Building Equity for Participants

Building Equity for Participants

Ensuring Equal Access to Share Ideas

Building customer equity in standards development means to establish a system of fairness where each participant feels empowered with the same ability to share ideas and contribute in a way that works for them. Committees cannot be run equitably if only the loudest in the room gets to speak and share their ideas. To support your committee’s efforts to bring fairness into the discussion process, hear are three pitfalls to avoid.

Dominant Speaker

One or more members that monopolize conversations during standards meetings prevent the free flow of ideas and can lead to less valuable standards that do not meet the needs of all participants. Permitting a dominate speaker to continue in meetings can have long lasting effects whereby others become increasingly more quiet and less participatory and the dominant speaker becomes more vocal, feeling they are being less heard and paid attention to. 

Image of welcoming new member

To break the cycle, it is important to pull the group back together and encourage conversations. One option is to split into groups of two to share ideas and come up with proposals to share with the group. This ensures more feedback and insights from the group as a whole and serves to remind the dominant speaker that all members are meant to contribute and share ideas.

Another technique is to remind the dominant speaker that you’d like to hear from everyone and ask them to keep their comments short or write them down to share later. This provides them the opportunity to speak, but ensures they know there is a time limit and reminds them that everyone is meant to have a chance to share their thoughts. Finally, build on what the dominant speaker has said. Thank them for their opinions and then ask the broader group to share their thoughts on whether they agree/disagree and why. Consider going around the room to hear from each speaker or if meeting virtually, have them share in the chat their thoughts on the ideas that were just shared.  

The ‘Newbie’ Paradox

Someone has just joined the committee, they may be disoriented, not sure about the rules, younger or less experienced, or just quiet. None of these are reasons to ignore that person’s opinions or ideas. Being new is challenging enough, but its common to hear long term participants devalue their thoughts or ideas because they ‘haven’t earned’ the right to share their ideas yet. It’s a mindset of us vs them, that you need to provide you have the expertise or knowledge to be there. In standards development, the concepts of balance and consensus of ideas are at direct odds with the idea that you need to prove your worth to be listed to. Every idea should be equally valued and considered.

To address this issue, a culture of welcoming new members should be developed. In a paper by Erin Friess entitled “Bring the Newbie Into the Fold,” [1] Erin recommends that the group begin with fully socializing the new member. Introducing both the group and each member to them. Also creating a safe space to ask about process and points of order is critical. Ensuring they feel welcome to ask why something happened or how to make a comment or express an opinion. If the group includes members of different cultures and nationalities, establishing the preferred language and then accommodating those that need more time to follow and engage in the conversation will help new members better engage. And finally, reaching out often to invite that new member to the discussion, asking them their thoughts or opinions on a given issue and being welcoming to their thoughts is critical.  

Culture Wars

The viewpoints of participants in diverse groups will vary considerably and it can easily devolve into the have and the have nots, the young and the old, the recently graduated and the veteran workers, and more. “Communication styles vary from culture to culture as do notions of authority and hierarchy, which only heightens the potential for misunderstanding and hard feelings.” [2] If one participant feels more worthy of their opinion due to their years of experience as an example, they may speak in a way that makes others feel less valued.

These clashes in cultural viewpoint can lead to conflicts of views and perspectives. One member may feel less inclined to listen and consider the opinions of another member if they see them as less experienced or knowledgeable. To bridge this gap, it’s important to emphasize the value of each opinion as being equally worthy of consideration. Consider having each participant provide their suggestions and ideas in advance and developing a board or lists for the group to evaluate together. If meeting virtually, you can use a white board or shared document and ask all participants to take ten minutes to write down their thoughts and also note if they support/don’t support the ideas of others. This creates a valuable visual to help facilitate the proceeding discussion and by doing so, you help the group to focus on the ideas that are being considered rather than the people sharing them. Also consider removing attributions so that no one can see who submitted which comment, which may further enhance a focus on the ideas and viewpoints being shared.

By addressing these key pitfalls, diverse standards committees can work more effectively and ensure more equitable opportunities for all members to participate. Other steps to consider also include providing different ways for members to participate, being cognizant of accessibility, language, and other issues that they may encounter as barriers to their full participation.

[1] “Bring the Newbie Into the Fold”: Politeness Strategies of Newcomers and Existing Group Members Within Workplace Meetings, https://www.researchgate.net/publication/271992843_Bring_the_Newbie_Into_the_Fold_Politeness_Strategies_of_Newcomers_and_Existing_Group_Members_Within_Workplace_Meetings

[2] How to Run a Meeting of People from Different Cultures, Rebecca Knight, HBR, https://hbr.org/2015/12/how-to-run-a-meeting-of-people-from-different-cultures

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