Something I was taught as a youth was never to assume. As an old teacher put it assuming makes an ass out of you and me. This is something I have carried with me for many years. I try not to jump to conclusions. I try not to assume something that I'm not 100% sure on. I think most people in the western world have heard this funny saying and would probably believe it to be true.
I find it puzzling, however, that when a woman is copied on an email, people assume she is an assistant or was put there to set up a meeting or do a task. Why is it in our society that woman = assistant?
This problem doesn't stop at email either. Women in meetings are frequently asked to take notes or plan the next meeting. We are often given tasks such as planning office events, emptying the dishwasher or making the coffee. We are often 'voluntold' to run events that will add to our workload but not add to our careers. We are expected to stay late to help others, however, when a male coworker remains late to help he is praised as a good worker and a 'hero' to the team. Our system is broken and disconnected. We pretend to have equal pay for equal work, but nothing is ever equal.
Tech is also not helping the cause of women frequently boxed into the 'assistant' role. The majority of virtual assistants have female characteristics. With feminine names such as Siri or Alexa and feminine sounding voices, it's hard not to think of them as women. Despite companies fighting against this notion and coming up with reasons for why this is, I still hear people referring to their Google home assistants using female pronouns. As virtual assistants become more integrated into our lives, I believe that we need to make them more gender neutral or have options. This is adding to the problem many women face at work and is further impacting the ideology that women are always in assistant or support roles.
Personally, I've decided enough is enough. Over the last year, I've begun to make little changes in the way I work to attempt to navigate this problem. I don't answer the door at the office unless I'm the only one in the office or expecting a visitor. I don't do dishes. I always joke that I don't do them at home, why would I do them here! I've also asked that when being copied on emails if it could be specified why I am there and my title. Adding in these elements removes the implication that I'm copied to set up a meeting or perform another task. I'm lucky that I work in an office where I am supported by my coworkers, they understand this and respect my position.
I guess the question is how do we end this issue? Unfortunately, it is going to take time, and there is no easy answer. Part of the solution I think is education, we need to stand up for ourselves! When someone mistakenly asks me to set up a meeting or perform a task that isn't in my role I correct them and point them in the right direction. I also have stopped doing tasks 'just because it's easier than saying no.' This was something I did for years. I set up meetings or took notes because it was too much energy to point someone in a different direction. Finally, I stopped, why was I doing our office managers job AND mine? This goes for any role. Standup for yourselves, if something falls outside of your daily duties say so. A CFO wouldn't try to write code, so why should someone schedule meetings when it's outside of their role? I also believe part of the solution is engaging internal advocates to help. I remember a meeting once where someone asked to "speak to the man in charge." My co-worker laughed and said sorry buddy; she is in charge. The look on that mans face still makes me chuckle. Be an advocate for internal change, and you will see those around you begin to change, step up and take notice.
I still sometimes think of slogan: equal pay for equal work and realize that nothing is that cut and dry. Equality is still a work in process, if we all work together it will begin to get a little bit better every day.