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The best tip VMware’s head of design has for making your next design meeting more inclusive

4 min read
Eli Woolery  •  Mar 17, 2020
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The traditional format of a design meeting may work well for many people, Jehad Affoneh included. Jehad, the head of design at VMware, tends to think on his feet and is generally comfortable voicing his opinion, even when he disagrees with the whole room. But, as a design leader who thinks of himself as a business leader first, Jehad realized that not everyone thrives in this type of meeting structure and often informed voices and good ideas go unheard.

On the newest episode of The Design Better Podcast, Jehad gave his best tip for how to make meetings more inclusive and productive: Give team members more ways to share their ideas than just talking in the room.

To help make the change at VMware, Jehad structured his meetings differently: He began to send out an agenda ahead of time and asked everyone attending to take a look and make any comments. He found that this created an environment where people felt their opinions were valued and welcomed.

“This is not about, ‘let’s have a loud conversation,’” Affoneh says. “This is about ‘I truly want to listen to everybody in the room.’” He also recommends spending the first couple minutes of a meeting setting the context.

Diversity, inclusion, and equity are issues close to Jehad’s heart, and his viewpoints on them are molded by his experience in community journalism. Growing up in Palestine, he wanted to build a website so that he could put his writing on the Internet for a larger audience. So, he learned how to code. As a young teenager, he started a news website where he was the reporter, producer, customer service representative, website creator, and programmer. He says wearing that many hats was a good crash course in start-up culture where you wear many hats.

By the time Affoneh went off to college, his site expanded, including work from 30-plus volunteer reporters from 30 or so different countries. Pieces were edited using a peer-review system. The audience had grown, too, with tens of thousands of unique readers a day.

Now as a design leader, he says the experience has led him to believe that there’s some truth to the old adage, “If you built it, they will come.”

“Most of the time it’s ‘How long are you willing to take that journey alone or with very few people until others decide to join you on the journey?’” Jehad says.

The key, though, is making sure that you’re not just building it alone. And that once it is built, participation is easy for many different types of people. Inclusion, diversity, and equity aren’t the same things, and leaders need to make sure all teams, products, and outputs address them individually.

Want to hear more of Jehad’s experiences? Listen to the full episode here—and remember to subscribe so you never miss a new release.

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