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Man and Woman Switch Email Signatures. Man Has Worst Workweek of His Life.

Topics: Current Events

In addition to doing the same job as men (statistically for less money), working women have an additional full-time occupation: convincing clients, bosses, and coworkers that they’re worthy of the same respect as their male colleagues. A story that went viral this week, recounted on Twitter and Medium by the participants, illustrates the problem.

switch email signatures
Image Credit: sturti/Getty Images

A few years ago, Philadelphia-based writers Nicole Hallberg and Martin R. Schneider were coworkers at a small resume-writing company. Hallberg was constantly being reprimanded by the boss, who claimed she took too long to do her job. Schneider, her supervisor and friend, initially put this down to his greater experience.

Then, Schneider got stuck with a difficult client. In addition to being rude, the customer refused to answer questions while insisting that Schneider didn’t understand what he was talking about.

That’s when Schneider realized that he’d mistakenly selected Hallberg’s signature from their shared email. The client thought he was a woman — and was treating him accordingly.

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Seem like too big a leap to make? Consider what happened next: when Schneider announced his identity, and said he’d be “taking over” the project, the customer immediately became receptive, enthusiastic, and thankful for his help.

The Signature Swap Experiment

One client could just be a sexist jerk. But Schneider and Hallberg decided to gather more data. For two weeks, they swapped email signatures. Predictably:

Of course, having an epiphany is easier than sharing it with others. Their boss, for example, was unconvinced.

At Medium, Hallberg explains:

He didn’t believe us. He actually said “There are a thousand reasons why the clients could have reacted differently that way. It could be the work, the performance… you have no way of knowing.” For the first time in two years, I *almost* lost my cool. I wanted to grab him by the arms and shake him, scream in his face until he heard me, stress cry and scream at the sky until the world made sense. But I did not cry. That would be breaking The Rules that had kept me alive in this company for this long.

But I will always wonder. What did my boss have to gain by refusing to believe that sexism exists? Even when the evidence is screaming at him, even when his employee who makes him an awful lot of money is telling him, even when THE BOY on staff is telling him??

Unconscious Bias and the Opportunity Gap

PayScale’s report, Inside the Gender Pay Gap, shows that women are much less likely than men to be working at a higher-level job by mid-career. The gap widens over time. By age 60 to 65, more than twice as many men are executives (8.7 percent of men vs 3.3 percent of women).

Skeptics say that this opportunity gap is because of worker “choice” – women choose to opt out of the workforce to raise children, for example, or decide not to pursue promotions for other reasons.

Leave aside for a moment the issue of whether women “choose” caregiving over work in a culture where women are generally held responsible for children and housework, regardless of their commitment to their careers. Stories like this show us that even when all else is equal (marital status, industry, skills), women have greater challenges when it comes to earning professional respect.

Finally, employers and managers, take note: it’s significant that neither one of these workers is still working for the boss who didn’t listen. PayScale’s data show that when workers of both sexes perceive that their employer isn’t doing much to close the gender pay gap, they’re more likely to seek a new job.

In fact, men might be the first to bolt. Among workers who say their employer is taking no action to close the gender pay gap, 74 percent of men said they planned to leave in the next six months. Seventy-one percent of women said the same.

Tell Us What You Think

Have you ever experienced anything like this in your job? We want to hear from you. Tell us your thoughts in the comments or join the conversation on Twitter.

Jen Hubley Luckwaldt
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