When a woman speaks up and presents an idea, she is often not listened to. Sometimes, the woman’s idea is taken up by a man, during the same meeting. This idea is heard, discussed and sometimes accepted by the group. It then becomes the idea of the man who has expressed it.
The same phenomenon will apply to other people potentially targeted by biases related to their origin, age, sexual orientation, religion, … style of interaction – extrovert or introvert. This tendency will reduce a team’s ability to capitalize on a diversity of points of view. Sometimes, some minorities get contradicted even when what they say is right.
Make the effort to listen to all meeting participants.
As a meeting leader, get into the habit of rephrasing what women and minority group members say by attributing their ideas to them: “As X said … What do you think?“
We have measured that taking such a habit will progressively lead team members to listen better to women and “diverse” profiles. They will learn over time to better take into account a variety of points of views. By listening to all people carefully, the members of these teams will realize that these “diverse” people add value. This new perception will then reduce unconscious biases.
We analyzed data collected by a Microsoft artificial intelligence that measured who speaks during meetings on Microsoft Teams in several countries where such measures are allowed.
We sought to understand which dynamic could explain such a difference:
1. In meetings with several participants, the meeting leader is more likely to give the floor to men and to people who are not members of ethnic and other minorities.
2. When women and various minorities have the floor, they are more often interrupted by other participants.
3. After they have spoken, other participants tend to shift to another topic and therefore, what women and “diverse” people have said gets forgotten.
This is further amplified by technology: most webcasting platforms tend to display the people who are speaking. We therefore have an even greater tendency to let speakers speak. Non-speakers are just forgotten by meeting participants. Inclusive meetings therefore require different skills.
To run inclusive webcasts, get an exhaustive list of participants. Put a check mark in front of each name and expand the opportunities to speak: give a voice to those who have not expressed their point of view.
If the number of participants is too large for everyone to speak, keep your list and continue the process at the next meeting. Make sure to give the floor to a diversity of people with different genders, age groups, functions, origins, nationalities, sexual orientations…
Also, don’t let anyone dominate the discussion. If someone is monopolizing the floor, don’t hesitate to interrupt and explain that it is another person’s turn to speak.