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Combatting Unconscious Bias in Virtual Team Meetings

Combatting Unconscious Bias in Virtual Team Meetings

It takes effort as a leader to make sure that we are treating people equally. And this effort is multiplied now that most of us are doing meetings virtually. Are you certain that everyone on your team feels valued and knows their opinion is welcome?

It is natural to be drawn to those who are most like you. But that means that you may unwittingly slight others. Let’s look at the dynamics in team meetings. At your next virtual meeting, observe the following…

  • Who gets talked over?

  • Who is invited into the group conversation?

  • Who gets listened to?

  • Who gets snubbed?

  • Who takes credit for an idea from someone else?

  • Who is stereotyped?

  • Who is excluded from leading, or being on, a new project team that was established during the meeting?

It is very possible, that unconscious bias could be the culprit for these actions. Remember, our unconscious brain will affect our behaviors, even when we don’t want it to.

What you as a leader can do first is to stop, pause and mindfully observe what is happening during the virtual meeting, as well as what you may be doing. Could anything you have said, or are planning to say, make some people feel like “the other” or “not included” or even “excluded.”

Some techniques you can utilize to help minimize this unwanted bias during virtual meetings would be to:

  • Make sure you hear from everyone in the group. Call on those who have not yet given input.

  • Give credit to the right person, which means paying attention to who that is. Oftentimes someone might make a suggestion or offer an idea, but the more vocal team members fight on and don’t notice it, until they say it thinking they originally thought of it. Keep track of those original ideas and who said them.

  • During a discussion when it seems like most are agreeing with a certain point, ask if anyone has a different perspective. Then show that you value their opinion.

  • Don’t let others talk over anyone. Shut it down as soon as it starts. This is your responsibility.

These techniques are just as applicable to in-person meetings so you can also use them when business transitions to “the new normal.”

These practices are good leadership skills and are also important for minimizing unconscious bias. When I look back at my corporate leadership experience, before I understood unconscious bias, I can certainly remember times when I minimized the comments a team member made. Or when I gave the opportunity to lead a project to the staff member for whom I had the closest affinity. I can see that when I asked some of my team members to go for a cup of tea or hot chocolate during a break, I more than likely left out others who I didn’t feel as comfortable with socially. I feel so bad now for the hurt that I may have caused, even if what I did was not consciously trying to exclude them.

I encourage you to observe your own actions. Apply some empathy and proactively affirm all of your team members. These actions will optimize each of your team members’ value.

This blog post was written by Janet Edmunson, M.Ed., president of JME Insight. Janet is a trainer, motivational speaker, writer and health promotion professional.



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