“This meeting could have been an email.”
You’ve probably seen this meme if you spend time on social media. It references a fact that has only become more apparent since more and more of us are engaging in remote work. Meetings can be more or less productive, depending on how they are conducted. However, a dynamic that can be less apparent is how meetings can inadvertently exclude the best ideas from all our team members.
Conversations about workplace diversity, equity, and inclusion often address cultural shifts on the organizational level—employee handbooks, company policies, value statements, and more. However, the commitment to being more equitable, and inclusive in the workplace must also take place on the interpersonal level, where change is made through discussion and education. Some of the best opportunities to engage in more inclusive and effective practices are meetings. These include staff meetings, departmental meetings, ownership groups, or any other grouping of team members. We often unintentionally create dynamics where some team members are disincentivized to participate in meetings or speak up. Other times, we don’t realize how patterns in meetings can make some individuals feel excluded or like they have no autonomy.
Studies have shown that being a more diverse and inclusive organization is correlated with being a more engaged, creative, and financially successful organization, suggesting that if we as craft beer businesses were more intentional in our commitment to inclusion, our community, our workspaces, our bottom lines, and our people would all benefit.
Inclusion is the practice of ensuring that people feel a sense of belonging in the workplace. This means that every employee feels comfortable and supported by the organization when it comes to being their authentic selves. Greater inclusion can help create greater equity in our organizations when processes and programs are impartial, fair, and allow everyone the opportunity to achieve equal outcomes. Greater inclusion and equity can help cultivate flourishing diversity and vibrant differences in visible and invisible identities, backgrounds, and perspectives that exist harmoniously in the workplace.
The following are considerations and resources for organizing more inclusive and effective meetings.
Considerations for Before the Meeting
- Give advanced notice of the meeting. Even if something feels pressing, do the best you can to give ample notice.
- Make sure all the people who need to be involved are at the meeting. If someone can’t be present, try to facilitate a way for the individual to be a part of the meeting remotely. This may include video calls, phone calls, or ensuring that they jot down thoughts on the agenda that can be brought up in their absence.
- Establish rules for the meeting. Don’t assume that everyone knows the expectations for meeting procedures and etiquette. These rules can be short and direct, but you as the leader must practice what you preach for them to remain rules. Example: When remarking on another colleague’s idea(s), reflect on what you understood from them before giving your input.
- Create an agenda. Send agendas with as much lead time as possible, ideally with the original meeting notification or invitation. Even if the agenda is for a regularly scheduled meeting, agendas should not be the same for each meeting. This can give the impression that there is no room for feedback or new contributions. Allow space for anyone to give input or have the option to add anything to the agenda beforehand. Sometimes people need time and less pressure than being put on the spot to come up with something. Using a shared document can make this process simple.
Considerations for During the Meeting
- Be aware that seating matters. Make sure that everyone is similarly situated, meaning all the seats are the same height, equidistant, and have no heads of tables. You want to be there on the same playing field as everyone else. You are all collaborators.
- Manage interruptions and encourage interactions. Set the tone at the beginning of the meeting to encourage comments and discourage interruptions. When someone does interrupt, acknowledge they have something they would like to contribute, then redirect back to the individual who has been interrupted. Be aware of inequitable patterns of interruption. Research suggests that women are much more likely to be interrupted, and comments from people of marginalized communities are much more likely to be disregarded than those of their white male counterparts.
- Find ways to encourage people of all comfort levels to participate. Invite participation at multiple levels. People process information and communicate in different ways. Asking for participation during the meeting in the agenda beforehand and on the meeting notes afterward are two ways to increase participation and inclusion with the added benefit of keeping the conversation going and relevant to the team’s mind. If you have particularly reticent team members, you can start with a non-business-related question encouraging everyone to speak up. For example, the BA Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Committee begins each meeting by inviting everyone to share something they are grateful for. Meeting facilitators should work to recognize when one individual or the same group of individuals are monopolizing the conversation—and whether they are speaking for themselves or acting as a “spokesperson” for others who may be afraid to speak up. Finally, beware of putting people on the spot as this can lead to them shutting down.
- Celebrate the value of opposing views. Creating a workplace where everyone feels a sense of belonging and is free to be their authentic selves means acknowledging the value of different perspectives and conflicting points of view. In fact, diverse teams are proven to be innovative because of the range of different ideas they put into consideration. If your teams too easily fall into consensus, it could be because one more person is reluctant to offer what they believe may be an unpopular opinion. Try strategically asking if someone can give an opposing view to what has been just offered or designate someone to play the role of “devil’s advocate.” Taking care to normalize productive dissent can alleviate the potential for an us vs. them dynamic to develop.
- Be aware of the role of bias. No one is perfect, but self-reflection and self-education will go a long way to mitigate bias. Here are a couple of forms of bias that commonly show up in meetings.
- An expedience bias refers to our tendency to prefer quick decisions and actions. This bias can negatively affect introverts, those who prefer to take more time before they speak, those newer to our teams, or those who might feel they aren’t members of a core group. Be sure to allow everyone ample time to consider and contribute.
- A proximity bias refers to our tendency to pay most attention to those physically close to us. This bias can affect our team members who attend meetings by phone or video. Please make sure these team members aren’t out of mind when they are out of sight or not physically in the room by holding space for remote contributions. Remember that implicit bias of any kind can show up in a meeting. If it is not recognized and mitigated, that bias could very easily be taken as “business as usual” for your organization.
Considerations for After the Meeting
- Be sure to follow up. If possible, send a summary or meeting notes to attendees within one day. If the meeting produced action items, check in with your attendees on the days following the meeting about assigned tasks.
- Provide opportunities for reflection and collect feedback. Ask attendees about how the meeting went and any suggestions for future meetings. Questions you might consider asking are:
- What went well?
- What could be better next time?
- What could the meeting facilitator practice or model at the next meeting?
- What does the meeting facilitator need to learn more about?
As you can see, there are many ways to make meetings more inclusive and effective. You don’t have to try everything. Try the strategies you can easily implement and keep working on new methods to improve meetings. If you are already using effective strategies for running inclusive and effective meetings, join the discussion in the Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion board on the BA Forum.
The DEI Education Subcommittee is:
- Damon Arredondo (Unify Brewing – Kansas City, Mo.)
- Theresa Collins (Hopworks Urban Brewery – Portland, Ore.)
- Rachel Engel (Bosk Brew Works – Woodinville, Wash.)
- Laura Lopez (Port City Brewing Company – Alexandria, Va.)
- Emily Silver (Brewers Association – Boulder, Colo.)
- William Teasley (Khonso Brewing Company – Atlanta, Ga.)
- Jody Valenta (Roadhouse Brewery – Jackson Hole, Wyo.)
- Tranice Watts (Lifting Lucy – Waldorf, MD)
- Roxanne Westendorf (AHA Governing Committee – Cincinnati, Ohio)