In this blog article we will cover:

  • What recent research tells us about the impact of diversity, equity, inclusion and belonging (short DE&I) on meeting productivity
  • An overview of an overview of common biases, including those that are unconscious
  • Tips for how to prepare and run equitable meetings for all.’

Despite the growth in online communications in the workplace, it seems meetings still play an important role. The average middle level manager spends around 35 per cent of their time in meetings. For those higher up the corporate ladder, this figure can go as high as 50 per cent. That is more than two days a week being spent on meetings. 

Managers spend more than a third of their working hours in meetings. With forty per cent of managers being white men, they are struggling with how and why to include diverse voices in decision making.

Fact is, white men possess more than 40 per cent of the leadership jobs in most companies, that number dramatically increases the higher the leadership position. In 2019, the White Men Leadership Study showed that those white men are 40 per cent less effective than their non-white, non-male peers when it comes to including diverse voices in decision making. They asked white male leaders what their biggest difficulty with DE&I were. The top two answers were  that it’s not clear to them if diversity includes white men, and how diversity and inclusion deliver valuable results.

Spoiler alert: practicing and embracing diversity, equity, inclusion and belonging (DE&I) benefits everyone, including white men. 

Let’s look closer at these three pillars of the impact of DE&I in meetings

  1. Why DE&I in meetings is important for everyone
  2. How diversity, equity and inclusion delivers valuable results in meetings
  3. The negative effects of neglecting DE&I in meetings

1. Why DE&I in meetings is important for everyone

Whether we feel comfortable speaking up in a meeting often depends on our perception of belonging and acceptance by other attendees, as well as the meeting organizer. When we are surrounded by a homogenous group, we overemphasize on common qualities. We shy away from expressing controversial ideas, in fear of rejection and being positioned as an outsider. When we are surrounded by a diverse group of people, we are more likely to feel safer expressing our unique thoughts. 

Diversity is not limited to gender or physical ability, there are internal dimensions (age, gender, ethnicity), external dimension (marital status, parental status, habits and personality traits) and organizational dimensions (seniority, role, work location). So even in an apparent homogenous group of white men, one can feel excluded because of their lack of interest in a specific sport or age difference. 

Diversity is only one aspect of DE&I. It’s all too easy to hire people from diverse backgrounds and then sit back and expect the magic to happen. But a passive approach is guaranteed to fail. BCG’s 2017 research on gender diversity showed that 91 per cent of companies have a program in place, yet only 27 per cent of women say they have actually benefited from it.

Creating a meeting culture where everyone is included, where everyone has a sense of belonging and feels safe to speak up allows for more diversity of thought. This diversity of thought ultimately leads to better performance, increased creativity and less turnover.

2. How diversity, equity and inclusion delivers valuable results in meetings

Let’s look at the positive impact that DE&I can have in general and in meetings specifically. Studies show the positive monetary impact of a diverse workforce with an inclusive culture.

  • In a Deloitte survey, 80 per cent of employees consider inclusion as an essential factor in choosing an employer. 72 per cent of respondents would consider leaving an organization for a more inclusive one. Another study found that a diverse workplace climate improved retention amongst nearly all employees.

  • Companies with inclusive culture are two times more likely to meet or exceed financial targets, six times more likely to be innovative and agile, and eight times more likely to achieve better outcomes.

  • BCG surveyed employees on DE&I management. The most important DE&I enabling factors are: managers value employee contributions (58 per cent), teams have open and free discussions (47 per cent), and a safe space to share perspectives without the fear of retribution (46 per cent)

3. The negative effects of neglecting DE&I in meetings

Now that we know of the competitive benefits of a diverse workforce with an inclusive culture, let’s look into the negative effects of ignoring unconscious or implicit biases, microaggressions and descrimination in meetings. At work, minorities already feel a lesser sense of belonging than their majority peers. They are acutely aware of the implicit and unconscious biases that affect their interactions.

  • If people don’t feel comfortable or encouraged to speak in meetings they disengage and won’t contribute at all. 48 per cent of 650M monthly meeting participants in Cisco’s Webex meetings are not speaking.
  • Among the top three meeting irritations are people interrupting (50 per cent ) and people who won’t listen to others (49 per cent ).

Those behaviors often root in unconscious or implicit biases which lead to meeting fatigue, employee burnout, toxic cultures, and thwart inclusion efforts.

And there’s a price to be paid for workplace discrimination—$64 billion. That amount represents the annual estimated cost of losing and replacing more than two million American workers who leave their jobs each year due to unfairness and discrimination. There are countless studies on how minorities experience workplace discrimination. Creating awareness of them is the first step to name and address them.

  • Multiple studies have reached the same conclusion: Women are far more likely to be interrupted in meetings, and their ideas are taken less seriously. As a result, women talk 25 per cent  less in meetings when men are present. 
  • 37 per cent of African-Americans and Hispanics and 45 per cent  of Asians say they “need to compromise their authenticity” to conform to their company’s standards of demeanor or style. Women in the science, engineering, and technology industries show that, regardless of gender, acting “like a man” can provide an advantage in becoming a leader in these fields.
  • East Asian employees are often accused of being reluctant to speak in group meetings (both formal and informal). The pace of conversation and turn-taking is highly culture-contingent. Many cultures such as those of Australia or Italy value a dynamic and fast paced conversational rhythm.
  • 41 per cent  of disabled adults in GB who are working say they suspect that their disability might possibly be a factor in them losing their job.

A significant number of workers who face micro agressions and discrimination are gay or trans. They have been treated unfairly simply because of their sexual orientation and gender identity. An astonishing 90 per cent of transgender individuals report experiencing some form of harassment, mistreatment, or discrimination on the job, or they’ve taken actions such as hiding who they are to avoid it.

Taking action: How to plan and moderate inclusive and equitable meetings

Whether you are using inclusive meeting tools like Calvah or not, these four basic tips will help you to create inclusive and equitable meetings:

  1. Meeting Agenda
    • No matter how many participants, an agenda gives every participant the opportunity to prepare and to give feedback equally. It also nudges the organizer to set meeting goals, set expectations and therefore track productivity. State the full name with phonetic spelling and pronouns for every attendee to avoid misgendering and mispronunciation. 
  2. Unbiased Feedback 
    • Including anonymous voting and feedback tools (surveys, virtual white boards, online voting) helps to reduce biases. This way you are not influenced by who delivered the feedback. An open, trustworthy meeting environment strengthens the feeling of belonging. 
  3. Equal speaking time / speaking opportunities
    • When preparing an agenda check how you allocate speaking times and feedback opportunities. Are you inviting attendees without giving them the chance to participate? Are you allocating speaking time fairly? 
    • Try to incorporate a moderator or a  smart timer in your meeting to reduce interruptions and monologues.  
  4. Inclusive meeting technology
    • If you have attendees who are hearing or visually impaired, make sure to use software with features like TTS. Many virtual meeting software operators like Zoom have hidden accessibility features.