What to Do if Your Meetings are “Man-Made?”

How to fix meetings to establish better gender inclusion

Meeting behavior is perhaps the #1 telling sign of an organizations’ culture on gender inclusion.  It is snapshot of how gender inclusive the team really is.  It is the evidence of truly welcomed diverse thought, or a tell-tale sign that the culture really supports a certain type of thinking.  Or, more often, a certain type of person.  A man.

The majority group (white, cisgender, straight, male, able-bodied, etc.) dominates meetings in Corporate America.  Those in the majority group are far more likely to have more speaking time, interrupt others, and take credit for the ideas of those that are not in the majority group (non-white, LGBTQ+, non-male, disabled, etc.).

“Man-made” meetings go something like this…

  • Man announces the purpose of the meeting
  • Woman takes notes
  • Men share their ideas
  • Women qualify their ideas
  • Men modify women’s ideas into their own
  • Women try to speak up to be interrupted
  • Man makes decision
  • Women are assigned administrative tasks

This is an exaggeration, yet I bet your organization is guilty of some of these “man-made” meeting behaviors.  These behaviors over time prevent gender inclusion.  They result in women holding their ideas back, and feeling less satisfied and appreciated at work.

How can you tell if your organization is gender inclusive?  There are five specific behaviors that signal lack of gender inclusion in meetings.  Be on the lookout for:

Meeting behavior #1:  Women are often the “only” woman in meetings 

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Being the only person that looks like you and thinks like you is exhausting.  Most decisions were made by Caucasian men.  These decisions are not balanced with other perspectives and are at risk of group think lacking innovative thought.  When meeting rooms have people that all look the same, think the same, and have the same experiences, decisions are not as good.  This leads to a feeling of not belonging.

Meeting behavior #2:  Women’s ideas are judged more harshly than men’s ideas

We judge women on performance and men on potential.  This means that we need to see women prove themselves over and over again when men are given the confidence instantly, even if they lack experience on the topic.  This leads to women’s ideas being scrutinized at higher rates than their male colleagues and having to prove their ideas merit vs. assuming a man’s idea will work.

Meeting behavior #3:  Women are overtasked for meeting housekeeping tasks 

Women are often default social event or committee organizers and note takers in meetings.  This is harmful because this work is less likely to be rewarded or valued on performance reviews or in pay increases.  When women take on more responsibility in addition to the regular work, it limits their capacity and visibility to other opportunities.  It is hard to actively participate if you are the one taking notes.

Meeting behavior #4:  Women are discouraged from meeting with men one-on-one

Due to fear of sexual harassment accusations and fear of doing or saying the wrong thing, men have retreated from one-on-one interactions with women.  They are not sure what to say or do, so it feels easier to withdrawal completely.  This is not helpful given that women are nearly 50% of the workforce and it is not possible to avoid 50% of the people you work with.  Important conversations take place privately and women need equal access to those discussions.

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Meeting behavior #5:  Non-inclusive meeting behaviors are tolerated

Interruptions, taking credit for others’ ideas, and limited participation in meetings signal that the culture is not inclusive.  When underrepresented people are interrupted or not given credit for their ideas, they feel excluded and learn to hold back.  Good meetings are those where all voices are heard equally.

If your meetings experience any of these behaviors, here’s your chance to lead like an ally

In my work to help create and sustain inclusive cultures in Corporate America, I advocate that everyone can lead from where they are at regardless of your title or position.  For those that want to lead like allies, I recommend:

  • Call out others’ unhelpful behavior with curiosity, “when you said that…what did you mean?” in meetings
  • Be an upstander, not a bystander. When someone says something offensive, be ready to speak up with the person that is being interrupted or idea is being taken.
  • Use inclusive language (they vs. he or she, all instead of guys)
  • Empathize with those that are underrepresented or the “only” in the meeting
  • Keep your radar on for exclusive behavior in meetings
  • Ask “how do you know that is true?” when someone assumes something hurtful or untrue about someone in a meeting

Like this content?  Then, you will love my new book Lead Like an Ally.  Click on the link to order your copy, watch complimentary videos, and begin your ally journey.  A great place to start is by taking my free online assessment and printing my free inclusive leader checklist to kick start efforts at your organization.