Top 10 strategies for practicing allyship during meetings

By Cathy Nestrick

Women face numerous barriers during meetings and calls, especially when the group includes a larger percentage of men. Louder or more outspoken male voices can crowd women out, making it difficult to give voice to great ideas. When women are able to speak, they are often interrupted, or others who are more readily listened to claim their ideas. Virtual environments are even more challenging. In a recent survey, nearly half of women leaders said they have difficulty speaking up in virtual meetings, and one in five said they felt ignored during calls.

Women have created portmanteaus to describe these occurrences, including “manterrupting” (men interrupting women who are speaking), “mansplaining” (men explaining something to women when no explanation is necessary) and “bropropriating” (when a man claims credit for a woman’s idea).

Allies are the best solution to disrupt these behaviors. Everyone can and should strive to be an ally in the workplace, and one of the most effective ways to practice allyship is by infusing more equity and fairness into meetings and calls. Doing this work is a win-win-win. Women win because their ideas are heard, allies win because they’re seen as inclusive leaders and banks win because with more ideas on the table, innovation will soar.

To practice active allyship, use these 10 strategies to support women (and other underrepresented people in your bank) during meetings and calls:

1. Redirection. If someone is interrupted during a meeting or call, redirect back to the person who was talking originally. For example, you could say, “Aliyah, you were trying to make a point a moment ago and you were interrupted. Can you give us your thoughts now?” This strategy points out the fact she was interrupted and gives her an opening to share her ideas.

2. Ensure equal airtime. Research shows that men speak 75 percent of the time during meetings and calls, leaving just 25 percent of the time for women to express their ideas. These forums should be opportunities to hear new ideas and collaborate, but those goals are sidelined when one person or small group dominates the conversation. If you see this happening, you could say, “Thanks Chris for those comments. I’d like to hear what others have to say.” Privately, say, “Chris, one of my goals is to ensure equal opportunities for speaking during calls. Please speak less to give other people the chance to participate.”

3. Host “round robin” meetings. Go around the table or if virtual, around the screen, to receive everyone’s input. In a hybrid meeting, go around the screen first, then the in-person room, so that the virtual participants do not feel like an afterthought. Before implementing a round robin strategy, let participants know ahead of time that you expect everyone to have an opinion during discussions.

4. Select meeting rooms and venues carefully. When scheduling, make sure that meeting rooms are large enough so that everyone has a seat at the table. If this is not possible, ask a few leaders to sit in the seats away from the table to encourage equitable seating. For offsite gatherings, think twice about whether everyone will feel comfortable going to a bar or golf course. When in doubt, ask team members for their venue suggestions.

5. Schedule fairly. Parents and other caregivers have unique time constraints, so consider the needs of your team when scheduling meetings and calls. Avoiding early and late times in the workday is often effective but check in with your team for their input.

6. Restore credit. Research has shown that men often take women’s ideas and run with them, without giving credit. If you are aware that a person has taken someone else’s idea, then restore the credit. You could say publicly, “That idea was originally Camila’s. We should all thank her for her creativity.”

7. Call out slights and disrespect. If a person makes an inappropriate comment because of someone else’s gender, race, sexual orientation or other marginalized identity, call it out. You can say any one of these phrases to signal that you disagree with the comment and support the person targeted, such as, “That was not appropriate”, “I disagree”, “That is an incorrect gender stereotype”, or “Let’s discuss that comment after this meeting or call.” If you’re not comfortable calling out the inappropriate comment in the moment, do so afterward, and circle back with the person targeted and make sure they are okay, and aware that you spoke up for them.

8. Put a stop to withholding information. Meetings and calls are the most productive when everyone has equal access to critical information. Distributing agendas before the meeting and notes after the meetings will help everyone stay up to date. If you become aware that some team members are hoarding information, put a stop to it. Let the entire team know that you expect information to be shared freely and that withholding information runs counter to productive meetings.

9. Rotate office housework. Who will take the meeting notes? Studies show that women do more of this office “housework,” often because they volunteer. Instead of asking for random volunteers, rotate this work so everyone participates. If you are a male leader, you could also volunteer for the next rotation to model the right behavior.

10. Respect people’s pronouns. If people have shared their pronouns, use them. Using the correct pronouns demonstrates respect and acceptance.

When women have more allies in the workplace, those organizations have better business outcomes including higher innovation, productivity, profitability, and customer satisfaction. If these behaviors are not happening within your bank organically, you are not alone. ABA has online and in-person solutions to help banks foster allyship.

Cathy Nestrick is senior director of ABA’s Women’s Leadership Initiative and the co-founder and co-host of the Parity Podcast.