A person with long brown hair stands and gestures while speaking to seated elderly people in a community hall with tea and coffee cups.
Taylor Review Pilot workshop at Bolton Methodist Church. © Rachel Lake
Taylor Review Pilot workshop at Bolton Methodist Church. © Rachel Lake

How Do I Chair Meetings Inclusively?

What is this resource for?

This resource is for those looking to make meetings with colleagues, community partners, and volunteers as inclusive and accessible as possible. It is relevant to meetings of all sizes and to both in-person and online meetings.

What are the key points?

  • Inclusive meetings allow for greater diversity of thought
  • Sharing agendas in good time ahead of meetings means attendees know what to expect and can prepare themselves to engage meaningfully in the meeting
  • Allow time to plan and accommodate any reasonable adjustments for participants
  • It is essential to create a psychologically safe space for attendees, which includes any meeting guidelines and content warnings
  • Being a proactive, inclusive chair means encouraging input from all meeting participants whilst respecting individual differences

Why make meetings inclusive?

Meetings are a great way to share ideas and work collaboratively amongst teams, but often, marginalised voices and the voices of more introverted colleagues are missing from conversations.

Inclusive meetings ensure diversity of representation, voices, opinions, and ideas. They can create a safe space where everyone feels empowered to speak up rather than a select few.

It is important to remember that your colleagues and community partners may have a range of specific needs that you’ll need to consider when planning for a meeting. A non-exhaustive list of considerations when preparing to chair an inclusive meeting includes:

  • Sharing meeting agendas in good time ahead of meetings allows attendees to know what to expect and can prepare themselves to engage meaningfully in the meeting. You could allow space to collaboratively plan your agenda. Asking for contributions from meeting participants that may allow for a wider scope of discussion. Be sure that any agenda revisions are communicated properly before the meeting.
  • Reasonable adjustments are changes to an existing approach or process, which is essential to ensure a person's access to something. Your meeting invite is a good time to offer the possibility of making reasonable adjustments to the format of the meeting to attendees. These could include:
  • Asking if those invited have any access needs for the meeting, for example: “If you would like any additional adjustments to be made to ensure your full participation in this event, please contact [named contact].”
  • Asking if there are any dietary requirements if the meeting is catered
  • Letting people know the length and location of the meeting
  • Highlighting instructions on how to use captions when using virtual platforms
  • Informing those invited of the time allotted for frequent breaks
  • Mentioning if the meeting will be recorded, explaining the purpose, and giving people the chance to be off camera if they wish to be
  • Asking people to avoid using blurred backgrounds on virtual meetings, these can be distracting or difficult for neurodivergent people, so encourage the use of plain backgrounds instead
  • Content notes or warnings are written or oral statements given before presenting that disclose that the content covered may be sensitive in nature. Introducing content warnings ensures that sensitive subjects can continue to be highlighted and discussed openly. By adding a warning, you are ensuring that the debate continues in a caring and considerate way and that participants can opt out of certain conversations should they wish to. For example: “Content note for this event: some topics covered by today’s speakers, such as but not limited to [X, Y and Z], may be sensitive and could be upsetting for some attendees.”
  • Sharing meeting guidelines. Part of working inclusively is not assuming everyone conducts themselves the same way. By sharing guidelines ahead of time, you set expectations for the meeting and demonstrate your group’s joint effort for greater equity. Some examples to consider include:
  • No harassment or negative comments based on race/ethnicity, gender (including gender identity), sexual orientation, disability, age, religion, physical appearance, citizenship, or other protected characteristics
  • No threatening or endangerment of other participants, including the moderators, by any means
  • No unwelcome attention
  • No encouragement of any of the above behaviours

What should I do during the meeting to ensure it is inclusive?

Inclusive chairing requires a proactive and positive attitude to ensure participants feel welcomed and their opinions are valued.

Chairs might want to consider the following:

  • Introductions. If necessary and when appropriate, ensure everyone is properly introduced at the beginning of your meeting. Include preferred names and pronouns where possible, as some people might choose to give descriptions of themselves to help blind and visually impaired attendees
  • Psychological safety. Psychological safety is defined by the ability to bring one's whole self to a team or group without risk of shame or humiliation. In psychologically safe spaces, individuals feel accepted and respected when contributing ideas and expressing themselves. It is important to assert that attendees can contribute to discussions without fear of judgement
  • Inclusive language. In addition to using people's pronouns, ask that people avoid acronyms, jargon, and overly technical terms that some attendees may not be familiar with
  • Attendee participation. As an active chair, you should ensure that everyone has an opportunity to input or contribute to your discussion. For example, calling on quieter attendees for input or allowing marginalised groups the chance to speak first. You should be prepared to politely ask more confident speakers to allow space for others to share, consider using the chat function in virtual meetings to invite contributions from confident speakers or ask for written discussion points or questions ahead of the meeting
  • Openness to different approaches. Recognise and respect personal and cultural differences that may influence how attendees communicate, make decisions, and give and receive feedback. Demonstrate a willingness to adapt the style of meetings to accommodate any differences
  • Notes and recording. Whether in person or virtual, it's helpful to consider whether a recording of the meeting is necessary. It can be beneficial to record to capture actions for those with specific access needs or those unable to make the meeting; others may feel unable to speak freely on some issues if they are being recorded. Make sure you get consent from participants before recording takes place and ensure they consent to any materials being shared

Should I do anything after the meeting?

  • Follow up. Ensure any meeting summaries or actions are circulated as soon as possible, and invite people to review the minutes and add any additional thoughts
  • Feedback. Ask for and encourage feedback on the meeting’s effectiveness, demonstrating you value participants’ perspectives and seek continuous improvement