How To Run Inclusive Meetings

What are inclusive meetings and why do they matter? Learn how to make your company’s meeting culture more inclusive with these 5 steps.

Inclusive meetings are integral to an inclusive workplace culture. They provide a safe space where everybody feels empowered to contribute—not just a select few. 

The benefits of inclusive meetings are endless. Employees feel valued, heard, and respected, while teams and organizations benefit from a diversity of ideas and perspectives. 

If you haven’t yet given much thought to the inclusivity of your meeting culture, now is the time—starting with this guide. Keep reading to learn:

  • Why you should care about inclusive meetings (including some eye-opening statistics)
  • How to run more inclusive meetings (5 actionable steps)

Let’s go!

Why should you care about inclusive meetings?

What if we told you that, according to one study, only 35% of employees report feeling consistently comfortable contributing in meetings?

And, sadly, it’s often the same groups of people who enjoy this comfort. Further studies have found that:

  • People of Color are less likely to feel comfortable speaking in internal meetings than their white peers
  • Women are less likely to feel comfortable speaking in meetings than men—and are more likely to be interrupted when they do so
  • Women of Color are the least likely to feel comfortable speaking in internal meetings
  • Gen Z employees are the most unlikely to feel uncomfortable speaking in meetings compared to older colleagues. 

If you’ve ever attended a corporate meeting, you’ve probably witnessed these statistics playing out first-hand. 

Perhaps you’ve personally felt like you couldn’t share your opinion with the group, or been on the receiving end of an interruption. Maybe you’ve cringed as one colleague rudely speaks over another, or sat there wishing someone else besides that always-vocal person would speak. Maybe you’re the one typically dominating the conversation—and maybe you’re even guilty of interrupting others when they try to take their turn. 

So how do we level out the playing field? Through inclusive meetings. 

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Inclusive meetings ensure diversity of representation, voices, opinions, and ideas. They create a safe space where everybody feels comfortable and empowered to speak up and speak out—not just a select few. 

It’s no secret that diverse companies outperform their less diverse competitors. But taking steps to build a more diverse organization isn’t enough. You also need to make sure that everybody has equal access to opportunities within the workplace—and that includes empowering everybody to contribute and be heard. 

Basically, if you care about diversity, you also need to care about inclusion. And if you care about inclusion, you should care about inclusive meetings. 

Want to run more inclusive meetings? Start with these 5 steps

Running inclusive meetings requires you to be intentional. Kick-start your journey towards a more inclusive meeting culture with these 5 steps:

  1. Foster psychological safety
  2. Set ground rules and expectations
  3. Manage interruptions (and other rule-breaks)
  4. Build your agenda collaboratively
  5. Provide different ways for people to contribute

We elaborate on each step below—keep reading!

1. Foster psychological safety

Psychological safety is the cornerstone of a high-performing company. It enhances employee engagement, fosters an inclusive workplace culture, boosts employee wellbeing, and creates an environment where people feel safe to express themselves and share ideas. 

But what exactly is psychological safety and how does it relate to inclusive meetings? 

Let’s start with a definition

“Psychological safety is the ability to show and employ oneself without fear of negative consequences of self-image, status, or career. It can be defined as a shared belief that the team is safe for interpersonal risk-taking. In psychologically safe teams, team members feel accepted and respected.”

Only in a psychologically safe environment can people feel comfortable to be vulnerable, share their ideas, and voice thoughts and concerns. If your company culture isn’t founded on psychological safety, you’ll struggle to run inclusive meetings. 

You can learn how to create psychological safety at work in this guide—and many of the same tips and strategies also apply to inclusive meetings, like practicing active listening, promoting respect (and calling out acts of disrespect), encouraging and asking for honest feedback, and practicing self-awareness. 

Make psychological safety your primary goal and you’ll set a solid foundation for inclusive meetings. 

2. Set ground rules and expectations

You might assume that rules aren’t necessary. We’re all adults here, right? We know what’s acceptable and what isn’t. 

Well, not necessarily. It’s important to be aware that certain behaviors often come from a place of unawareness. For example, when Brook continuously interrupts others, they might not do so because they consciously believe that theirs is the only voice worth hearing, or that others don’t deserve to contribute. 

Likewise, when Taylor consistently and noisily turns up late, they might not realize that they’re interrupting the flow of the meeting and detracting from the person who’s currently speaking. Still, regardless of where they stem from, such behaviors can create an environment that feels the opposite of safe and inclusive. 

Don’t assume that everybody knows to play by the same rules. Set clear guidelines and expectations for what’s acceptable (e.g. letting others finish before you start speaking, disagreeing with others respectfully) and what isn’t (interrupting others, typing/being visibly distracted and disengaged while others are speaking, and so on). 

3. Manage interruptions (and other rule-breaks)

Our previous tip was about setting expectations and ground rules for a level playing field, and this step is about enforcing them. It also highlights the importance of having a designated meeting facilitator.

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Whether you’re facilitating the meeting yourself or assigning the role to someone else, make sure you have someone on hand who can keep things running smoothly and respond to rule-breaks expertly and efficiently. 

Have some phrases prepared to swiftly manage interruptions—such as “Hold on there, Blake. Let’s let Jo finish their point first. Jo, please continue.” And, if you notice people disregarding the ground rules consistently, take a moment during the meeting to remind the group about active listening and respectful communication. 

With interruptions and talking over people in particular, bear in mind the statistics we shared at the beginning of this post. Consider the people in your own meeting who might be more likely to experience interruptions or feel less confident to speak, and be prepared to advocate for them and amplify their voices if necessary. 

4. Build your agenda collaboratively

Inclusive meetings aren’t just about empowering everybody to contribute once they’re in the room. Consider a more inclusive, collaborative approach to how you plan your meetings, too. 

Ahead of the meeting, share a draft agenda and encourage attendees to add their own talking points or items they’d like to have covered. Not only does this give everybody the opportunity to shape the direction of the meeting. It also allows people time to prepare what they’d like to say—which can make it easier for more introverted members of the group to share their contribution when the time comes. 

And, as the leader of the meeting, be sure to review and finalize the agenda before the meeting begins. You want to make sure that all points are being covered in a logical order, and that you’ve allocated enough time and space for each item. 

5. Provide different ways for people to contribute

Running inclusive meetings means accepting and respecting the reality that, when it comes to speaking in front of a group, different people feel varying levels of comfort. It also requires you to diversify the channels and means available for people to contribute. 

In addition to making it as safe and comfortable as possible for people to vocalize their thoughts and ideas, offer alternative ways for people to contribute. For example, if you’re running a remote/virtual meeting, invite attendees to share their ideas or thoughts via the chat function. 

You can also run anonymous polls to gauge how people really feel about certain ideas or initiatives, or hold an anonymous Post-it note brainstorm to capture everybody’s thoughts and ideas without the pressure of having to explain or elaborate on them in front of the group. 

Ultimately, the easier you make it for people to contribute in a way that they’re comfortable with, the more you’ll benefit from a diversity of thoughts, ideas, and opinions. And that’s what inclusive meetings are all about, right?

We hope you find these strategies useful and that you now feel better-equipped to shape a more inclusive meeting culture at your own organization. Good luck!

Emily Stevens