The Power of Creating Inclusive Meetings and Events
“Inclusive meetings result in more productive outcomes.” Demetrai Mitchell, Inclusion Strategist
There are many ways to create inclusion, and one of the most practical and powerful ways to do so is by ensuring that meetings and events are inclusive. From staff meetings, to all employee meetings to training programs and small and large events – there are tremendous opportunities to proactively practice inclusion.
Typical “misses” when it comes to meetings and events are:
- Scheduling meetings on important religious holidays (e.g., Yom Kippur)
- Failure to make meetings and events accessible for People with Disabilities
- Absence of Diversity of speakers
- Marketing materials that are not inclusive
- Insensitivity to people dynamics within meetings and events
- Global and virtual meetings scheduled without rotating time zones
Fortunately, there are easy solutions for all of these things. What you will find in this issue of The Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Catalyst are a series of questions and recommendations to support thinking through those things one might consider across all aspects of meetings and events from planning, to scheduling, to content and follow-up. By asking the questions, thinking consciously about inclusion and engaging diverse perspectives in the process, one can make positive strides toward more inclusive, effective and dynamics meetings and events.
QUICK GUIDE: Whether planning for a future event or attending or leading one today, there is always something you can do now to ensure diversity, equity and inclusion. Below is a quick reference guide for eleven key areas to consider followed by more details for each.
|Audience||Do you know the diversity of your audience?|
|Scheduling||Have you checked calendar for holidays/observances?|
|Location||Is the location equipped for accessibility?|
|Marketing||Are you reaching out to diverse populations?|
|Vendors/Suppliers||Do you include Minority-/Women-owned businesses?|
|Food||Have you effectively planned for diverse needs?|
|Collateral||Are your materials inclusive, e.g., diverse images?|
|Content||Does your programming include diversity?|
|Presenters||Do you have diverse presenters, trainers, etc.?|
|Group Dynamics||Are you cognizant of how bias might impact dynamics?|
|Evaluation||Do you collect demographic data?|
ELEVEN AREAS FOR CONSIDERATION — QUESTIONS AND SUGGESTIONS
- Audience and Attendees
- Who is your audience?
- What might be the composition of your audience?
- What dimensions of Diversity might be present?
- Are attendees in-person, virtual or a combination thereof?
- What languages are spoken?
- What cultures are represented?
- Will there be people with disabilities?
- Will people require accommodations?
- Will service animals be present or other supporter be present?
- Has a global calendar been reviewed for conflicts with any major holidays—religious, national or otherwise? (See Addendum for resources) Think globally and locally.
- Some observances and holidays start at sunset the day before—so be aware of those days that require someone to be home before sunset or unable to attend due to observances and holidays.
- For virtual meetings, and global meetings, have time zones been considered?
- Is the burden of getting up early or staying up late shared across time zones?
1) Have a core reference calendar(s)—global and local—before building plans and scheduling meetings. These are available electronically and in print.
2) Purchase or create poster calendars and put them up in common areas such as break rooms and meeting rooms. Leverage electronic and social media tools. These are practical, raise awareness and are good conversation starters.
3) Provide monthly reminders of upcoming holidays and observances—even those that are not formal organization vacation days. These serve as reminders for anyone scheduling and planning meetings.
4) For virtual meetings, rotate scheduling times to accommodate people globally.
3. Staff, Vendors and Suppliers
- Is everyone informed about Diversity, Equity and Inclusion?
- Is everyone prepared to work with diversity and ensure respectful, inclusive behaviors?
- Is your staff Diverse?
- Are your vendors and suppliers aware of your needs from a Diversity perspective? i.e., do they know your values and commitments?
- Are your staff, vendors and suppliers aware of any accommodation requirements?
- Are your vendors and suppliers diverse?
- Do you engage vendors and suppliers who are Minority-, Women-, LGBT-, People with Disabilities- and Veteran-owned businesses?
- Do you have processes in place to ensure Supplier Diversity?
- Have you discussed inclusive behaviors and expectations?
- Have you equipped everyone with the information they need, e.g., accessibility requirements and needs?
1) Provide the team with a checklist of specific actions needed.
2) Have conversations about Diversity & Inclusion on a regular basis.
3) Provide a Diversity & Inclusion statement to Vendors and Suppliers that explains your organization’s commitment.
4) Provide information to employees about Minority-owned, Women-Owned, LGBT-owned, People with Disabilities-owned and Veteran-owned businesses to ensure understanding of facts and dispel myths.
5) Partner and engage with organizations like National Minority Supplier Diversity Council, the National Gay Lesbian Chamber of Commerce, Women’s Business Enterprise Council.
4. Marketing, Communications and Registration
- Are the announcements and registration processes (e.g., online) accessible for People with Disabilities?
- Is a question included for any needs? E.g., Accessibility, Translator, Food requirements (Religious, dietary, allergies)?
- Are images in the marketing materials diverse?
- Have materials been reviewed with DEI in mind?
- Are marketing materials and announcements being sent to diverse populations?
- Is DEI explicit and implicit in your branding?
- Have you considered partnering—for marketing purposes, relationship building, content and speakers—with organizations that represent different communities?
- Have you put together a diverse planning and review team to look at everything from varying perspectives?
- Are key stakeholders invited and included? Is anyone being left out?
5. Setting and Location
- For the audience and speakers: Is the room accessible? Is the stage accessible? Are the materials and AV accessible?
- Is the mic and podium accessible and adjustable? Have speakers been asked about their needs?
- Is the location (e.g., hotel, staff, kitchen) informed about Diversity & Inclusion as well as your specific needs?
- Have you literally walked through the spaces with inclusion in mind?
- If the meeting is virtual, have you considered the various needs and resources for each location?
- When food is served, are individual/group needs considered? g., Vegan, Vegetarian, Halal, Kosher, Allergies (This should be known in advance, so provide options for individuals to indicate any special needs)
- During Ramadan, and other religious holidays, people may be fasting. Have you considered such times an opportunity for “teachable moments?”
- Is the food accessible?
1) Visit the location, meet the staff, inform them of specific needs and expectations.
2) Ensure they understand accessibility needs and are aware in advance of what those are.
3) Know emergency exits and ensure People with Disabilities and anyone else has access.
4) Regarding food, make sure you find out in advance needs of employees — allergy requirements, Kosher, Halal, Vegetarian.
5) Reinforce your commitment to Diversity, Equity and Inclusion.
7. Meeting Collateral and Materials
- Are workbooks, reading materials, handouts accessible to People with Disabilities?
- Do those materials reflect DEI? g., images, content, commitment.
- Is the language in the materials inclusive?
- For virtual meetings, has everyone been provided with materials?
8. Content and Topics
- Is there implicit content on Diversity—e.g., built in with an inclusion perspective on all topics
- Is there explicit Diversity content?
- Is Diversity & Inclusion demonstrated—e.g., different angles and perspectives on a topic, from different people from different backgrounds and cultures?
- Is there Diversity-related content—e.g., conflict management, effective communication across differences, mitigating bias, etc.
- Are examples and scenarios inclusive? Are stereotypes challenged or reinforced? Are there potential biases?
- Are the issues current? Original? Compelling? Actionable?
1) Leverage Employee Resource Groups to review materials through their various “lenses.”
2) Remember the motto, “Not about us without us.”
3) Educate, inform and continuously have conversations with all stakeholders.
4) Ask questions.
5) Seek continuous improvement.
9. Presenters, Trainers and Facilitators
- Are presenters, trainers and facilitators diverse? Is there a mix of race/gender/ethnicity/age?
- Are trainers knowledgeable of Diversity & Inclusion? Do they know the commitment of the hosting organization to inclusion? Has a conversation been had with them reinforcing commitment to Diversity & Inclusion.
- Are trainers self-aware relative to Diversity & Inclusion? g., Personal biases, style preferences, preconceived notions about people based upon dimensions of Diversity that might affect how people are treated? (This can show up in feedback, observation and even formal complaints)
- Are trainers aware of how Diversity, Equity & Inclusion might relate to their topic, training or workshop? Are visuals inclusive? Do they avoid stereotypes? Has content been reviewed with Diversity, Equity & Inclusion in mind?
- Is the trainer, facilitator or speaker aware of dynamics of diverse groups? Can the trainer spot when a Diversity issue is at hand? For example, when someone is being excluded from a conversation because of a dimension of Diversity (e.g., race, gender, style, religion and ethnicity)?
- Do trainers, facilitators and speakers know how to handle inappropriate behaviors, comments and conflict?
- Are trainers and facilitators clear on, and in compliance with, non-discrimination policies?
- Is there conscious outreach to new and potentially unknown talent—through contacts, through other organizations, through research?
1) Actively search experts and professionals from all dimensions of diversity.
2) Remember the motto, “Not about us without us” — Ask, do not assume.
3) Look at the demographics of speakers, trainers and facilitators being identified.
4) Build relationships with various organizations that can provide speakers and insights.
5) Ensure diversity within groups — e.g., make sure a Women’s leadership panel is not all White, or a general leadership panel is not all men or all people of one age group.
6) Watch for bias and assumptions — among speakers and staff.
7) Determine needs of speakers, trainers and facilitators — food, accessibility, etc.
8) Be creative with processes, i.e., panels, keynotes, etc.
9) Leverage multi-media, ensure it is inclusive and accessible.
10. Processes and Dynamics
- Is everyone treated with respect in an inclusive environment?
- Are ground rules established for respectful and inclusive interactions?
- Do methodologies take into consideration different ways of learning?
- For exercises that require movement of any kind—have you considered accessibility and provided accommodations?
- Are plans in place for visuals and audio for people who are sight or hearing impaired?
- Are there religious/cultural requirements among participants? For example, in some cultures, women cannot touch men and vice-versa—would such an issue affect the training program?
- Are you aware of potential cultural differences, e.g. when a “yes” may actually be a “no?”
- Do you leverage Diversity for innovation, creativity and new ideas?
- Do you have conflict resolution processes in place?
- Is the group cohesive? Divided? Are there cliques? Does anyone, any group appear to be excluded?
- Are there style, gender, age and other diversity-related dynamics that prevent some from being heard or participating fully?
- Are facilitators/leaders skilled at working across differences?
- For virtual meetings, do you have a checklist of considerations, e.g., languages spoken, avoiding usage of slang, test run of technology, etc.?
1) Provide tools (online, print, checklist, terminology, articles).
2) Provide training on leadership and effective teams.
3) Use real-time techniques—ice breakers, agreements/ground rules, clarity on expectations, goals and outcomes.
4) Let different people lead, use processes that ensure full engagement.
5) Pay attention to group dynamics, behaviors, attitudes, micro-inequities and micro-aggressions, inclusion and exclusion, etc.
11. Evaluation and Follow-up
- Do evaluations include and collect information across groups g., demographic data (where legal, and voluntary e.g., LGBT, Veterans, People with Disabilities)
- Do evaluations cover the entire experience? e., registration, speakers, overall quality.
- Are there open-ended questions for suggestions for continuous improvement?
- Do questions require the participants/attendees to reflect on their own learning?
- If a problem has been identified by an attendee/participant, is protocol in place to address that problem?
1) Ensure something is done with the information for continuous improvement, e.g., a general follow-up, specific follow-up.
2) Do not minimize the needs of a few, or even one person. If one employee cannot access training, for example, that is a problem.
3) Consider evaluations for regular meetings, not just events.
Holidays and Observances:
One will learn much about people and cultures by learning more about those special days that matter. There are numerous multicultural calendar resources available to anyone online—either free or for purchase. Check out apps for your smart phones and computers too. Following are some resources (with hyperlinks).
Creating Accessible Meetings and Events
There are extensive resources on the topic. Below is a link to a PDF file, “Planning Accessible Meetings and Events Toolkit,” from the Office of Departmental Equal Employment Opportunity (ODEEO).
Skilled leaders and facilitators understand group dynamics and the subtle and not-so-subtle diversity-related dynamics that can occur. Consider resources on inclusive leadership. There is significant information available, too, on remote and virtual teams and meetings.
For a free PDF version of this in the Global Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Catalyst, or for suggestions, recommendations or other requests, write to (with “GDEI Catalyst” in the subject line) to: