on your way to holding meetings where everyone feels comfortable and encouraged to participate.

Begin by checking your list of invitees: does the makeup of participants at key meetings reflect the diverse makeup of your workplace? If not, that’s an easy fix! Change things up and invite different participants - don’t forget, fresh voices can bring fresh ideas. 

But what if you already have a diverse guest list for your meetings, yet you see the same faces every time? You might need to dig a little deeper. Is there a reason some people are no-shows at important meetings? Why do some people come in late or duck out early? Why do some people never seem to speak up? Try checking your scheduled meeting against a calendar of religious and ethnic holidays. If you provide refreshments at meetings, make sure you cater to a host of cultural dietary requirements, and clearly label vegetarian, Halal, and Kosher options. 

Consider working parents when you schedule critical meetings: early morning meetings and meetings that run late are likely to conflict with family obligations. Making an effort to invite input on your meeting’s agenda ahead of time can help people feel included in the meeting and invested in its outcome, and help you avoid overlooking issues that might be important to others. Finally, circulating as much material as possible before the meeting will allow participants to look over it in their own time, meaning people with disabilities or diverse learning needs won’t struggle to follow along when the meeting is underway.

During the Meeting

Okay, you’ve done your preparation and ensured that a diverse range of people are not only able to attend but should feel comfortable participating in your meeting. But, by the time you’ve wrapped up, the same few voices have dominated the discussion. It’s a common problem: in a typical 8 person meeting, 3 people do 70% of the talking. And these dominant voices can easily drown out more varied viewpoints. During your meetings, it’s critical to set the right tone, so that everyone can participate and feel their contributions are valued. If you find the same few people take over the meeting time and time again, consider establishing workplace-wide guidelines that stipulate no interruptions in meetings. If you’re leading a meeting and notice one person interrupts frequently, it’s appropriate to politely interject when it happens and to bring up the issue with them later. If you’re seeking feedback on a critical issue, you could also try going around the table and seeking input from each participant in turn. You could even try posing a question and giving participants a few minutes to write down their responses before sharing. This gives everyone time to prepare their thoughts and discourages the kind of competitive environment where the loudest and quickest voices are first to be heard.

As well as guarding against interruptions, it’s important to amplify diverse voices and ensure that ideas are correctly attributed. This strategy can be as simple as repeating someone’s idea and emphatically attaching their name to it — and, as female staffers in the Obama White House found, it can pay dividends. As the Washington Post reports: 

‘Female staffers adopted a meeting strategy they called “amplification”: When a woman made a key point, other women would repeat it, giving credit to its author. This forced the men in the room to recognize the contribution — and denied them the chance to claim the idea as their own.’ 

In Obama’s first term, most of his senior staffers were men. His second term saw half of all White House departments chaired by women. It seems this strategy, designed to make women’s contributions more visible, worked.

When workplaces are diverse and inclusive, everyone and everything — including the bottom line —- benefits. And, thanks to these simple strategies, a more inclusive workplace culture can start with your meetings. After all, a meeting where all voices are valued and heard is a great meeting.

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