Over the last 16 months or so, the world has adapted to life via Zoom. By now, most of us have become experts in its use, be it for meetings, using the share screen function to present power points or other documents, using the polling function et cetera. We became adjusted to seeing everyone in a small square.

Have you ever considered that those squares in which everyone is the same size can have the effect of neutralizing gender (and perhaps other types of) bias?

Recently, a colleague forwarded an article from the July 2, 2021 edition of the Wall Street Journal entitled “The Zoom Revolution Empowers Women To Speak Up” by Jennifer Nason. She is the global chairman of investment banking at J. P. Morgan and notes that:

Zoom is the great equalizer. Everyone’s box is the same size. It doesn’t matter if you are the CEO or the summer intern, your real estate is the same. A box with a name but no title became a tool of empowerment. Your name and face are consistently visible, making you more memorable, familiar and known. When you speak it is very hard for anyone to interrupt and it is also very hard to be ignored with your face staring back. You get invited to a lot of meetings that you wouldn’t have attended if travel were involved. I have witnessed many women in investment banking, young women in particular, find their voices and project newfound confidence in this virtual square. (Id.)

Ms. Nason then recounts those pre-Covid days when meetings were in person, and being a woman, she often ended up at the far end of the conference table struggling to be heard and thus marginalized. (Id.)

But Covid requiring safe distancing aka life via video conferencing has upended this marginalization. Now, everyone but everyone has an equal voice no matter their gender, ethnicity, race, national origin, religion, color, age, disability, status et cetera because we all appear in the same size square box on a video conference screen. On Zoom (or any other platform), we are equal.

I had not given any thought to this effect of Zoom until I read the article. While the article discusses this aspect in business, no doubt it applies to negotiations and mediations. In any given meeting in person, people will situate themselves around a table according to the balance (or imbalance) of power they perceive to exist. Those who believe themselves to be marginal will forego the “power” seats so that those “in power” can sit in them. But, in a video conference, no such decision of where to sit needs to be made: each participant appears in a square that is the same size, and more importantly, the order of the squares in which each person appears will be different on each user’s screen. And because each participant is the same size, everyone is more polite, allowing all others to speak without interruption, and using the “raise hand” or other reaction feature to have a turn to speak. (Many of my colleagues have noted how much more civil the participants in mediations have been on video conference mediations as compared to in-person pre-Covid mediations.)

No doubt this equalizing effect exists in negotiating or mediating via video conference. Also, without a doubt, the effect is unconscious and quite beneficial. In a recent discussion with my colleagues, many of us would like to continue using video conferencing for mediations after this pandemic ends. And its equalizing effect is all the more reason to do so!

… Just something to think about.


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