Evelina Silveira, President, Diversity At Work in London Inc. Publisher of the Inclusion Quarterly
Recently, I was perusing a business magazine that had a section dedicated to meeting planning. It was written by a professional in the field yet I could have sworn that the article was at least 20 years old. There was no attention to the new realities of planning business meetings that host a wide range of guests from different cultures, religions and abilities. It was the same old same old. Someone reading this article may have thought that they had all of the information they needed to make their next event a success — but they didn’t.
No doubt, the business world is more complicated these days. It can be very intimidating, especially if you feel forced into thinking outside the box for the first time.
Don’t fret. Guess what? A lot of the ideas won’t cost you much or nothing at all, but they really make a world of difference when it comes to making your staff, co-workers and guests more comfortable with participating. Before you know it, it will become just a regular way of doing business.
1. CROSS-CHECK THE PROPOSED DATE OF YOUR MEETING. Does it coincide with any religious or cultural events? Are the dates of your meetings scheduled on days when children are off from school? Tip: Keep a religious/ cultural calendar handy along with elementary school calendars.
2. INVITE ACCOMMODATION REQUESTS. Ask participants well before the meeting to place their accommodation requests in by a certain date.
3. CHOOSE AN ACCESSIBLE LOCATION. Your venue should be equipped with ramps, elevators, accessible bathrooms etc. However, you will also want to consider having your event or meeting in an area that is easily accessible by public transportation.
4. CHOOSE A CATERER/MENU PLANNING. Depending on your group of participants you may want to consider halal or kosher catering if you know that you will be having Jewish or Muslim guests. If in doubt always ensure that you have lots of vegetarian options. Sit down meals are best if you are expecting guests with mobility challenges. If you choose to have a buffet, assign a volunteer to assist the participant with getting their meal.
5. IF POSSIBLE PROVIDE MEETING MATERIALS IN ADVANCE. By doing so, you give participants an opportunity to ask any questions, obtain translations if required or just give them more time to absorb the information if they have challenges with reading comprehension.
6. PROVIDE CLEAR SIGNAGE AND NAME TAGS AND MATERIALS. Use large print contrasting colour signs and high contrast name tags. Each participant should have a name tag if there is a new member to the meeting. Consider the above with your PowerPoint presentations and handouts. Opt for a larger font size like 18 and fonts like Verdana and Arial that are sans serif.
7. ALLERGY ALERT. Ensure that your promotional materials indicate a scent-free environment. If you are planning to use balloons , choose a non-latex brand. Food allergies should be taken care of early on in the planning stages when you invite requests for accommodations.
8. CHAIRING THE MEETING. Remember to indicate any changes in topic, break times and adjournments. Whenever possible, try to stay on schedule as some of your guests may have medical issues that they need to take care of during a break at a certain time.
9. KEEP ISSUES ABOVE BOARD. While it is nice to get support for your position, trying to create a lobby group outside of the meeting spells exclusion. As a practice, strive to keep all related discussions within the meeting to avoid some members having an unfair advantage over others.
10. ADDITIONAL GUIDELINES. While it is sometimes difficult to do, challenge participants who are trying to “pull rank in the room”. Remind meeting participants of simple rules like speaking one at a time, attentive listening, respect for different opinions and for confidentiality.
While these suggestions may not seem like a lot, by following these tips you will have opened the door to many more people to participate and enjoy your event more freely. Creating inclusive events requires us to put ourselves in the shoes of many other people and look at the barriers that might be present and seek solutions.