Posted February 2, 2015 by Sarah-Ann Harnick 

Step out of Stereotypes at Meetings

StaffMeetingLast month, I read an article on The Atlantic’s website about what the writer called the “Secretary Effect.” Rose Eveleth shared her pet theory: The division of labor within a group often includes a woman as group secretary when the group members are left to their own devices. Whether called a recorder, note-keeper, or data collector, the role is the same—a woman will be sitting and quietly taking notes while the rest of the group (usually mostly men) does the “real work.” At presentation time, the group’s representative is often a man.

Some data in the field of elementary education supports Eveleth’s pet theory, but that’s not what interested me. What caught my eye was the advice given by a university professor: When you put kids into groups, assign the roles of “recorder” and “presenter” and make sure you rotate these roles (emphasis mine). Old stereotypes, often reinforced by group dynamics, are still hurting women. There is still an expectation that we should sit quietly at meetings while the men do the “real work.”

I haven’t run across this situation in ACUI World, but our campuses aren’t always as enlightened as ACUI. Let’s lead by example. Here are my suggestions to institute change:

  • Women, do not allow group pressure to guilt you into volunteering to be the recorder. And don’t accept an appointment that was made while you’re out of the room.
  • If you are the group’s leader, designate roles in an equitable manner—which you probably do already.
  • If you are a member of the group, encourage individuals to step out of the old stereotypes.
  • If you are a group leader, acknowledge when one of the men in the group repeats what a woman member just said. Women’s comments are sometimes ignored by men and then repeated as some guy’s original thought. For example: “Jeff, I’m glad you like Keisha’s idea.” Give credit where credit is due.
  • Don’t interrupt each other. Apparently, men are more likely to interrupt women than vice-versa (I am an equal opportunity interrupter and am still working to do better). Let every member of the group finish his or her thought before you speak. Every idea is important.
  • Women: You’re not in the seventh grade and waiting for the teacher to call on you. Do you see men patiently waiting? Speak up!
  • Men: You have to be role models at campus meetings. Volunteer to be the recorder. Compliment Keisha on her great ideas in the meeting. Suggest that a woman be the team leader.

Although it’s been decades since ACUI taught me to look at the big picture and make sure it was diverse, the wider world is still catching up with us. Sometimes our campus peers need more role modeling than our students. Take advantage of opportunities to show how we try to include everyone.

Sarah-Ann Harnick

Sarah-Ann Harnick is the Assistant Director- Campus Life at New Jersey City University.

Sarah Harnick became active in ACUI with her first job in student activities of Rider then-College. After earning her master’s in fine arts from the University of Texas, she relocated to New Jersey and just never left the state. Intrigued by how things work, she accepted an operations position at New Jersey City now-University where she has learned more about elevators, revolving doors, and roof leaks than most people should ever know. The real reason she has stayed in this field is the pure joy of watching students learn and grow.


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