Manners Matter: Gender Roles in the Workplace

Dear Mary Pat,

I’m a senior manager in a medium-sized corporation. I’ve worked hard my whole career and have been routinely promoted. Part of my job is to attend various meetings throughout the week. Some of these meetings are critical to my team and others are ones that won’t impact my department as much, but it’s still helpful for me to be in the loop. I take notes for myself to help me remember key points and things that are more applicable to me and the people who work for me. It never fails though that if someone decides that official notes need to be taken, I’m always volunteered. I don’t think that it’s a coincidence that I’m a woman. It’s really frustrating to have four men in the room who haven’t been in the company as long as I have, are not as high up in the company as I am, but they assume that I’ll be the one to write their notes for them. Last time I was volunteered, I simply said no. Then my boss asked me after the meeting if I was having a bad day. I don’t know how to explain this to him, or any of the others.


Not Their Secretary

Chicago, Ill.


Dear Not Their Secretary,

First of all, I would like to point out that it is not demeaning to be someone’s secretary or administrative assistant. These are roles that are the glue that keep a company running efficiently. However, it can be demeaning to assume that you’ll be the secretary because of your gender, especially if there are co-workers who have lower ranking in your company.

This should really be worked out before the next meeting, whether it is an important one for you or not. If your boss thinks you declined due to your mood, it is time to be clear. If it is not your job to take notes for others, then spell it out when you first hear of a meeting being scheduled. Ask the obvious question: does someone need to come in to take minutes? Hopefully there will be an opportunity to explain that you are not attending the meeting in an administrative capacity and that someone else would be better suited to take notes.

Good luck,

Mary Pat

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