Are you hearing from everyone on your team?

“Voices” meeting analysis project

The problem

Diverse input is crucial, but missing

Meetings can stifle diverse input

  • Thinking before they speak — Some people prefer to think through their idea before speaking. But by the time they’re ready to share their input, the meeting has moved on.
  • Cultural norms — Interrupting or speaking over someone is considered very rude by some. So those people will wait for a polite time to speak, a time that never comes.
  • Communication differences — Speaking rate and pause length vary from region to region. So when one person thinks they’ve given everybody a chance to weigh in, someone else might still be waiting for a signal it’s their turn to speak.
  • Social cost — Not everyone is allowed to be equally assertive. Certain people face significant social cost if they are perceived to be too forward or to be speaking out of place.
  • Individual differences — All of that doesn’t even include people who are using assistive technology, language interpretation, people who are working in a language that is not their first language, and people who just processes language differently.

Solutions

It’s the responsibility of a meeting chair to include everyone

  • Prepare an agenda in advance — Every meeting should have a list of topics to discuss or goals for the meeting. (If you can’t say why you’re meeting or what you’re going to talk about, cancel the meeting.)
  • Provide background information — Share links to previous meeting minutes, latest status information, design artifacts, or state-of-the-art information, anything that meeting attendees can review before the meeting so they arrive at the meeting prepared to contribute.
  • Invite people to speak — Instead of placing the burden on individuals to elbow their way into the conversation, the meeting chair must keep track of who has given their input already, and then invite others to do so too. Develop your skills. Don’t just put someone on the spot. Work at making attendees feel safe enough to share their opinion.
  • Slow down and listen — Particularly when people get excited about a topic, its easy for a group to talk faster and louder and to interrupt each other in their enthusiasm. The meeting chair must manage the energy, pace, and flow of meetings so there are quieter, slower times too when quieter voices can be heard.
  • Text input— In addition to the meeting discussion, provide a mechanism for attendees to enter their input in an alternative way, such as in a meeting chat, a Slack channel, or a dedicated input app. Include the text input in the discussion.
  • Anonymous input — If you’re already thinking of ways to include text input, consider the option to enable people to provide that input anonymously. (How workable this is depends on the nature of the meeting and the size of the team.)
  • Asynchronous communication — The best ideas might occur to someone before the meeting starts and important questions might come up after the meeting ends. Prepare a system to handle asynchronous communication related to the meeting discussion.
  • Meeting minutes — Generate a searchable transcript of the meeting, so that teammates can review what was discussed, confirm details about what was decided and why, and remember what the expectations were for everybody after the meeting.

Measure progress

Sample Python notebook

Sample Python notebook analyzing speaking time
Python notebook analyzing speaking time
  • If the nature of the meeting is a presentation, it would be reasonable for the presenter to speak the most.
  • For a brainstorming or collaborative meeting, you would hope for all attendees to speak somewhat equally.
  • Even when you anonymize results by removing attendees’ names, you can still tell how balanced participation is.
  • You can track results for individual meetings and track results over time.

Conclusion

  • Weapons of Math Destruction How big data increases inequality and threatens democracy, by Cathy O’Neil (2016) Book | TED talk
  • Mother of Invention How good ideas get ignored in an economy built for men, by Katrine Marçal (2021) Book | Interview
  • What Can a Body Do? How we meet the built world, by Sarah Hendren (2020) Book | Interview
  • Invisible Women Data bias in a world design for men, by Caroline Criado Perez (2019) Book | Radio interview | Article
  • Technically Wrong Sexist apps, biased algorithms, and other threats of toxic tech, by Sara Wachter-Boettcher (2017) Book | Talk
  • What Works Gender equality by design, by Iris Bohnet (2016) Book | Talk

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Design, build AI solutions by day. Experiment with input devices, drones, IoT, smart farming by night.

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Sarah Packowski

Sarah Packowski

Design, build AI solutions by day. Experiment with input devices, drones, IoT, smart farming by night.

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