“You can come to the meeting. Just sit in the back of the room. And don’t say anything.”
This was the invitation I received from a former boss several years ago. He was doing me a favor by inviting me to the meeting. As long as no one saw me, as long as no one heard me, of course. And I should have been grateful for the folding chair on the side of the room.
But when I walked in, I noticed there were plenty of seats at the table. I waited a few minutes, surveyed the room and plopped my notebook down at the table. Two senior women smiled and welcomed me as I sat down.
“I thought I was clear that you could sit over there,” my boss said, suddenly appearing behind me. “We need these seats open, you can sit over there.” I nodded, scooped up my notebook, and went to my designated spot.
No one else showed up to claim the seat at the table. No one invited me back to the table. No one asked my opinion, or invited me to speak when it was my project that they were discussing. I sat there for three hours until the meeting ended. Then, I was dismissed.
Most of us have been there: an all- day meeting. Too many people jammed into a room. The senior people taking up all the airtime. A group of individuals who sit there, never contributing, never saying a word. All of these are simply outdated ways of leading meetings.
I wish the incident I shared earlier was the only example I had of being minimized, dismissed or completely ignored in a meeting. Too many women continue to share this experience. As I have grown as a leader and have built my own confidence, I made a promise that I would do my best to not let this happen to other colleagues. Because when individuals consistently feel devalued — including feeling devalued by how they are treated in meetings — they will eventually make the choice to leave. Here are 10 ways to lead an inclusive meeting to ensure everyone feels valued:
1. Start by inviting the individuals who can make an impact in the meeting.
Invite the ones who are doing the work, the ones who have an expertise to share, the ones who will continue to drive the work ahead —regardless of their title or position.
2. Invite people to sit at the table.
And physically pull up the chair and make room. Discourage people from sitting in a corner or off to the side.
3. Ask different individuals to present and share at meetings.
Ask yourself if you have the same go to people who you ask to share. Challenge yourself to nominate different colleagues.
4. Ask your male colleagues to take notes and summarize action items.
Especially if it’s always the women in the room taking notes.
Same rule applies here. No one wants this non-glamorous task so please share the burden.
6. Go around the room and make sure everyone is able to share their views.
Help facilitate listening to all the voices. Ensure no one takes up all the airtime.
7. Stop colleagues from interrupting each other, from stealing ideas or from dismissing ideas.
You don’t have to be the most senior person in the room to do this, or to stand up for each other.
8. Invite people to join in and contribute if they aren’t speaking up.
Sometimes, an invitation to speak can be the support they needed to contribute. It certainly has been for me in my career.
9. For those who are working remote, ask them to contribute first to help them feel even more included.
Check the technology prior to the meeting to ensure the sound is working and that they are able to view materials. At the beginning of the meeting, announce who is on the phone and who is in the room.
10. Finally, don’t forget to contribute yourself.
Use your voice. Don’t forget that someone thought of you and wanted you to be in the meeting. They believe in your value. They are counting on your ideas, your opinions and your enthusiasm. Please don’t let them down.