Why is it important that women’s voices are heard in meetings? And why is important to discover that women are not being heard in virtual meetings? This was something that was brought to my attention this week.
The World Economic Forum had conducted some research on zoom calls and 45% of US women leaders said that it was difficult for women to speak up in virtual meetings on platforms like Zoom and teams. One in five women felt that they had been ignored on such meetings. Now, this is pretty horrifying. And I would say that this mirrors similar experiences that women have when they are in face to face meetings, because there are certain situations where some women have to work very very hard to be heard. However, I feel that there ought to have been a comparison with men: and they should have been asked these questions too. I suspect there are also men that are struggling to be heard too.
That might be very interesting information, because we might well find that in fact quieter men, and those who spend more time reflecting on what they’re going to say, being heard and struggling to be heard in these meetings.
It is very important that we hear all voices and all opinions in meetings. And it is particularly important that women’s voices are heard. If you are there: at a meeting, you are there for your expertise and opinion, not just to make up the numbers. Not because “We want a woman in the at the meeting so that we can say that we’ve got women there”, But actually it is because you have different experiences and perspectives on what is being discussed. And if you are running a meeting, it is of added value to have a range of perspectives and experiences heard in meetings. Matthew Syed explains this in an outstanding way in his book Rebel Ideas..
So, a couple of the points that the particular article said was that:
- Women are generally seen as less authoritative. That is, gender bias, and there needs to be changes in the rules within the work room, whether it is a virtual one or a face to face one now thinking about women as being less authoritative. There are still cultural biases related to this all over the world, I’m in the United Kingdom. There are some still some still some unconscious biases and myths surrounding female opinions, expertise, credibility and females contributing.
- So often, I have heard women being told that they speak too much in meetings, and yet when you analyze the amount that they have contribute in an in a meeting. It is minimal compared to the men, and particularly the men that accused the women of contributing too much. There is a bias against them. Also, there are cultures where women are not expected to speak out in front of men, or that their contribution is not seen as equal or have the same credibility as a man.
- As a result of women fighting to be heard and listened to, they have less influence in conversations.
These are things that if we want to make sure that we are working in a diverse world, and one where there are a number of opinions around the table that can be discussed, so that we can reflect on all of those different opinions. We have to change the workplace. And we have to change the way that we run meetings, so that there are some structures in place. This more than anything is why it is important for women’s voices to be heard.
So here are some of my tips for this.
- We need to look at the facilitator and their role. Should the team leader delegate facilitating a virtual meeting to someone else? The facilitator of the meeting needs to be trained, so that they can appreciate that everyone’s voices need to be heard: to create frameworks, that are in place in order to run a meeting very effectively, so that everybody has a proper opportunity to speak.
- If you are someone who is being spoken over, call out that person. This isn’t the time to be passive: you have every right to say, “I have not finished If you are somebody who is being being interrupted, call out the facilitator: say to him or her.” Look, we are having this meeting so that everybody has an opportunity to share ideas and opinions. Yet, I’m constantly being interrupted. Could you please deal with this.” If it’s a virtual meeting you can easily message that person privately, and flag that up. Afterwards, follow up. Try and arrange a one to one meeting with the facilitator to see how it can work better.
- You could collaborate with other attendees. You might not be the only person dealing with interruptions. It is frustrated that your voice isn’t being heard. You might well be aware of one or two people there in the meeting, who are also frustrated. Collaborate with them afterwards so that next time you could be working as a small team. If somebody is constantly interrupting you or interrupting somebody else you can jump in and say “Will you stop interrupting”.
- As a group, work out the best way for you to run meetings as a team. Examples might be:
- It could be that you agree that everybody has one minute to make a contribution.
- If anybody wants to make a comment about that or interrupt, they only use the chat box
- Everybody else is muted.
- While that one person is speaking, for example, that you have a timekeeper that you have somebody that is keeping a note of the chat to make sure that things aren’t being missed.
In the end, this is about ensuring that everybody has a voice, and that everybody has the opportunity to contribute to a meeting to a particular topic. Otherwise, why is that person there. They are wasting their time. And if you aren’t able to voice your opinion in a meeting. It is a very, very expensive meeting for the business. These are reasons why women’s voices should be heard. So come on those people facilitating, and those people leading organizations: step up and see how you can ensure that everybody in a meeting, whether they are women or men have a voice. I deliver virtual workshops on facilitating and participating in virtual meetings. You can download the courses for 2021 here.