Our Guide to Chairing a Feminist Virtual Meeting

The current pandemic has left many of us working or studying from home for the foreseeable future.

This has meant a change to the way we do work and study, and many meetings are being hosted on video platforms like Zoom, Skype and Microsoft Teams. You may even be hosting your book club or community gathering online!

This can be challenging – hosting a virtual meeting is a different skillset to hosting an in-person meeting. If this is your first time chairing a virtual meeting or if you want to polish up your skills, here are our top tips for chairing a feminist, inclusive, and intersectional meeting. This is all about bringing the values of compassion, respect and collaboration in our daily interactions and spaces we occupy.

Below are our top tips for what to do before, during and after a virtual meeting.

YWCA Australia’s Guide to Chairing a Feminist Virtual Meeting

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Five things to do before the meeting

Be consultative when putting together the agenda.

Find a meeting time that suits all participants. This is particularly important right now with many people balancing caring and work responsibilities at home. Consider sharing a draft of the agenda and asking your participants if they have any items to add.

Be clear on the purpose and objectives of the meeting.

This will result in a more focused meeting. It will also demonstrate respect for people’s time and expertise.

Think about your attendee list.

Start by asking these three questions:

  • Who else can benefit from participating in the meeting?
  • What perspectives are missing from the discussion?
  • Who is being impacted by the meeting discussion and outcomes, and are they represented at the meeting?

Check the practical arrangements.

This may include ensuring everyone has received the meeting invitation and that presentations are ready for loading. Make sure that everyone understands when to share screens. During this COVID-19 period, there may be other arrangements to check – do your meeting participants have appropriate childcare during the scheduled meeting time?

Be prepared.

Familiarise yourself with any pre-reading materials as well as minutes from the last meeting. If there’s an action list from the last meeting, tick off which actions have been completed, or update those in progress. Communicate updates during the meeting.

Ten things to do during the meeting

Be online and ready.

Demonstrate preparedness and punctuality by being online before the meeting is due to start.

Start the meeting with an Acknowledgement (or Welcome) to Country.

Here’s a sample feminist Acknowledgement of Country that we have used here at the Y:

YWCA Australia acknowledges and pays respect to the _____ people, on whose land we gather on tonight.

We recognise that as immigrants to this country, we benefit from the colonisation of the land now called Australia and have a shared responsibility to acknowledge the harm done to its first peoples and work towards respect and recognition.

We recognise that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women are leaders in working to prevent the disproportionate levels of violence enacted against them, their children and their families.

We also acknowledge and celebrate that intersectional theory has largely emerged from black and indigenous feminist activism and expertise in the United States and around the world, including Australia.

We would like to acknowledge their continuing connection to land, sea and community. To pay our respects to the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander ancestors, elders, to those here tonight and the generations to come.

As it always was, and always be, Aboriginal land.

Welcome any new members and attendees.

Provide background on any new people or ask them to introduce themselves. Include an ice-breaking session – for example, questions like:

  • What’s something new they’ve discovered during social distancing?
  • What’s one daily habit for a productive day?

Set the scene.

Focus the discussion by restating the objectives of the meeting. Reflect on the organisational values or purpose.  If you have agreed rules of engagement for meetings, this is the time to break them out. By doing this, you set a respectful tone for the meeting and ensure discussions are guided by organisational values.

Agree on the decision-making model.

If a decision is required from the meeting, be sure that everyone understands the decision-making model. Consider how this decision-making model fits with your organisational values. Will it be majority rules or consensus-based decision making?

Here at YWCA we practice consensus-based decision-making as it ensures equal weight is given to all voices around the table. Also think about whether anyone outside of the meeting needs to be consulted before a decision is finalised.

Stick to the agenda.

This will ensure that there’s adequate time for important discussions while also being respectful of other people’s time and schedules. Consider this balance when finalising the agenda.

Encourage participation and check the balance of power.

Be mindful of any power imbalances within the group. For example, younger or more junior team members may be less confident in speaking up.

Create opportunities for people to be heard and invite participants to share their thoughts. You may do this by asking ‘does anyone have any thoughts on this?’ or by going around each person in turn and asking for their views on a topic.

If lots of people want to speak, consider making a list of names and running through them. Remember not to favour those who interrupt over those who raise their hand!

Be bold.

If you’re chairing a meeting it may fall to you to highlight issues that no one else will, or pose the uncomfortable questions.  Remember it’s okay to call out the elephant in the room, as long as you do in a respectful way. 

Open the floor to items for discussion that weren’t on the agenda.

There may be an issue someone is eager to raise, or something that’s emerged during the discussion. Schedule an ‘any other business’ section in the agenda and allow a few moments for participants to express themselves.

Summarise key points and conclude.

It’s a good idea to verbally summarise the decisions taken during the meeting and record any action items. Note down the person responsible and the deadline for any actions. Ensuring clarity during the meeting will reduce confusion and conflict later.

Five things to do after the meeting:

Take a five minute break and make a cuppa.

Seriously, working from home doesn’t mean you don’t take breaks! Make a cuppa, walk around the garden and take a breather.

Record and share any notes.

Tidy up your meeting notes (or minutes) and share with the appropriate people. This promotes transparency, communication and accountability.

Follow up with a thank you email.

It’s always nice to thank meeting participants for their time and energy and encourage communication. This may also be a good time to remind people of the next meeting date and time.

Don’t be shy asking for feedback.

Asking for feedback from meeting participants can be a great way to further develop chairing skills and make any changes to future meetings. As leaders, when we demonstrate a learning culture, it encourages others in the organisation to do the same.

Complete all follow-up tasks.

…this is where you do the work you promised to do during the meeting!

Have you found this Guide to Chairing a Feminist Virtual Meeting helpful? Why not share the link with your friends and colleagues?

If you have any other ideas for ‘feminist guides to…’, get in touch with us at comms@ywca.org.au. We’d love to chat about your idea!

YWCA Australia wishes to acknowledge the Traditional Owners of the lands on which we work, live and play and pay our respects to Elders past and present. We recognise First Nations people as the custodians of the lands, seas and skies, with more than 60,000 years of wisdom, connection and relationship in caring for Country.

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