From taking notes, to ordering team lunches, to organizing events at the office, —there’s no doubt women end up doing more “office housework.”
And such inequality is experienced so frequently that when a man stands up against it in a Zoom meeting, it’s a pretty big deal.
Just ask Dr. Michelle P. Kuchera, assistant professor of physics at Davidson College in North Carolina, whose tweet went viral after she wrote about a seemingly small incident that occurred last week at a virtual physicist conference.
During a breakout session in the Partnership for Integration of Computation into Undergraduate Physics Capstone Conference on Aug. 12, Kuchera found herself as the only woman in a group of about 10 physicists, which is typical in her field, she told Know Your Value.
After the physicists started talking, Kuchera said she “defaulted” and volunteered to take notes. To her surprise, a doctor she didn’t know personally spoke up and said, “I am uncomfortable with the only woman in the room delegated to note taking. I can take over that task.”
“That’s the first time anything like that has ever happened to me,” Kuchera said. “The meeting just kept going. I would have felt comfortable saying ‘I will take notes’ if I was dead set on it. But, I thought ‘Oh, OK. I can participate in the conversation more.’ I was super happy about it.”
Kuchera tweeted about the incident, thinking only a few physicist friends would see it. As of today, the tweet has over 77,000 likes. Women who relate to the tweet hail from industries ranging from law to librarian work.
“I woke up the next morning and looked at the numbers, and it was a mixture of a little bit excited, but sad that it resonated with so many people,” Kuchera said.
Her ally who volunteered to take the notes was Dr. Steuard Jensen, associate professor and physics department chair at Alma College. He was surprised that Kuchera had tweeted about the incident at all. He, too, had mixed feelings about the post’s popularity.
“Physics has struggled for a very long time with its gender ratios and macho cultures sometimes. It's one of the things that as a physicist, I sometimes feel helpless to do anything about it, because it’s so ingrained,” he told Know Your Value. “These little things are really the least you can do to make any kind of a difference....And turns out, nobody likes to take notes. When you take notes, you miss things.”
Jensen noted that any moves to make gender equality in physics a reality must be comprehensive.
“It’s the professors who don’t call on the women in the class. It’s the research groups where the women get ignored or their ideas get co-opted by others, those are the places where people get discouraged or dropped out,” he said.
And it’s not just a women’s problem. People of color make up just 16 percent of workers in STEM fields, according to Pew Research, and report that their race is a major factor in their career advancement.
“We do not have a welcoming environment. Not just for women but for people of color, and perhaps in the LGBTQIA community. We don’t have an inclusive environment,” Kuchera said. “The way to improve that is for small things like Steuard is doing, and of course we need much, much larger actions too.”