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Promoting Inclusive Communication at the American University of Beirut

Fida Afiouni, Professor of HRM, Olayan School of Business, American University of Beirut
Yasmeen Makarem, Assistant Professor of HRD, Olayan School of Business, American University of Beirut

Effective inclusive communication is paramount in an academic setting for its pivotal role in facilitating learning, fostering positive relationships, and promoting a supportive environment. In an academic setting, prioritizing inclusive communication is key to create an environment where every student, faculty and staff can truly flourish and succeed. The TARGETED-MPI team at the American University of Beirut (AUB) has been working over the last 6 months on implementing its 6th GEP objective around promoting gender-inclusive communication at OSB.

Focus Groups and Development of Inclusive Communication Guidelines

During the fall and spring semesters, the AUB TARGETED-MPI team worked on organizing focus group discussions, designing inclusive communication guides, and holding workshops on inclusive communication. The AUB team initiated focus groups on inclusive communication to systematically understand the current state of communication among faculty, staff, and students.

Based on the analysis of these focus groups, the AUB TARGETED-MPI team designed guidelines addressed to faculty, staff, and students, to enhance the quality and inclusivity of communication across OSB. This endeavor aligns with the school’s commitment to fostering an environment where every individual can communicate effectively, ensuring that all members of our community are equipped with the tools and understanding necessary for clear, respectful, and inclusive interactions.

Workshops on Inclusive Communication

On February 22 and May 17, the AUB TARGETED-MPI project hosted two highly attended Inclusive Communication Workshops at OSB for graduate students (on February 22nd), and for faculty and staff (on May 17th). During the workshops, Dr. Fida Afiouni and Dr. Yasmeen Makarem presented the inclusive communication guidelines, and co-created ways in which a more inclusive and professional communication can be upheld by all OSB constituencies. The discussion revolved around four key themes: (1) Inclusive language, (2) Inclusive Interactions, (3) Inclusive decision making, and (4) Inclusive meetings.

Inclusive Language: This theme emphasizes the importance of using language that is respectful, accurate, accessible, and free from stereotypes and biases. The aim is to ensure that the language used within the community reflects and respects the diversity of gender identities and does not perpetuate prejudices. The discussion underscored the need to avoid non-inclusive language, such as masculine-focused terms, gendered and sexist language, and expressions that connote inferiority.

Inclusive Interactions: This theme focused on the principles of creating interactions that are respectful and considerate. Participants were encouraged to start with their own blind spots, engage in active listening, and use open questions. Key principles included giving someone full attention when they are talking, asking for permission before calling someone by a nickname or pet name, acknowledging people when passing them in the office, and providing feedback in a sensitive manner. Professionalism in communication was also addressed, distinguishing between formal communication (such as email and office phone) and informal communication (such as drop-ins and WhatsApp), with a focus on obtaining consent and being mindful of urgency and power dynamics before engaging in informal communication. Additionally, respect is a fundamental aspect of inclusive interactions. This includes using an appropriate tone, ensuring timeliness of response, maintaining confidentiality, and showing respect regardless of gender, title, or position. Participants were also reminded to beware of and avoid microaggressions, and to respect other people’s workloads and commitments.

Inclusive Decision Making: The discussion on inclusive decision making highlighted the need to share background and context, seek diverse perspectives, and enable transparency. It stressed the importance of including relevant stakeholders in decision making, assessing how often diverse perspectives are included in business processes, actively seeking out multiple viewpoints, and inviting alternative or dissenting views to avoid confirmation bias. The principles also included following established policies and protocols and communicating decision-making outcomes to relevant stakeholders. Participants were advised to avoid evaluating the person delivering the idea rather than the idea itself and making assumptions based on age or ability.

Inclusive Meetings: The final theme centered on making meetings more inclusive. Key principles included sharing agendas in advance, assigning a moderator, noticing interruptions, and setting norms to ensure equitable access and opportunity for all to contribute. The discussion emphasized the importance of considering when and where a meeting should be held to maximize diversity of thought and perspective, and reiterating the significance of hearing from everyone who may want to contribute. Promoting respectful dialogue, engagement, and debate was highlighted, along with strategies for managing dominant voices in meetings to create space for others. Formal information sharing, acknowledgment, recognition, and proactive engagement with junior faculty and staff were also discussed as essential components of inclusive meetings.

Through these activities, OSB demonstrates its commitment to creating an inclusive and supportive environment for everyone. By adopting these inclusive communication practices, we enhance the quality of our interactions and ensure that all members of our community feel valued and respected. Let’s continue the conversation on inclusive communication to nurture a more inclusive environment at Business Schools around the world.