Inclusivity and equity in virtual meetings, resources and suggestions from MPOWIR Virtual Discussion

For most of us, virtual meetings went from a slow, but steadily rising occurrence, to a matter of necessity in just days. We are all forging a way forward without a set plan. This abrupt start to mandatory virtual meetings has undoubtedly improved some interactions and hindered others. It is safe to think that meeting remotely, at least at times, will continue to be a major way we achieve our scientific goals. 

MPOWIR initiated a series of Virtual Discussions to further foster connection between participants and colleagues, particularly during a time of increased isolation. A Virtual Discussion on ‘Inclusivity and Equity in Virtual Meetings’, held on May 7, 2020 resulted in a compilation of  resources and suggestions. These thoughtful contributions were brought forth, compiled and edited by: Colleen Mouw (University of Rhode Island), Sonya Legg (Princeton University), LuAnne Thompson (University of Washington), Erika McPhee-Shaw, (Western Washington University) Rehemat Bhatia (NERC), Jessica Garwood (Rutgers University), Jennie Zhu (USCLIVAR), and Sarah Clem (University of Rhode Island)

Resources for inclusive meetings:

As a host:

  • Consider granting one or two more individuals hosting privileges, and encourage participants to reach out to any host by private message if they have suggestions, concerns, or questions they do not want to voice out loud or to the whole group.
  • Recognize that some agencies/institutions restrict the use of some video conferencing software.  Poll participants ahead of time to ensure the platform used does not exclude their participation.    
  • For a meeting with international participants spread across time-zones, poll to find a time that works for everyone. For a longer meeting, consider having sessions at different times, so that everyone will be able to attend at least part of the meeting. As an example see https://goldschmidt.info/2020/virtualConference
  • Set the ‘tone’ for the meeting either on the call or in an email ahead of time
    • Set the level of engagement that is expected so participants do not default into passive listeners.
    • If the group is small enough, let participants know you encourage them to turn their cameras on so everyone can more easily interact and engage. 
      • Remind participants that it’s common to feel a little self-conscious on camera, but we all understand if you need to stand up, enjoy your tea, and move around. 
      • Consider using your camera intermittently, and turning it off if you want to stretch, eat, pet your dog, etc. rather than having it off for the whole meeting.
    • Help normalize the reality that people will likely be joining from their homes, and not necessarily a home office.
      • E.g. “You’ll all get see my favorite gray couch”, “My kitchen will be doubling as my office today”
      • Encourage the use of virtual backgrounds if folks still feel uncomfortable. Not everyone lives in the same sort of environment and virtual backgrounds help to create equity.
    • Let participants know it’s important to you that everyone’s voice is heard, so encourage them to raise their hand on video or in the software, and/or interject with comments from the chatbox, or call on someone who may have not had a chance to speak.
    • Send out materials and a few questions ahead of time.
  • Familiarize yourself with the closed captioning functions of your platform.
    • If any participant is hearing impaired, ensure to ask participants to turn on their camera when they talk to aid in the interpretation of their words.  
    • Ensure to have closed captioning as default, and mention to participants that they can individually turn these off if they do not require them. This way those who need closed captioning feel included from the start.
  • At the start of the meeting, take a moment to share your screen, or talk through ways to engage with the platform you’re using:
    • Where the chat box is located
    • How to ‘raise’ your hand
    • Microphone mute and unmute
    • How to change the view, so you can see everyone as a grid view vs. only the person speaking
    • (if it’s a webinar) format of webinar (e.g., hold questions until end)
  • Use polling to drive engagement
    • Mentimeter, Poll everywhere, or polling features within the video conference software 
    • Simply ask people to show a ranking using their hands (eg, by holding up your fingers show your ranking on a scale of 1-5
    • Ask for engagement in some way every ~8 minutes
    • Ask a simple question to be answered in the chat function
  • Be mindful of the meeting length and break schedule
    • Be mindful that many people find virtual meetings more fatiguing than in-person meetings. 
    • For longer meetings, ensure to build in bio-breaks (at least 10 minutes) just as you would for in-person meetings.
  • Ensure that you make time to ask if there are questions
  • Consider calling on participants individually to ensure that they have the opportunity to speak up.
  • Make a pictographic user guide with screenshots for anyone joining and hosting the meeting
  • Consider doing a training session with the presenters, moderators or panelists a week ahead to familiarize everyone with the system before a planned event. Go through the controls of the web conferencing platform, check audio, camera, and go over format, how discussion and questions will be fielded and expectations of the webinar. Answer any questions.
  • If you are hosting a seminar, offer to take control of Q&A and to monitor chat

As an active participant

  • Know that your involvement is valued and the meeting participants want to hear your thoughts.  
    • Use your body language to signal that you would like to talk if interjecting is difficult (lean closer to the camera and raise your hand), nod when you agree. 
    • Engage your viewers by using appropriate body language while speaking, within the space visible from your webcam. 
    • Add ideas and comments to the chatbox for all participants to see
    • Privately chat with host, moderator, or trusted colleagues that are better at interjecting to help make the space for you to speak. 
  • Speak up for your colleagues
    • Mention if you notice colleagues are being overlooked “It looked like “Name” had something to add”
  • As an ally for accessibility, ask the host how you can turn on closed captioning and if the platform being used is compatible with screen readers.

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