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Sunday, September 03, 2017

Sexism. It's in the name, Keith

Who wouldn't rather be a man? Perhaps a man like Keith Mann, who makes things happen.

Here's Keith, chasing up a web developer: "You guys said this would be done, what's the status?"

His partners in a technology startup, Penelope Guzin and Kate Dwyer, had tried to negotiate with contractors by themselves. "It would take days to get a response," Dwyer told Fast Company this week. "But Keith could not only get a response and a status update, but also be asked if he wanted anything else or if there was anything else that Keith needed help with."

Contractors often referred to Mann by name and to Guzin and Dwyer not at all. One began a reply to the two senior partners with: "Okay, girls..."

Keith didn't exist. Guzin and Dwyer made him up to help get their startup off the ground. They even invented a life story. He was a "dude's dude", he played football in college. He was devoted to his wife and he couldn't wait to be a dad. "He doesn't really understand Kate and I," Gazin admitted. "But he's been happy to help us with our project before we find husbands."

A few months earlier two resume writers, Nicole Hallberg and Martin Schneider, accidentally swapped genders. They were working on the same project when Schneider mistakenly used Hallberg's signature block. The client became "rude, dismissive, ignoring my questions, telling me his methods were the industry standards (they weren't) and I couldn't understand the terms he used (I could)".

 

 

Hallberg told him it was always like that for her, so they did an experiment. For two weeks they switched names. He signed emails as her and she signed them as him.

It was like getting a vacation, it was amazing," Hallberg said. "Everyone thought I was a lot smarter, instantly. It's like I just woke up and was better at my job – I didn't have to prove anything, I didn't have to argue with clients, I didn't have to deal with the mansplaining and little digs and the little subtle sexist comments. No one was calling me 'sweetie' any more, that was great."

"They were calling me sweetie though," Schneider adds in a podcast about the experiment. "I realised it was taking me longer to finish with each client because I was having to prove myself. I was having to spend a lot of time just explaining that I knew what I was doing. And I was getting, not outright mean, but small, little condescending comments like explaining terminology that I had just used in a sentence."

 

 

"I realised the reason why it had been taking Nicole longer to finish with clients than me was because in the time it normally took me to get half way through, Nicole had just got the client to believe she knew what she was talking about."

"Suddenly I saw that it wasn't because I was better at my job than Nicole, it was because I'd had an invisible advantage I'd never seen before."

The advantage might have been worth paying for. Schneider was paid more than Hallberg, even though when he was handicapped by her name he didn't do as well.

It's rarely possible to tease out the effect of gender and gender alone on pay. "I don't pay you less because you are a woman, I pay you less because you are less senior," an employer of mine once explained to a colleague, in a circular piece of reasoning.

But it's sometimes possible. In 2006 American economists Kristen and Matthew Wiswall performed perhaps the ultimate test. They examined what happened to the pay of and status of employees who'd changed sex.

Although unchanged in any other respect, the women who had become men got paid slightly more, and got more respect. The men who had become women saw their average pay fall by one-third. Many were harassed, some were fired.

In The Age and Sydney Morning Herald