Why Richard Branson says everyone should take meeting notes, plus a funny/sad Seattle story.

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If you’re a female in the workforce, chances are high that, at some point, you’ll be asked to do “office housework” activities such as taking notes during a meeting, finding office supplies or fetching someone coffee.

While you might wish that gender bias no longer existed, it’s still prevalent in many companies around the world, even here in Seattle.

A female friend of mine is a computer engineer at a large, global corporation. The real-life story she related, while funny, is typical of what continues to happen to women everywhere.

Female friend: “A guy walks into my open space at work where I’m one of six engineers. He chooses to talk to me instead of any of the other employees.”

Guy: “I was told to get the boxes I need for my office move somewhere on this side of the building.”

Friend: “OK.” (I’m wondering why he’s telling me this.)

Guy: “Do you know where my new office is going to be?”

Friend: “Nope.” (I have never seen this man in my life.)

Guy: “Do you know where I can get tape?”

Friend: “Nope.”

Guy: “Don’t you have a supply room full of stuff?”

Friend: “Nope.”

Guy: “Aren’t you the administrative assistant?”

Friend: Sigh.

Richard Branson, founder of the Virgin Group, is one person who is leading the effort to end gender bias. In a dinner meeting with 30 chief executives to discuss ways that men can close the gender gap and counteract bias in the workplace, it was Branson himself who wrote down all the meeting notes.

During the conversation, the group discussed the unfair expectation on women to handle support work, such as — you guessed it — taking meeting notes.

Branson writes: “Not only is this unfair to women, but it’s also disadvantageous to men. It’s time for men to step up and do their share of support work. On top of counteracting gender bias in the workforce, it will also give men a better understanding of what [is] going on within the business and what needs to be done to make things run more effectively.”

Richard Branson (TNS file photo)
Richard Branson (TNS file photo)

In Branson’s experience, “Ninety-nine percent of people in leadership roles don’t take notes.” To counteract the note-taking gender bias, Branson’s advice is for every attendee to take notes during meetings. “Men shouldn’t take over the note-taking from women; everyone should be taking notes.”

Why? Because it’s not about taking notes just for the sake of taking notes. According to Branson, it’s about turning ideas from meetings into actionable and measurable goals. “If you don’t write your ideas down, they could leave your head before you even leave the room.”

What’s one way you can help end gender bias? The next time you’re leading a meeting, make sure everyone — yourself included— is taking notes.

Lisa Quast is a certified executive coach, and the author of the book Secrets of a Hiring Manager Turned Career Coach. Email her at lquast@careerwomaninc.com.