In a series of tweets on Thursday, Philadelphia-based writer and editor Martin Schneider described the results of an experiment he undertook at the small employee services firm where he used to work.
For two weeks, he and his subordinate Nicole Hallberg changed places.
The idea came to Schneider after a strange experience at the office: He couldn't understand why a client he'd previously had only good interactions with suddenly seemed hostile and condescending. Then he realized that, because of a tech problem, his emails to that client had been going out auto-signed not as him but as "Nicole."
Maybe this, he realized, was why their boss complained that Hallberg's work took longer, because clients gave her a harder time.
Schneider decided to switch to signing his own name on the emails and see if that helped. Indeed, he discovered, the name made all the difference. He saw, he says, "immediate improvement," as once again the client became perfectly pleasant.
Schneider decided to undertake an experiment. For two weeks, he signed all his emails as "Nicole," while Hallberg signed all her emails as "Martin." He was still able to draw on his experience, knowledge and communication skills, and Hallberg could also continue as usual. Only the names changed.
He was shocked, again, by how much harder his work became. He had one difficult interaction after another, while Hallberg, posing as a man, was able to be more efficient than ever before.
Hallberg has posted an essay on Medium about the experiment called "Working While Female." In it, she writes about some of the gender-related obstacles she faced from her earliest days on the job:
After a few weeks, I survived the rigorous training process and another male coworker, hired at the same time, did not. My boss complimented me and himself, saying that "I wasn't going to consider hiring any females, but I'm glad I did. You should be proud, I had thousands of applications but yours stuck out to me, and made me decide to give hiring a girl a try."
Interesting. "Why weren't you considering hiring any women?"
"Oh, you know. We've always had fun here, and I didn't want the atmosphere to change."
Hallberg and Schneider both recall that they were disappointed, though not surprised, when that same boss refused to believe the results of their experiment or to draw any conclusions from it. Hallberg quit not long after.
Twitter, however, has provided them with a more receptive audience. Numerous users have written in to sympathize and to share their own similar stories. Bill Blume, for example, responds from the perspective of having worked 15 years in a 911 call center, often alongside his wife. He is consistently viewed by the public, and trusted, as an expert. His wife, by contrast, has a much more difficult time being taken seriously.
"My wife is a great dispatcher, and while she's managed to gain the trust of officers on the radio, citizens remain rude," says Blume, adding, "I don't doubt my experience as a female dispatcher would greatly differ, though, based on what I've observed."