I'm your colleague, not your secretary
Walter Lippmann once said, "When all think alike, then no one is thinking." When we speak of diversity within the workplace, we aren't just talking about asking one female and one person of color to join our meetings or take on a managerial role to meet a quota. We are talking about the active participation and engagement of those individuals so that we can hear and learn from their diverse sets of experiences. I have noticed throughout my career that women get [unconsciously] removed from the conversation by being asked to take the meeting minutes, order lunch, or even book a conference room, tasks that were previously assumed by secretaries. When this happens, we are right back at square one, performing secretarial roles that the antiquated business world is so used to seeing us excel at.
I have sat in countless meetings where I, the [youngest] female in the room, have been asked to take the meeting minutes. I wish this was one of those topics that I had learned to accept over the years, but I can't. Or maybe I won't. (Note: Like every human, we all have certain topics that set us off. This happens to be one of those topics for me. Just like you, I have frustrations and am continuously working to better myself. Excuses aside, I just want you to know you might detect a hint of anger in my tone. I'm trying to work on it.) Here's my issue:
When you ask the only female in the room to take your meeting minutes, you are removing her as a part of the conversation because she is forced to focus on another task. I have listened to male colleagues at my level or above tell me that isn't their job to take notes. I have listened to males below me outright say that they refuse to take notes and, if they were asked, they would do a poor job so that they would never get asked again. They are above it.
When I personally have been asked and politely questioned whether someone else could take notes so that I could participate, I have often been told, "No, I want you to do it." or "You can take better notes than any of these guys." When this happens, the message I am hearing is, "The men can do what they want and I won't hold them accountable, but I will hold you accountable." What I don't understand is: If I am also in upper management, why isn't it your job but it's mine? Why are you not responsible for helping out but I am? Why is it acceptable for the male junior professionals to refuse a task, but not me?
I will admit, on rare occasions, I have seen a male board member take his own notes. For some weird reason, it makes me respect him more as a person. It turns out that the reason isn't so weird at all: It's because he is allowing his diverse team to participate in the conversation. He is demonstrating the importance of hearing from every team member, which is crucial if you are looking for out-of-the box solutions and to push your company/department to the next level by stepping away from the everyday norm. You are embracing the new and accepting that not every person on your team thinks the same. Whether it was his intention or not, I believe this was his goal and I find it commendable.
One of the best pieces of advice I can give to you, is to encourage you to speak up immediately. When you are asked to take notes in a meeting, politely say, "I'd be happy to take the notes today. Do you mind if we do this on a rotational basis? I find it much easier to participate when I am not focused on another task. I can offer to put a schedule together." In this way you are not defying your boss's request and you are proposing a concrete suggestion for this meeting (be specific!). I find that, when you take the responsibility off of your boss's plate and the task still gets done, they are typically receptive to new ideas. (Sometimes they are so shocked by the suggestion they don't know what else to say but, "Sounds good."). If he/she still says no, then speak with them in a one-on-one setting and clarify why your voice is important. I say this almost every blog post, "Speak up for yourself." and I say it for a reason. If you don't learn to [professionally] challenge the status quo, then our world will never change.
To all of my male colleagues: The next time you hear that someone is being asked to take notes in a meeting, look around and see whether or not it is the only/youngest female in the room. If so, make it a point to state that her diverse perspective is required in these business situations and how important it is to hear from her. You can even suggest another individual within the meeting to take notes. You should know that we need to work together as men and women in order to bring about change. So let's get started...together!
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