How to Have More Inclusive Meetings
As senior global manager of inclusion and diversity for the online travel company Expedia Group, Veronica Velazquez RBS’14 creates and supports an inclusive environment for the company’s employees, travel partners, travelers, and the communities they work in.
In her spare time, she brings the same passion to her work in the community, with Rutgers undergraduates, and on her basketball team. “My purpose everywhere is to empower the voices of those on the sidelines,” she explains.
That can be a tall order even in a smaller company, she admits. That’s why she was happy to be a panelist on the Rutgers webinar Alumni Workplace Engagement Business Forum: A Conversation on Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion and to share resources from the Expedia Group Inclusion and Diversity Team.
She sees meetings as a great place to open the door to other voices in the workplace and for getting the entire organization involved in creating solutions. Here’s her advice on how to do it:
Open up the invite list
A more diverse group will come up with more diverse ideas. For example, someone who uses a wheelchair may have great input on an office redesign—even if they are not in the interior design field. Consider opening meetings to more team members and see where it leads. You can make it optional for those whose input you’d like but don’t absolutely need, so you’re not adding to their workload.
Include an objective observer
An objective observer is someone who doesn’t have any role in the meeting except to advocate for anyone who may be underrepresented. The observer’s role is to watch and listen to the interaction so they can point out potential issues and provide feedback to those who need it. This strategy is suggested in Expedia’s training on avoiding unconscious bias in performance reviews, but it can be applied to larger meetings, as well.
Provide an agenda beforehand
Sharing an agenda before each meeting allows invitees to gather their thoughts and decide what they want to say. It’s also a good idea to let each team member know if you’re expecting them to speak about something specific. This way, no one will feel put on the spot—and you’ll ensure a variety of voices are shared.
Teach the art of active listening
It’s easy to be more focused on your reply than on the speaker’s words. To help everyone (you included) get better at listening intently, take time to practice. Schedule a session where people pair up and tell one another about their weekend, for instance. The listener should nod, smile, ask questions, and listen without interrupting or offering their own ideas or opinions. Being better listeners can improve your interactions with each other, as well as with loved ones.
Take on the role of moderator
Once the conversation is flowing, watch to see who is quiet. Depending on culture or personality, some people may need to be asked direct questions before they will share their thoughts. Let everyone know that all ideas are good ideas, and request that people build on them, not dispute or debate them. At the end, invite everyone to reach out to you—in person or in writing—with any additional thoughts that bubble up.
Switch up the action items
There are always parts of the job that aren’t really part of the job. This includes things like taking notes at meetings, making follow-up phone calls, tidying the table, and so on. It also includes presenting at important events, writing memos to the C-suite, and doing other high-profile tasks. Often, people get stuck in one role—like it or not. Make it a point to rotate who does what, so different people get a chance to shine.
This article is part of a series developed in partnership with Alumni Workplace Engagement and Alumni Career Resources that features prominent Rutgers alumni providing expert knowledge on timely topics.