Aug 23, 2023 | Neurodiversity

Teamwork in an inclusive workplace

Tips for Inclusive Meetings in the Workplace

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No matter the industry in which you work, meetings are part of most job roles. Whether you work remotely, in an office, or on a job site, checking in regularly with your teammates, supervisor, and other employees is inevitable. For some, meetings can be a cause of nervousness or anxiety, and for those who are neurodivergent, meetings can often be overwhelming and bring unique challenges to the individual. So, today, we would like to offer a few tips for inclusive meetings in the workplace.  

It is important for everyone to have the opportunity to contribute and offer their expertise during a meeting. However, depending on the individual, this may be difficult to do. According to a Harvard Business Review study, only 35% of employees who were surveyed felt consistently comfortable contributing to meetings. But, keeping the needs of everyone in your workplace in mind, there are ways to encourage a diverse, creative, and productive environment. 

Create a safe environment for communication 

In some cases, individuals may feel unsure or uncomfortable speaking up during a meeting. This could be due to previous experiences where their ideas have been silenced or dismissed, or they have been made to feel like their contribution is less valuable than others. A way to help encourage communication and participation is to consistently ask for input and ask questions. You can help direct attention to a specific idea while engaging in conversation throughout the meeting by asking questions to all members and encouraging feedback. 

For neurodiverse employees consider the following: 

  • Ask if they want to contribute (this can be done privately before the meeting to ensure they don’t feel uncomfortable or put on the spot during the meeting). 
  • Break into smaller groups, where they may feel more willing to participate. 
  • Ensure they have access to information ahead of time, know the tools that will be used (if any) during the meeting and explain how to use them, or offer alternatives if needed. 
  • Stay on task, and respect the time allocated for the meeting. 
  • Use captions when possible. 
  • Recognize that some people may wish to stay muted or off camera, when able. 
  • Ensure all employees know that “stimming” (a fidget toy, standing up instead of sitting, etc.) to help maintain focus is acceptable. 

It is also helpful to provide an agenda prior to the meeting, so that individuals can mentally prepare ahead of time, understand what is going to be discussed, and what might be expected of them.  

Use clear language 

We think that we have all been to a meeting where we have thought, “this could have been an email” (we see you nodding your heads in agreement!). Therefore, ensure you use your time effectively, which can be achieved by using clear language with participants. Be sure to keep your language concise, straightforward, and prioritize communicating specific tasks, responsibilities, and expectations. Avoid using jargon, slang, or words and phrases that may be interpreted in the wrong way. Allow time for people to ask follow-up questions to ensure everyone understands, or offer time after the meeting to discuss one on one to help with clarification if required. 

If using visual aids in a presentation, tell others what you want them to pay attention to, and explain what they are looking at rather than expecting them to interpret the data themselves. 

Offer alternatives  

Giving individuals the opportunity to participate in other ways is a great way to facilitate active participation. For example, if the meeting is virtual, encourage people to use the chat function if they are more comfortable expressing themselves there rather than speaking in front of the group. Another alternative is to give individuals time after the meeting to process their thoughts and ideas and provide their notes within a certain time frame following the meeting.  

Be sure to make these alternatives known to all employees and encourage them to utilize the options that work best to accommodate their individual needs.  

It is important to allow every employee the opportunity to contribute to meetings, and this can look different depending on the individual and the workplace. Ultimately, in creating a welcoming and diverse environment, you can build trusted relationships where people feel safe discussing what they need to be successful in, and out of, meetings.

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