It all started when a friend shared a Huffington Post article titled, “What Happened When a Man Signed Work Emails Using a Female Name for a Week.” In short: a male employee (Martin) and a female employee (Nicole) accidentally had their email signatures switched for outgoing messages—a mishap due to the fact that they shared an inbox.
Fed up with one client in particular who kept being “rude, dismissive, [and] ignoring [his] questions,” Martin finally noticed the signature error. In an experimental move, Martin informed the client that he had now taken over the account. The result? An immediate improvement including “positive reception, thanking [him] for suggestions, [responding] promptly, [and] saying ‘great questions!’” In a matter of minutes, this person became a model client.
After two weeks of working with switched email signatures, Martin was enlightened: “I wasn’t any better at the job than she was, I just had this invisible advantage. By the time she could get clients to accept that she knew what she was doing, I could get halfway through another client.”
I shared the article on Facebook with a quick blurb about a couple of experiences I had while working in corporate. The first: a male client who hit on me via email during business communications. After sending him articles I had written for him that week, he replied: “You look good. I mean, these look good ;)” The second: When, at a tradeshow networking event, a male attendee suggested that I hand out my business cards by taking them out of my blouse. “That would really make an impact,” he said.
The list of experiences unfortunately goes on. At that same networking event, I remembered having to literally stay by a new coworker’s side for at least an hour while a man relentlessly tried to buy her drinks and hit on her. He saw her wedding ring and his reply was, “I’m a sales guy, I’m persistent.” I kid you not, these things happened.
We keep hearing stories like these. We keep hearing how women in the workplace face hostility based on the sole fact that they are female. That they are not taken seriously. That they are on the receiving end of countless slights, snubs or insults that subtly promote a derogatory message (otherwise known as microaggressions). These actions are seemingly harmless in the eyes of those who are unaffected or who cannot relate to the target’s circumstance. Actions that, because they are small, are considered trivial or inconsequential. Allow me to clarify: these actions are very real, they are very harmful and, whether you realize it or not, they affect the women you love and care for most: your mother, your sister, your female friends, your girlfriend, your wife. They affected me.
I believe that we can find positivity in almost everything. Having said that, I would like to think these negative experiences work to create some sort of positive solidarity among women. But here’s the thing: I almost didn’t post my blurb to Facebook. I suddenly felt a wave of nervousness wash over me as I hovered my mouse over the “post” button. I felt like I was opening a can of worms rather than contributing to a conversation about inclusivity and respect, and I couldn’t understand why. After giving it some thought, I realized there were a few key reasons why I initially didn’t want to share my experiences (one or all that may drive others to not share their stories of workplace disrespect):
I didn’t want to depict myself as incapable or, worse, seeking attention: I take pride in my work ethic and level of professionalism. I want people to know that I can not only make it through moments of adversity, but that I thrive from them. I would also like to think that I am a person of integrity, and so the last thing I would want is for someone to come out of the woodworks and claim that I am dramatizing my experiences. Our intuition—our inherent ability to know right from wrong—is one of the only precious things we truly own in life. Someone rapidly suspecting or even persecuting one’s moral compass is, in my opinion, equally disrespectful. As you can imagine, no one wants to put themselves in front of that crossfire. The fact is that these things are not normal, and should not be happening. It doesn’t matter to what degree they are happening.
I wanted to just forget about them: Who actually wants people to know that they were treated in such a way? Who wants their mother, father or husband to know that at some point in their life they were sexualized at work? That they couldn’t be respected by the organization that they worked for? It’s degrading, and something we are naturally inclined to want to forget.
I didn’t want to come off as “that woman”: You know, the one who strikes on International Women’s Day and refuses to do business with any organization that isn’t female-owned. The female who, for some reason, thinks the advancement of women’s rights means the inconsequentiality of men’s. That the progression of women means the persecution of men. I didn’t want to unfairly maltreat the entire male gender for the unfortunate actions of some. I am married to a wonderful, incredible, amazing man who defies every male stereotype in every way. A man who encourages me to freely be who I am: A badass ladyboss. A female entrepreneur. A wife. A sister. A daughter. A friend. One day, a mother. Him and countless other men like him are working alongside us. They are inherently for us, and I am personally so thankful for them.
I felt like there was no point: Whether it’s a capable female being denied a promotion or one eerie sentence typed in an email, you reach a point where you feel like there is no point in sharing your experience. After all, how can anyone understand something that can only be rationalized by your gut—something that you trust and know with every fiber of your being, but others don’t? It’s a slippery slope. Just consider that even when Martin TOLD HIS MALE BOSS about the results of the email signature experiment, he was shrugged off. “I showed the boss and he didn’t buy it,” Martin wrote. “I told him that was fine, but I was never critiquing [Nicole’s] speed with clients again.”
It’s true that I have experienced a fair share of female-driven disrespect from male colleagues; however, I consider myself lucky. I could have experienced far worse. It’s also very important to note that for as many moments of disrespect, there have been equally amazing moments of trust and respect. I have had the awesome experience of walking into my boss’s office and asking for a $20k raise—and getting it. I’ve had the awesome experience of getting my own office with a window view (a big deal in the corporate world!) I’ve had the amazing experience of going from entry-level editor to Director of Brand Strategy in just three and a half years. At my peak, I managed six writers and editors under me—half who were male. I’ve had the awesome experience of people trusting my intuition, verses questioning it. I’ve had the amazing privilege of being able to determine what kind of leader I want to be.
I don’t want the message here to be “woe to women, we are so unfortunate.” Rather, I want the message to be this: women, we need to be open and honest about our workplace experiences (both good and bad) to better ourselves and the world in which we live. The fact is that women in the workplace must often fight for the same liberties that men have effortlessly enjoyed since the beginning of time (the operative word here being often). Don’t be afraid to talk about this.
For the younger women who are still in college or who have yet to enter the workforce, remember: you’ll grow in confidence. A good share of my negative experiences happened when I newly entered the workforce at just 21 years old. At that time, I never spoke up about them. In fact, I’m only speaking up about them now. You bet your butt though that today, five years later, my response to those incidences would look a lot different.
And to the men: keep advocating for us. We acknowledge all the awesome ways that you support us, and we appreciate all that you contribute to this crazy, beautiful world. You are a dynamic part of a fundamental ecosystem.
Keep pressin’ on.