Update: During COVID-19, practicing inclusive virtual meetings are more important now than ever. Salesforce’s Office of Equality led a training on this topic, along with a panel discussion with some leaders from our Trailblazer community: Shonnah Hughes, Daniel Peter, and Melissa Hill Dee. Watch below:
We know that by building a culture of equality in our company, we help our employees succeed, create deeper customer connections, and drive positive social change in the world around us. Inclusion is a core part of equality — it means everyone feels seen, heard, empowered to succeed, and experiences a true sense of belonging. Our research shows that employees who feel a sense of belonging at their company are 5.3x more likely to feel empowered to perform their best. Similarly, employees who feel that their voice is heard are 4.6x more likely to say it positively affects their work.
From the boardroom to the front lines, we all have the power to influence change and build inclusive work environments. This can manifest in the workplace as speaking up for someone who was interrupted in a meeting, creating space for difficult conversations, or recognizing when someone feels excluded. One of the biggest ways in which we can lead with equality is by practicing inclusive meetings. Think about how much of workplace cultures play out in daily meetings — who leads the conversation, who is given the platform to talk, how we involve remote employees, and how tasks are assigned.
In this post, our Salesforce Office of Equality is sharing best practices we’ve learned around creating truly inclusive meetings.
4 ways to practice inclusive meetings
An inclusive meeting might look different depending on the team and meeting agenda. At Salesforce, we use our Equality Ally Practices as a guide. We believe that everyone can be an ally by following these four steps — ask, listen, show up, and speak up. The same can apply to how we conduct ourselves in meetings. With this in mind, look for gaps in your meeting practices where your team could be more inclusive. Then talk to your team about minimizing that gap with our ally practices. Here are some ideas:
This seems simple but it can go a long way. Often in meetings, those who are more extroverted or more senior may dominate the conversation. Part of inclusive meetings is making sure that everyone has a chance to be heard — this also helps us to make better, more informed decisions with varying perspectives. Here are a few ways you can practice ‘asking’ in a meeting:
- Be inclusive and ask to hear from introverts or more junior employees as well as anyone who is remote. Note: be careful when calling anyone out by name, since this may inadvertently make someone feel uncomfortable or put on the spot. You can say:
- “For those who haven’t chimed in yet, what are your thoughts?”
- “How would you approach this problem?”
- “We haven’t heard from the folks on the line. What do you think?”
- Ask remote employees (or all meeting attendees for that matter) what makes them feel included.
- Make it a habit. Establish a norm where everyone speaks at least once (when appropriate).
- Ask for follow up input. Be mindful that some people may be more introverted and might not feel comfortable giving public feedback — which is okay. Part of welcoming all is creating an environment where everyone can express themselves in a way that is comfortable and empowering for them. Create a clear channel or vehicle for follow up feedback such as an online survey or email.
Listening actively and with empathy is the key to any successful conversation. However, often we are so busy and have so many racing thoughts, it can be hard to slow down and be mindful in the moment. But when done right there is an immense impact.
- Listen actively with respect and mindfulness. Something as simple as our body posture can help:
- Turn your body to the speaker
- Uncross arms or put down your phone
- Make eye contact
- Demonstrate that you are actively listening by saying:
- “That’s a great idea.”
- “To your point …”
- Avoid talking over others. Catch yourself when you interrupt others and make space for others to speak:
- “I’m sorry, I interrupted you. Please, finish your thought.”
- Observe your own behavior:
- Am I listening to some people, but then scrolling through my phone when others are speaking?
- Am I making time for others to reflect and contribute or am I consistently the first one to respond?
- Practice pausing, reflecting, and responding to what you recently heard before making the next point. Be intentional about making space for others.
How we show up for meetings can contribute to how inclusive the meeting winds up being. Many of us walk into a meeting room or dial into a call with outside stressors from the day. Here are a few things to consider when attending a meeting:
- Show up ready to engage, participate, and act with inclusion.
- Take a few breaths. Studies show that a few moments of mindfulness can immediately change behavior.
- Review your invite list. Bring in new voices to ensure diverse perspectives and ideas are being shared. For example, is your meeting restricted to senior leaders or can you include more voices? Here are some things you can say to the meeting organizer:
- “Was ____ invited to the meeting? I think their opinion would be valuable.”
- “Would you mind if I included my intern/mentee in this meeting for professional development?”
- Consider who is attending the meeting and how you can better prepare them for the meeting. For example, introverts report needing time before responding to a question or topic. Consider sending an agenda in advance of the meetings to help attendees prepare.
- Be mindful of any cultural customs (ie. if participants are observing Ramadan), accessibility needs, or dietary restrictions. For example:
- Avoid booking meeting rooms with high tables only, especially if an attendee is in a wheelchair.
- Enable your camera on hangouts to ensure a person who relies on lip-reading can see you. If you’re attending in person, face that individual and speak clearly without covering your mouth.
- If you are ordering lunch for a meeting, send out an anonymous intake form for participants to share any dietary restrictions or food allergies.
Speaking up is a more active step and can take a bit of courage. However, when done right it can greatly shift culture for the better. It can help make someone feel included, and demonstrates that not only are you an ally — but also serves as a positive example for how others can also be allies at work.
- Speak up when someone is being interrupted or not getting due credit. You can say:
- “I believe _____ was trying to comment a second ago”
- “Let’s let ______ finish”
- “____ had that same idea a moment ago”
- Make space for healthy debate of opposing views.
- “That’s an interesting perspective. Can you say more?”
- Call out inappropriate jokes or microaggressions.
- “I know you meant to be funny, but that’s offensive.”
- Ask others to present
- Are the same people speaking each time? Try recommending others to speak or if you are given the opportunity and have had multiple chances to share, offer the opportunity to someone else.
Encourage accountability and forgiveness. There will be times when well-intentioned people make mistakes by saying or doing the wrong thing when they meant to be inclusive — ourselves included.
The best way we can be allies and inclusive leaders is to be accountable for our mistakes, assume positive intent of our peers, and forgive in the spirit of continuous learning. The first step on any journey is knowledge — the next is practice. Inclusion is a muscle we all have to train again and again.
Practice these steps on a routine basis and invite your team to practice them along with you. No step is too small — when we walk together our collective action is what influences far-reaching change. Learn more about our Inclusive Leadership Practices and Salesforce’s commitment to Equality for all.