Back to top Back to top
  • close


Make your virtual meetings more inclusive

October 22, 2021

Last week, Ottawa Mayor Jim Watson cut off the microphone of a female councillor, Diane Deans, during a debate in city council. Watson interrupted Deans mid-debate while she was speaking about a motion. Watson later admitted he shut off Deans’ microphone purposely and apologized.

Deans is not alone. That males interrupt females more frequently led the US Supreme Court to change its format for oral arguments. Justice Sonia Sotomayor noted the changes came after studies revealed that female judges were interrupted disproportionately more by male judges and lawyers. Justice Sotomayor said, “most of the time women say things and they are not heard in the same way as men who might say the identical thing.”

Yes folks, it’s 2021 and women are interrupted more than men.

And these inequities persist online. Since the pandemic, many workplaces have moved in-person meetings to online platforms like Zoom and Microsoft Teams. Studies have shown that online platforms amplify the problems many women face in being heard.

That is why some companies are holding virtual meetings only if necessary. Those companies prefer in-person meetings where possible, and long-form written communication otherwise.

But for most online platforms and virtual meetings will be around for a while. Since that’s the case, here are some tips to make your virtual meetings more inclusive and collaborative:

  • Have a mediator – A mediator can facilitate the discussion and participation. A mediator can also act as a referee if people are interrupted, by ensuring everyone can fully contribute.
  • Place time limits – If there is a tendency for some attendees to take all the group’s time, you may start a roundtable where every person has an allotted amount of time to speak. This could help ensure that everyone has equal opportunity to participate. But be careful not to over do it – putting people on the spot can turn some off.
  • Be an ally – If you hear someone being interrupted, speak up. Politely ask the interrupter to give the person a chance to speak or return the conversation back to the person after the interruption.
  • Be mindful of technology – Tone and body language are difficult to convey in virtual meetings. It is important to keep your camera on, look at the camera and not your screen, and ensure your microphone is functional so you can communicate as close to an in-person experience as you can. If you are the mediator or in charge, you can request everyone do the same.

While helpful, especially during a pandemic, virtual meetings bring dynamics that can worsen workplace inequities. Employers should be mindful and work towards an environment where everyone is seen and heard.