Many business leaders today aim to make their workplaces more diverse, equitable and inclusive (DEI). With meetings being one of the top ways that people interact with each other within the workplace, it can be argued that DEI initiatives cannot be successfully implemented unless there is a focus places on conduct and leadership within meeting settings.
Taking steps to create more diverse, equitable and inclusive spaces within the workplace can help to improve workplace collaboration and boost employee satisfaction, among a range of other benefits. Keep reading below as we take a deeper dive into DEI workplaces and four ways that can help to cultivate more diverse, equitable and inclusive meeting spaces.
Why Diversity, Equity, and Inclusiveness in the Workplace Matters
Workplaces that are diverse, equitable, and inclusive can create a culture where every employee feels a sense of belonging. Creating a diverse, equitable, and inclusive work environment is beneficial for employees, but it also helps employers. Research from Catalyst shows that when businesses achieve this, they enjoy greater success in recruitment, benefit from increased creativity and innovation, see reduced absenteeism and boost their company reputation.
But what exactly does DEI mean?
Diversity refers to identities and areas of human difference, with examples including gender identity, ethnicity, sexual identity, age, nationality, religion, and socio-economic status. Diverse workplaces will hire and give opportunities to people from a variety of backgrounds and aim to eliminate discrimination and unconscious bias.
Equity refers to fair and just practices within the workplace. One of the key ways it differs from the idea of equality is that equity acknowledges structural inequalities – past and present – and aims to address them. Equal treatment can only result in equity if access to opportunities is equal too.
Inclusiveness refers to a sense of belonging and respect, combined with access to fair participation. The idea of inclusiveness goes hand-in-hand with diversity, but workplaces can be diverse and still be non-inclusive if people do not feel respected, are denied opportunities, or are made to feel they do not belong.
Four Ways to Cultivate Diverse, Equitable and Inclusive Spaces
1. Make Diversity, Equity and Inclusiveness a Goal
The first step to delivering DEI meetings and spaces is to make it a goal. As an article for Fast Company highlights, when businesses leave meetings to run themselves, they tend to preserve the status quo. While it seems simple, a willingness to act is a crucial first step because it allows your workplace to deviate from whatever has become the ‘norm’. It also encourages leaders to take steps to try to learn about discrimination and inclusive language and to think about ways to make meetings fairer and more diverse.
Success here may require you to educate employees, set clear rules, and take appropriate action when people are on the receiving end of language or behavior that is discriminatory and offensive. You should also try to gather feedback from people to get a sense of the specific issues that may exist in your workplace.
2. Allow Different People to Lead Your Meeting
Next, companies need to make an effort to ensure that different people take leadership in meetings. When different people from different backgrounds plan out meetings, your business is more likely to benefit from a diversity of leadership, whether that means through gender, ethnicity, sexuality, religious backgrounds, or other areas. An article for the Harvard Business Review writes that inclusive companies create meeting cultures where contributors from diverse backgrounds make contributions on equal footing, with their contributions having an equal impact. It is the responsibility of business leaders to provide these opportunities.
When meetings are all led by the same few people, they will all be subject to the conscious and unconscious biases those people hold, and they will fail to challenge the status quo or ‘the way things are done’ in your workplace. Regardless of who is leading, those leaders should also be encouraged to bring others into the discussion.
3. Pay Attention to Conduct in Meetings
Another major way in which the future of meetings can be made fairer and more inclusive is by paying careful attention to conduct in meetings and taking action, when necessary, to steer meetings in a more desirable direction. One issue to look out for is marginalized voices. For example, a common complaint among women in the workplace is that they feel they are not able to be heard, especially in male-dominated environments. This is backed up by research into power dynamics within conversational interactions, such as a study from George Washington University, which found that men interrupt women in conversations 33 percent more often than they interrupt other men.
This is just one example of meeting conduct, but action must be taken when issues arise. In this case, leaders need to be willing to step in and allow people to finish their thoughts. It can also be a good idea to set some basic rules – or a code of conduct – for meetings so that people actively think about their own actions and how they might make other people feel, whether intentionally or otherwise.
4. Consider Meeting Devices and Solutions Intentionally
According to a recent survey done by McKinsey, about 90% of organizations will adopt a hybrid work model. This affects how meetings will be carried out in the future – they will soon be a mix of in-person attendees and remote meeting participants. This is where technology can help leverage hybrid meetings by capturing diverse viewpoints, encouraging introverted people to speak up, and ensuring those with mobility issues can still participate.
However, technology can also undermine or marginalize voices and perspectives if employees are not equipped properly, especially remote teams. It is important to consider that not every employee might have a strong WiFi connection, a designated workspace in their homes, or freedom from caregiving responsibilities. Without the right tools and solutions, less privileged employees will not be able to fully present in meetings and appear unproductive.
To encourage more accessible and equitable meetings, companies must ensure that all employees have the necessary equipment for a productive home workspace, such as ergonomic monitors and web cameras, to participate and collaborate effectively. Live meetings can be recorded so that they will be available to those who drop offline due to poor connection. Remote participants should be given to opportunity to blur or mask their backgrounds for privacy reasons. Leaders can also ensure that captions are enabled during online meetings so that participants with hearing disabilities can have access to spoken dialogue in real-time.
Summing It All Up
Reaching your company’s DEI goals can impact employees’ wellbeing and the organization’s corporate culture positively. Any workplace aiming to become more diverse, equitable and inclusive needs to tackle those issues within meetings. After all, meetings play a huge part in both the formation and continuation of workplace culture and can go a long way to shaping whether that culture is positive or negative. By making meetings fairer, safer and more just places to share ideas, you can help to improve job satisfaction, business performance and your company’s reputation.