Emailing When You’re a Woman

Thursday March 9, 2017

A few moments ago, I ran into a Twitter thread of a man who was mistaken for a woman in an email thread. He was shocked to learn that as a woman, he was treated entirely differently over email, forced to endure condescension, belittling, and needing to justify himself repeatedly.

This is something my (girl) friends and I have discussed repeatedly during the course of our careers. Of course, it’s hard to prove it. How do you prove that if you were a guy, this person would respond to you differently? There’s nothing to confront anyone on. Often, it’s just a feeling, but an annoying feeling that you wish you didn’t have to deal with. Would this work email conversation have gone differently if I was a guy?

And, of course, you’d never bring it up at work because you don’t want to be that woman. The one finding sexism under every rock and every questionable emoticon. (Did he mean to put a winky emoticon at the end of that sentence?) So, we keep quiet, email our friends, thoroughly annoyed and maybe grossed out and move on with our day.

In the Twitter thread, Martin R. Schneider, who works at an employment services firm, details an email conversation he had with a client that was unexpectedly testy and confrontational — the client wouldn’t take any of his recommendations, and belittled Martin by saying things like he didn’t understand industry standards. And then he realized his emails had been signing off under his colleague’s name: Nicole.

Nicole and Martin proceeded to test this out over the course of the next couple weeks, switching signature blocks. Martin struggled to get through them — he describes it as hell — while Nicole had the most productive two weeks of her career.

Unfortunately, this wasn’t just annoying. Nicole had been reprimanded numerous times by the higher ups at their company for her trouble with clients. Not only did she get treated differently by clients most likely because of her gender, she was also getting bad marks at work because of it.

There are likely many MANY reasons that women still have trouble climbing the corporate ladder and getting promotions at work. But, I wonder how much this seemingly innocuous (this is just about emails with clients!) but pervasive and insidious sexism is likely a factor. How do we even fix something that is so vague and amorphous?

Have you ever felt treated differently over email because of your signature block? Have any of you resorted to using initials?

Work, You

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