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  • Writer's pictureDr Francesca Maclean


If I had a dollar for every time I’ve walked past a meeting room with no, or only one woman in the room, I would not be worried about the gender pay gap.

For events that occur so frequently in the workplace, we seem to pay very little attention to meetings and their impact on our broader gender equity or diversity and inclusion strategies, and overall organisational culture.

While a sea of men in blue checked shirts could be an interesting visual-art installation, when they are clustered in one room discussing project strategies or conducting a design review, they are a hallmark of a specific type of culture. One where diversity and inclusion of employees is not taken seriously.

In these meetings, middle-aged men are either surrounded by their peers or their mini-me replicas from the next generation, sending a clear message that anyone different doesn’t belong wherever decisions are being made. Men are significantly over-represented compared to women in the engineering profession – 88% men compared to 12% women in Australia. In the meetings I’ve observed, women make up less than 12% of the attendees (because often they represent 0%), not to mention there only being one or two men of colour in the room. When engineering teams and projects don’t even capture the very low industry baseline of gender representation in meetings, what does that say about the quality and creativity of decision making, and the future state of diversity and inclusion efforts?

And when we do have only one woman in the room, what does that say to other women – there is only ever room for one woman in this environment? When this woman doesn’t ever speak, or is asked to take notes and organise the coffee, what does that say to the young mini-me replica men about the role of technically qualified women in their workplace?

With most firms reporting successful attainment, or close to, for their 50/50 graduate hiring target, there are clearly a lot of young women who would benefit from shadowing senior people in these meetings. They would benefit from being asked their opinion and being taken seriously when they share it. They would benefit from being in the room – and so would everyone else. If you don’t have many people who are different in your senior ranks, you need to work even harder to retain and advance the diverse talent you have in your junior ranks.

Instead of using the tired refrain ‘there just aren’t any women’, try the following steps to make your meetings more representative of our communities, and benefit from better performance.

Next time you set up a meeting at work, ask these questions:

  • Who is always invited to this meeting, and why?

  • Who else could offer a different / interesting / challenging view to this conversation? Think of more than one – 30% of your meeting attendance will provide critical mass.

  • Which junior team members could benefit from seeing how these decisions are made?

When you are preparing for the meeting, do these things:

  • Prepare a clear agenda with a diverse range of people assigned to speak about topics

  • Develop a strategy to facilitate so everyone is heard

In the meeting, get comfortable with:

  • Establishing an acceptable standard of behaviour at the start – “let’s keep the interruptions to a minimum”

  • Giving credit where its due, and in the moment

  • Using phrases like “please let Sarah finish her point”, “thanks for echoing Hannah’s previous idea, John.”, or “Christine, would you agree with what’s been said so far?”

After the meeting

  • Welcome further input or new ideas for attendees

  • Document credit to the true originators of ideas and concepts in your minutes

  • Follow up with the women or junior shadows to get their feedback on the meeting and their involvement / perceptions

And if you truly don’t have anyone who isn’t a white man in a checked shirt to productively contribute to your meetings, I suggest you strongly reconsider your hiring practices and cultural norms! Uniformity in thinking and ideas is a serious threat we need to address – with diverse and inclusive teams.

PS: it's nothing personal against checked shirts!

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