How to Navigate the Politics of Meeting Minutes

Informal conversations with co-workers might not require thorough notes. However, formal gatherings like board meetings or other meetings where important decisions are made need more documentation. This is where meeting minutes are helpful. 

Taking detailed meeting minutes is a great way to document the discussions and decisions that take place during a meeting. They follow the agenda of topics to be covered and document important items that were discussed. 

For the meeting minutes process to work, someone needs to assume the role of note taker. While this role is essential, it’s challenging for the person taking notes to contribute their thoughts. Note takers are responsible for recording follow-up tasks, due dates, decisions, and any other information the team might need later on. This requires the note taker to listen actively, making it harder to have a voice in the conversation. 

While note taking is a necessary task, it’s an unglamorous one often left to those of subordinate status. Studies show that women and people of color do more “office housework,” like note taking, than white men. These tasks help keep companies running smoothly. However, they aren’t the type of work that gets people noticed by their boss. 

Furthermore, marginalized groups have a more challenging time getting their voices heard in the first place. Being assigned the role of note taker doesn’t make that any easier. When members of these groups aren’t able to fully participate in key conversations, they may be passed over for promotion opportunities. In turn, this reduces diversity in company leadership. 

So how can companies fight this? They can start by holding meetings that give everyone a voice. In this way, companies can cultivate a culture that encourages all employees to actively contribute their thoughts. To help make meetings more inclusive, make sure the meeting minutes responsibility doesn’t constantly land on these people: 

1. Women

Gender bias in the workplace isn’t a secret. From the pay gap to the underrepresentation of women in leadership, women have a more challenging time at work than men. Many companies have recognized this issue and are taking steps to resolve it. Yet there’s still a lot that needs to be done. 

In many male-dominated offices, it’s often assumed that the woman in the room will take notes. While it may seem innocent, asking the only woman present to be the note taker perpetuates inequality. 

Men can help combat this by stepping up and offering to fill the role of note taker for meeting minutes. This is exactly what Virgin CEO Richard Branson did during a meeting with 30 chief executives. Throughout the discussion, leaders considered the unfair assumption that women would handle support work, like note taking. When men volunteer to take notes, it’s easier for women to contribute their ideas in meetings. 

2. People of Color

While more companies have committed to investing in diversity initiatives, African Americans still face obstacles in career advancement. In offices dominated by white men, many Black individuals don’t feel their opinions are heard or valued. 

This is especially true for Black women, who face discrimination for both their race and their sex. Today’s work environment makes it challenging for members of this community to contribute their innovative ideas. In turn, they may miss the chance for career advancement. 

When members of the Black community are given the task of note taking, it creates another barrier to sharing their thoughts. Amplifying Black voices is an essential step to combating workplace microaggressions and gaining a more diverse perspective. Furthermore, by creating meetings that value diverse viewpoints, your organization makes career advancement more accessible. 

3. Introverts

Introverts tend to observe and think more than they speak. This can make finding their voice in group events a challenge. In office meetings dominated by extroverts, quiet individuals with innovative ideas shrink into the background. 

Leaders may assume that introverted employees are happy to take notes since they’re less outspoken. Because quiet employees are excellent listeners, their managers might assume the role is a natural fit. But this ignores the fact that good listeners usually have great ideas that deserve to be heard. 

To make sure introverts feel included in decisions, it’s important that they aren’t always given the role of note taker. Without this burden, they have the opportunity to more easily offer their thoughts and recommendations in the moment. Additionally, it’s a good idea to provide all attendees with a meeting agenda beforehand. Introverts ideate best when they aren’t under pressure. Providing an agenda well in advance gives introverted team members time to flesh out their thoughts fully. 

4. The Same Person Time and Again

Everyone’s opinion in your company matters, so everyone should be given the opportunity to easily contribute in meetings. Rather than assigning the role of note taker to the same person every time, make it a revolving position. This will help ensure that administrative work is not only shared, but noticed and valued. 

Many company leaders leave the note taking to others. However, picking up the pen (or tablet) and taking notes during meetings may benefit managers. To take comprehensive notes, you need to be an active listener. When leaders spend more time actively listening than talking, they can gain insights to make more informed decisions. 

Having a record of topics covered and decisions made in meetings is important. However, the task of meeting minutes shouldn’t habitually fall on one person or group of people. By sharing the role of note taking, leaders can create a more inclusive work culture that values everyone’s opinion.