Who gets more respect: “Nicole” or “Marty”?
Doing the same job in the same city at the same firm, one would think Hallberg and Schneider’s lives would be incredibly similar. And they would be, if not for one simple thing: their names.
Time and time again, the two would receive drastically different responses—thanks to each of their first names (Nicole’s traditionally female name and Martin’s traditionally male name). While they each had to deal with responses both from clients and from their “efficiency-fetishizing boss,” the language of those responses was drastically different. Martin shared just how unique communication could be for the pair in a story on Twitter that went viral because it highlights one of the most frustrating aspects of being a woman at work: sexism from clients.
As Hallberg’s supervisor, Schneider was asked to look into what was taking her so long to work through customers. At first, he thought Hallberg was having trouble because she was less experienced than he was. But, as he dug into her workload, he started to notice that she had to deal with more belligerent, demeaning, mansplaining clientele.
Here’s what happened next as told by Schneider in a series of tweets:
Nicole and I worked for a small employment service firm and one complaint always came from our boss: She took too long to work with clients.— Martin R. Schneider (@Martin R. Schneider) 1489085354
As her supervisor, I considered this a minor nuisance at best. I figured the reason I got things done faster was from having more experience— Martin R. Schneider (@Martin R. Schneider) 1489085511
So one day I'm emailing a client back-and-forth about his resume and he is just being IMPOSSIBLE. Rude, dismissive, ignoring my questions.— Martin R. Schneider (@Martin R. Schneider) 1489085686
Telling me his methods were the industry standards (they weren't) and I couldn't understand the terms he used (I could).— Martin R. Schneider (@Martin R. Schneider) 1489085775
He was entertainment industry too. An industry I know pretty well.— Martin R. Schneider (@Martin R. Schneider) 1489085804
Anyway I was getting sick of his shit when I noticed something. Thanks to our shared inbox, I'd been signing all communications as "Nicole"— Martin R. Schneider (@Martin R. Schneider) 1489085878
It was Nicole he was being rude to, not me. So out of curiosity I said "Hey this is Martin, I'm taking over this project for Nicole."— Martin R. Schneider (@Martin R. Schneider) 1489085952
IMMEDIATE IMPROVEMENT. Positive reception, thanking me for suggestions, responds promptly, saying "great questions!" Became a model client.— Martin R. Schneider (@Martin R. Schneider) 1489086044
Note: My technique and advice never changed. The only difference was that I had a man's name now.— Martin R. Schneider (@Martin R. Schneider) 1489086105
We did an experiment: For two weeks we switched names. I signed all client emails as Nicole. She signed as me. Folks. It fucking sucked.— Martin R. Schneider (@Martin R. Schneider) 1489086229
I was in hell. Everything I asked or suggested was questioned. Clients I could do in my sleep were condescending. One asked if I was single.— Martin R. Schneider (@Martin R. Schneider) 1489086334
Nicole had the most productive week of her career. I realized the reason she took longer is bc she had to convince clients to respect her.— Martin R. Schneider (@Martin R. Schneider) 1489086449
By the time she could get clients to accept that she knew what she was doing, I could get halfway through another client.— Martin R. Schneider (@Martin R. Schneider) 1489086550
I wasn't any better at the job than she was, I just had this invisible advantage.— Martin R. Schneider (@Martin R. Schneider) 1489086659
I showed the boss and he didn't buy it. I told him that was fine, but I was never critiquing her speed with clients again.— Martin R. Schneider (@Martin R. Schneider) 1489086780
Here's the real fucked-up thing: For me, this was shocking. For her, she was USED to it. She just figured it was part of her job.— Martin R. Schneider (@Martin R. Schneider) 1489086960
Anyway, I'm bad at knowing when to end Twitter threads, but. Yeah. Fucked up, right?— Martin R. Schneider (@Martin R. Schneider) 1489087128
The simple act of switching names showed a clear difference in how one employee was treated over the other. In a Medium post by Hallberg, she shared her boss’s reaction to the simple social experiment. “There are a thousand reasons why the clients could have reacted differently that way,” [Schneider] said. “It could be the work, the performance … you have no way of knowing.”
The statistics on sexism in the workplace are alarming. Women get paid 77 cents on every $1 men make. Just 4 percent of S&P 500 companies have female CEOs. According to AOL Jobs, 83 percent of sexual harassment charges brought in 2010 were from women. And, in an experiment dealing with unconscious bias, “male applicants for a lab manager position in one experiment were hired more often and offered more money when their name was John as opposed to Jennifer—despite identical CVs.”
For Schneider, this simple experiment from “two bored coworkers screwing around while the boss was away” taught him to stop being part of the problem and to become part of the solution.
“I think a lot of people—primarily men, including myself—try to excuse or ignore our own sexist behaviors because we like to think of ourselves as ‘the good guy,’” he said. “So I think the takeaway here is to monitor yourself and other men around you … You’re not a bad guy for doing what you were brought up in society to do. You’re a bad guy if you’re made aware of it and you make no attempt to change your behavior.”