Strength in Diversity

Inclusivity as an Asset

Have you ever felt like you weren’t being heard at a meeting? We’ve all been there, but for some it’s a chronic issue, and one that can hold us back professionally. On an organizational level, silencing a diversity of opinions can stymie innovation and profitability. Yes, having a seat at the table is important, but getting your voice heard is where you really make change.

Communicating in meetings came up as a topic several times at the IBA Women in Insurance Conference in New York. This was an issue each of us had helped others with or personally navigated as women in the insurance industry.

A 2017 study published in the Harvard Business Review backs this up. It shows that leaders who valued inclusiveness were seen as more effective in their companies. Creating consensus doesn’t have to be the goal of every meeting, but listening to everyone is critical.

Whether you are leading or attending meetings, you can help make them a more inclusive, respectful place—not just for women, not just for minorities, but for anyone. Here are a few ways how.

Welcome the New Kid in the Office

Feedback most often received in the early parts of a career are about speaking up. Great ideas do not always get heard.

In one person’s experience, the turning point came when an individual would ask questions during meetings, providing others with the opportunity to voice their thoughts. The experience fueled the confidence to start chiming in without being called on.

Give Introverts a Say

While extroverted coworkers throw out ideas during meetings, introverts may be quietly reflecting on what’s being said, waiting until they feel ready to contribute.

“Many introverts aren’t comfortable thinking on their feet, and really want to process their thoughts before articulating them,” Susan Cain (author of Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World that Can’t Stop Talking) said in an interview with the Harvard Business Review. “Being able to make off-the-cuff, unprepared remarks is a muscle that you can develop over time, so it’s worth practicing.”

As a leader, if you’re working with someone who’s introverted, try calling on them later in the meeting. If you’re the office introvert, know that this is your superpower. Prepare for meetings in advance so you’ve already had time to marinate on the topic and will be ready to throw in your thoughts.

Prevent Idea Theft

There is a phenomenon in meetings of a man repeating a woman’s idea minutes after she’s shared it. Whether you call it theft or “bropropriating,” this is almost guaranteed to happen at some point in your career, either to you or a colleague, so be prepared.

Here’s one way to get the conversation back on track: “Oh that’s great, I’m glad you brought up Martha’s point again. Let’s talk about it more.” It’s a smooth, tactful way of including everyone and letting your coworker know you have their back.

Stop Interruptions 

Taylor Swift knows how annoying interruptions can be. Interruptions in meetings stink, but on conference calls, they’re really tough. You have no visual cues or body language to help you assert yourself.

Studies show that both men and women tend to talk over women. While you can reclaim your time with a simple, “May I please finish?”, finding an advocate in the room—or being that advocate—works even better. Try saying, “Going back to Lisa’s idea…” or “Lisa was talking, let’s allow her to finish.”

If you notice that interruptions, particularly to women and minorities, are a consistent problem in a standing conference call or meeting, speak up to the meeting’s leader. Say that you would like it to be a more organized call in the future.

No matter what level you are, know that you have the ability to help someone by creating a more inclusive environment. It’s better for meetings and better for business.

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