Identity and Equity

Tips for Creating an Inclusive Virtual Space

April 17, 2020  • Jessica Leacher & Krystle Starvis

The COVID-19 global pandemic has forced many organizations to adapt their content and services for virtual spaces. Unfortunately, much work still needs to be done to mend the digital divide that leaves many people without internet access. However, we can all ensure that diversity, equity, and inclusion are centered in our digital engagements—our webinars, podcasts, and other digital meetings and convenings. As you develop digital content for your programs, consider the following reminders for applying a DEI lens to your design and implementation.

Diverse Content
  • Diversify the voices of your content. If you’re hosting a webinar or panel discussion, be sure your speakers are not homogenous. If your featured voices are all the same race or same gender, you’re missing a critical opportunity to deliver representative and responsible content to your audiences. If you’re compiling a report, you should also consider the diversity of authors and resources. There are several ways to ensure diversity in conferences that can be applied to digital activities.
  • Curate representative imagery. Make sure the diversity of voice extends to the photos and illustrations used in your invitations and communications. We recently stumbled across this fun toolkit of free illustrations of black people.
  • Carefully consider your language. The top two communication mistakes we’ve seen in the last month: declaring the current times as “the new normal” and framing digital content as an opportunity to reach everyone. Yes, we are doing our best to continue forward in this unprecedented time but nothing about it is ‘normal.’ This framing invalidates the very real emotions and experiences that so many people are having in reaction to the current crisis. Yes, digital content allows us to reach many more people than we would through in-person meetings or convenings, but there are still many without internet access. Here are a few messaging tips specific to health and housing that can be adapted across topics.

We can all ensure that diversity, equity, and inclusion are centered in our digital engagements.

Inclusive Facilitation

The role of the facilitator is key to setting the tone for any meeting. This becomes even more critical when facilitating a meeting or event online.

  • Provide space and identify ways participants can engage at the start of the meeting. We all know from experience that some people are ready and willing to speak up in large groups while others prefer smaller engagements to share their thoughts. The screen adds another layer of challenge to this context. Determine if you want people to raise their hands before speaking, or if they should use the chatbox. Demonstrate those features at the top of the meeting so they are aware of how to engage. If you provide open space to chime in, remind people that the chat is available if they prefer to use that and be deliberate in checking the chat box throughout the meeting or assign a staff member to monitor the chat. There are tons of recommendations for online facilitation in this online meeting resources toolkit.
  • Dedicate time for personal reflection. Especially in team meetings, recognize that this is not the normal way we are used to doing business. We have lost the water cooler conversations to catch up and connect personally. Consider ways you can build personal time and reflection into your agenda so everyone’s voice can be heard. One example of this is to have individuals express how they’re doing on a scale of 1 – 5. Supervisors can follow up to connect separately with folks with lower numbers. Here are some great suggestions for building trust in a remote working environment.
  • Establish community agreements. A common set of principles that are generated “by the group, for the group” help people feel ownership in the meeting and its success. Establishing agreements also permits individuals to say what they need to be successful at this moment and creates trust. Provide space at the top of your meetings for the collective generation of agreements and confirm participants are bought in. Come back to your agreements if you notice the meeting going off task or voices are being left out. There’s a great starting list of agreements in this anti-oppressive facilitation document, along with other great tips for structuring agendas and communications.
Creating Space
  • Identify ways to make people feel welcomed. In the absence of in-person connections, we are leaning on video technology to fill the void. Still, we shouldn’t assume everyone feels comfortable enabling their video. Make this an option as opposed to a request in your virtual meetings. You might also consider asking participants to update their digital profile names to include their preferred pronouns. If you’re hosting a large group, build in space for your quieter voices by creating opportunities for small group or one-to-one conversation. In the Zoom platform, there is a breakout room feature you can use to create these more intimate spaces.
  • Design for different learning and processing styles. Support your visual learners with a slideshow or other images. You can enhance the experience for folks who need more time to process by sending your agenda and visuals ahead of the meeting. This will also ensure that participants who can only join by phone have all the information. Real-time notetaking or tools that allow people to see how information is being processed and documented in real-time can help each person stay engaged in the conversation. We’ve recently been using Mural, a user-friendly digital collaboration tool that can closely mirror a brainstorming session with poster boards and sticky notes.
  • Consider accessibility. Most of the video platforms automatically generate dial-in numbers for folks to join by phone. You might consider walking through your agenda as if you were only on the phone to ensure those joining this way are not left out of the conversation. If your content will be open to the public, you should consider language interpretation and closed captioning services. can be used to automate captions and transcription.
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