How to Make Meetings More Inclusive

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Meetings are an essential part of workplace life. They enable employers and their employees to communicate and share information, solve problems, resolve disputes, improve performance, build teamwork, and move projects forward.

However, neurodiverse employees can find meetings challenging. For example, an employee with autism may find the atmosphere of the meeting room overwhelming, an employee with ADHD may have difficulty sitting still and paying attention to what their colleagues discuss, and an employee with dyslexia may struggle to write up meeting minutes. Therefore, it is even more essential that meetings are tailored towards neurodiverse individuals. These can include in-person meetings or virtual meetings.

What does it mean to be inclusive in the workplace?

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Being inclusive in the workplace means including a range of employees of various factors. These factors can include ethnicity, religion, age, gender identity, sexual orientation, marital status, and disability. Workplace inclusion involves providing every member of an organisation with equal access to professional resources and opportunities. It is an integral part of company culture that allows organisations to support and encourage each employee to be their authentic self.

Inclusion in the workplace makes company staff important and encourages them to work in a way that maximises their true potential. It also allows organisations to avoid marginalising their staff and create equal opportunities for them, regardless of the aforementioned factors besides mental and physical abilities. Workplace inclusion supports the idea of creating a workplace that is safer and more respectful to all employees.

Examples of workplace inclusion are as follows:

  • Creating a sense of belonging.
  • Nurturing empathetic leadership.
  • Offering employees different opportunities.
  • Developing a collaborative environment.
  • Ensuring that employees feel valued.

Organisations that use inclusive workplaces can also acknowledge the differences of their employees and how these differences contribute to the culture and the business outcomes of these organisations. These differences include neurodiversity. An inclusive workplace is characterised by affirmative action and makes any impact of unconscious bias, discrimination, and unequal opportunities invalid.

Why is it important to run inclusive meetings?

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Inclusive meetings empower everyone in the organisation to contribute, not just a select few. While employees feel heard and respected besides valued, teams and organisations benefit from a diverse range of ideas and perspectives.

According to a study by the Harvard Business Review, only 35% of employees reported feeling consistently comfortable to contribute in meetings. Further studies have shown that:

  • People of ethnic minorities are less likely to feel comfortable speaking in internal meetings than their peers of more common ethnic groups.
  • Women are less likely to feel comfortable speaking in meetings than men. Women are also more likely to be interrupted when they speak.
  • Women of ethnic minorities are overall less likely to feel comfortable speaking in internal meetings.
  • Generation Z (people who were born between 1997 and 2012) employees feel less comfortable speaking in meetings than their older colleagues.

People who are neurodiverse may also feel less comfortable contributing to meetings than their neurotypical peers.

How to run inclusive meetings

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Give everyone the opportunity to contribute

This includes regularly asking for input and inviting questions. Encouraging employees to ask questions helps you direct their attention to a specific idea and focus on their thinking. It also naturally facilitates conversation throughout the meeting.

An effective way to give everyone the opportunity to contribute is to ask them a question and have them answer one by one whilst going “around the table.” Open-ended questions are the best questions to ask employees. Requesting feedback on the latest project, role, or product is also essential for inclusive contribution.

The following tips may be helpful for neurodiverse employees:

  • Ask them if they want to contribute.
  • Allow them to contribute anonymously or in smaller groups.
  • Check if they can access the tools you use, explain how to use them, and offer an alternative if necessary.
  • Use visible timers and allow thinking time.
  • Use captions and transcripts where possible.
  • Consider how employees could contribute outside of the meeting, in their own time.

Use clear language

When communicating with neurodiverse colleagues in a meeting, you should keep your language concise and straightforward as well as clear. Avoid jargon, slang words, euphemisms, and colloquial expressions. For example, instead of saying, “That sales report was a slam dunk,” try saying, “That sales report was outstanding.”

If you use visual tools in the meeting, such as presentation slides, be very clear about what you are showing and what you want your peers to look at.

You can clarify what you are showing with these phrases:

  • Can I draw your attention to this slide/graph/column?
  • Can everyone see this slide/these figures?
  • If we look at (e.g., this chart), we can see…
  • Let’s move on to the next slide/graph/column.

Bring a collaborative agenda

A useful application for allowing employees to collaborate towards an agenda is Fellow. This enables everyone to access the agenda before the meeting and prepare for the meeting.

The agenda should include a list of topics that will be discussed throughout the meeting. Allow contributions and suggestions from your team members to add to the agenda.

A meeting agenda could also include the following:

  • The chance for employees to introduce themselves.
  • An optional icebreaker.
  • Breaks, especially for longer meetings
  • Follow-up actions, such as acting on items that were discussed during the meeting.
  • Closing. This can include allowing participants to add any final items, giving feedback, or briefly clarifying any hanging questions.

Provide more than one way to contribute

If the meeting is online, encourage participants to communicate through the chat function. Using a collaborative meeting agenda where people can add their comments in advance is also effective. Allowing people to add comments to the meeting notes for a set amount of time after the meeting is another good way to contribute besides contributing during the meetings.

You can make your team aware of the different ways they can contribute to the meeting. For example, when you discuss the agenda for the next meeting, say something like, “Please share any items you would like to discuss during the meeting in the agenda so we can make sure we cover them in the meeting.” If the meeting is online, ask a question in the chat function.

Build psychological safety

Psychological safety describes an environment where people feel they can express themselves without fearing what others will think of them. In the workplace, psychological safety means that employees feel comfortable to speak up whether they share ideas, ask questions, express concerns, or acknowledge mistakes.

According to Dr. Timothy Clark in his book The Four Stages of Psychological Safety, these stages are as follows:

  • Stage 1: Inclusion Safety. Members feel safe on the team, feel their ideas are welcomed, and do not feel excluded. Everyone is invited to contribute ideas and questions at meetings.
  • Stage 2: Learner Safety. Team members feel they can learn from each other and ask for help if needed.
  • Stage 3: Contributor Safety. Members offer their ideas without fear of being embarrassed or ridiculed.
  • Stage 4: Challenger Safety. Team members feel free to question the ideas of other members and to suggest new ones.

Value all contributions equally

Give everyone a chance to speak and do not allow one voice to dominate the discussion. If you are referencing input, reference contributions from a range of people. Consider your audience by adapting your approach or process to encourage contribution from more people.

Creating an environment that fosters inclusive meetings is essential for workplace happiness. Ensuring that everyone feels heard and creating a space where everyone feels they can contribute equally without judgement is crucial. These points stress that everyone’s input is valued and important.

The most effective ways to make meetings more inclusive are giving everyone the opportunity to contribute, using language that everyone can easily understand, bringing a collaborative agenda, providing several ways to contribute, building psychological safety, and valuing all contributions equally. This article also explained workplace inclusion and the importance of running inclusive meetings.

Useful links

Employer workplace needs assessment
Diversity and inclusion activities for the workplace

Blog Author

April Slocombe