When we make a company-wide commitment to diversity, equity & inclusion (DE&I), it’s not just about changing our recruiting and interviewing processes. It’s also about creating an inclusive environment where employees from different backgrounds can thrive. But good intentions alone won’t get us there. “If we’re not intentionally inclusive, we’re unintentionally exclusive,” says Ashley Schwedt, Facilitator and DE&I Lead at LifeLabs Learning, the go-to leadership skills accelerator for 1,000+ innovative companies
So how do you cultivate a more inclusive environment? It all starts with conversational capacity – in other words, the ability to talk about it. LifeLabs Learning shares a few steps you can take to make inclusion part of the conversation – and part of your daily practice – at your company.
Meetings are both a high-value and high-volume activity. They’re high value because they give us the ability to share ideas and get access to people and decisions. And you probably don’t even need to look at your calendar to know that meetings take up the bulk of your workday.
Having equal turn-taking in meetings is one of the best predictors of team performance. But if we’re not careful, we might rely on power dynamics (based on position or role within the company as well as identity factors like race and gender) to determine whose voice gets heard. Here are a few ways you can monitor turn-taking to give everyone a chance to participate.
Make thinking time
Instead of asking people to chime in right away, give them time to think before they speak. Simply say something like, “Let’s take two minutes to jot down our thoughts before sharing.”
Use timed round robins
This tactic gives everyone the chance to share and ensures no one has to rush. Pro tip: Use an audible timer so no one has to shoulder the responsibility of telling others their time is up.
Be intentional about creating virtual meeting norms
Most of us had in-person meeting norms, but what does that mean when we’re virtual or hybrid? You can decide what works best for your team, but it generally helps to take a few moments to ensure everyone can see or hear. In a hybrid setting, you can ask everyone to dial in from their own computer to give everyone equal access.
Interrupt the interruption (or interrupter)
It’s often the people who are on the low end of the power dynamic who get interrupted the most. You can mitigate this by making sure people get the chance to complete their thoughts. “The goal is not to eliminate interruptions – we’ll probably never be able to do that – but to allow people to complete their thoughts,” says Ashley.
Open the circle
Imagine a group of people engaged in conversation when someone else enters the room. To be more inclusive, your goal is to open up the circle. LifeLabs Learning says it’s helpful to think about transforming your bagel shape into a croissant. (And if you’re now hungry for a carb-fueled breakfast food, you’re not alone!) In a remote or hybrid setting, there are several ways you can open the circle.
Small talk like “How’s your day going?” or “How was your weekend?” sends the signal that you care. Just make sure to include everyone in the conversation.
There’s so much siloed information in a virtual or hybrid setting. Rather than assuming participants all have the same information, start by providing the context. Use statements like “This came about because…” to explain the purpose of the meeting and any other relevant context.
Invitations and bridges
We all have the power to make conversations more inclusive by inviting others to participate and filling them in when they’ve missed something. You can use the chat feature to do this if you don’t want to draw attention to latecomers.
Some words and language are blurry – they can mean different things to different people and may also indicate biased thinking. For example, if we say a candidate was “unprofessional” or “not a culture fit,” what do we really mean?
Blurry language can be especially problematic when it comes up during feedback conversations, performance reviews and candidate debriefs. We want to make decisions based on clear criteria instead of blurry thinking that’s likely to be biased.
How do you do this? It helps to intentionally ask de-blurring questions, like:
Could you share an example?
What do you see as the impact?
What does X mean to you?
Ask yourself: What does X mean to me?
Now that you’ve got some concrete ideas about how to be more inclusive, it’s time to create an action plan. LifeLabs Learning recommends choosing one behavior that you’d like to commit to, whether it’s using timed round robins, interrupting interruptions or any of the others we’ve covered here. Remember: As a leader, you have the ability to influence others within your company and be a positive role model.
LifeLabs Learning is the go-to leadership skills accelerator for 1,000+ innovative companies (like Warby Parker, TED, GoPro and The New York Times). We train managers, execs and teams in “tipping point skills” – small changes that make a big impact on performance and engagement – and help weave them into the fabric of company culture. Our learning experiences are short, fun, science-based and immediately practical.
Looking for more ways to take action and create a more comprehensive DE&I strategy? Download the LifeLabs Learning DE&I Playbook.