When Should a Meeting Be An Email to Be More Inclusive?

Inclusive meeting and email communication tips all leaders need to know

In an era defined by meetings, with the pressure to always be on, compounded by Zoom fatigue – the meeting struggle is real. Oftentimes, we could free up time on our calendar by limiting the amount of meetings we have in a given day. Studies focused on meetings show middle managers spend 35% of their time in meetings and employees in upper management spend 50% of their time in meetings. 67% of employees complain that spending too much time in meetings hinders them from being productive at work.

This research begs the question: when do people get their work done? Oftentimes that work being put on the backburner due to meetings is being done during meetings, or is completed after hours when there is uninterrupted time to clean out an inbox.

If you want to get more out of your team, be intentional about what’s a meeting and what’s an email.

A meeting can be changed to an email if:

  • It’s information presenting and downloading versus requiring more discussion
  • The questions that need answered are simple and clear
  • The people gathering are not decision makers towards the purpose
  • The group of people have healthy trust and rapport and have demonstrated positive traction on email or other communication channels outside of a meeting setting
  • There is no clear decision or outcome that needs to be made immediately

If one of the above is not true, the meeting likely has merit, but it doesn’t mean it’s inclusive or set up for success. More folks are leaving work places now than ever and many are citing the lack of respect and inclusion as primary reasons why. People are unwilling to tolerate being excluded and disrespected in the workplace anymore (not that it was ever acceptable).

Keep your ally radar up for these non-inclusive signals:

  • Women, people of color, LGBTQ+ folks are often the “only” woman in meetings 
  • Traditionally marginalized people’s ideas are judged more harshly than the majority group’s ideas
  • Women and people of color are overtasked for meeting housekeeping tasks 
  • Those outside the majority group are not invited to social events
  • Non-inclusive meeting behaviors are tolerated and normalized

If you notice one of these non-inclusive behaviors happening in the meeting setting, you don’t have to have a really unpleasant, uncomfortable interaction live in the group setting. Completely unacceptable non-inclusive behaviors do need to be addressed in the moment and maybe even as a group, but more often than not, it’s better to discuss privately one-on-one with someone after the fact but as close to the time of the meeting as possible. 

Suggestions to call folks in to be more inclusive:

  • Call in others’ unhelpful behavior with curiosity. Say something like, “When you said that…what did you mean?” to interrupt non-inclusive behavior 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 an idea is being taken.
  • Avoid having the same person or marginalized group assigned to note taking and housekeeping tasks by setting up a rotating schedule for those tasks across the entire team.
  • Use inclusive language (they vs. he or she, all instead of guys)
  • Empathize and advocate for those that are underrepresented or the “only” in the meeting
  • Ask “how do you know that is true?” when someone assumes something hurtful or untrue about someone in a meeting

Rarely do people look forward to meetings. They have too many of them, non-inclusive behavior is all too commonplace, and people do not get what they want out of them. In Priya Parker’s The Art of Gathering, she recommends that meetings have a meaningful purpose. Three key ingredients to test if your meeting has an effective purpose – is it specific, unique, and disputable?

Effective meetings have bookends

 They start with a clear purpose, they have a lot of dialogue and discussion in the middle, and the end is for decisions or next steps. If you don’t start with a clear purpose, you risk losing people’s attention because they are not good boundaries for a healthy discussion. If you don’t end with decisions or specific action items, you’re likely to have a very similar meeting soon or people will be frustrated because they feel like they’ve already had that meeting.

The word facilitate means to ‘make (an action or process) easy or easier’. As a meeting facilitator or leader, it’s your job to foster an environment where decisions are easier to be made and the discussion easier to generate. That means asking good open ended questions, actively listening to what others have to say and not making it about you, and having accountability structures in place so that people follow through on what they said they do in a meeting.

Think about the meetings that could be emails, think about the structure of your meeting’s purpose and how decisions are made. Your meetings will be better for it and people will thank you.

Want to do better, and not sure where to start?  That is why we developed the Lead Like an Ally virtual self-paced training program, perfect for organizations struggling with accountability for diversity. You can also check out all of our other virtual and live program offerings.