Ladies in tech, have you considered not letting us know you're female?
Old rich white man comes up with perfect solution to tech sexism
Stop press It's one of the most pervasive problems in tech: ingrained sexism that sees women looked over for promotion or often not given a job in the first place.
Fortunately, someone has arrived at the perfect solution and this time it's someone worth listening to: an old rich white guy.
John Greathouse is a California-based venture capitalist and a serial entrepreneur. That alone makes him qualified to talk about issues that young women face. But when his thoughts are published in The Wall Street Journal, well then, ladies, you'd do well to put down your knitting and pay attention to what he has to say.
The problem, as John brilliantly identifies, is that women let potential employers know that they are women. It's an understandable error, but not one that is going to help them.
But let's not go too fast. Let's follow John as he expertly leads ladies through his thought process: "Professional women, are you properly curating your online first impression?"
Good question. Women make all sorts of mistakes all the time and they often don't even realize it. Yes, even professional women (John will be helping amateur women out in a later article).
He continues: "We create an immediate impression of everyone we encounter, whether online or in person. This is not surprising, as evolution rewarded the ability to make snap judgments about others. Studies have shown that the less time someone has, the greater degree they rely on their gut, rather than data, when evaluating someone for the first time. These initial impressions might be positive or negative – but they are seldom neutral."
John is smart to open his argument with reference to evolution. Because, let's be honest, it wasn't that long ago that men were hunting woolly mammoths and women were cooking them. Sure, now we have supermarkets and farmers' markets: but is there any point in arguing with millions of years of real-world experience?
There isn't. And so it's going to be necessary for women to trick men into believing that they are their equal. And here's the funny thing: sometimes they actually are.
As John explains: "Professional orchestras in the 1970s were comprised of an average of 95 per cent men. Nearly 50 years later, the gender mix of most orchestras reflects that of the general population."
How did the ladies pull it off? Because an enlightened man – someone just like John – figured out how to help them help themselves. "The single most significant factor was the introduction of blind auditions during the late 1970s, in which a screen obscured the musicians' age, gender and ethnicity from the panel of evaluators."
You see, rather than expecting men to recognize their own inherent biases and prejudices and question them, the best solution is to leave them be and occasionally fool them. Don't worry, they won't mind if you don't do it too often.
As John notes: "As a reader, I appreciate a book when I don't know the author's gender and haven't formed a concrete image of him or her." Over the years, men have read all sorts of books without knowing whether the author has a vagina or not.
Did you know, for example, that Harper Lee was actually a woman?! And JK Rowling. And Toni Morrison. And they're pretty good.
Of course, this all works great when it comes to listening to music being played, or words in a book, but the tricky part is extending this foolproof method to other worlds. And in the internet era that can be difficult. How are women going to hide the fact that they're women online? John has figured it out: gender-neutral personas.
"Women in today's tech world should create an online presence that obscures their gender. A gender-neutral persona allows women to access opportunities that might otherwise be closed to them. Once they make an initial connection with a potential employer or investor, such women then have an opportunity to submit their work and experiences for an impartial review."
Have you simply tried just being nice?
John is, of course, an enlightened man. But, he warns, don't expect everyone to be as great as he is: "It's a shame that tech investors and hiring managers can't approach the work-product of women in a similar, non-judgmental fashion."
The problem is that women, especially foreign-sounding ones, are not very likeable. And by likeable, John means white men. "A man will not feel such inherent 'liking' from a female name," he notes, "unless the female entrepreneur happens to use a unisex name."
Sure, it's not fair, John notes, but if women really want to make progress, they'd do better just to accept that they will be viewed as inherently inferior and work the system. To move forward in a man's world, you need to come across plausibly as if you were a man.
John has some great pointers: "I would suggest that if you are a woman raising capital, you might consider not including photos of your team in your pitch deck. If you identify your team via their initials (men and women), you effectively strip out all preconceptions related to race, ethnicity and gender. In your LinkedIn profile, Twitter account, email address and online correspondence use your initials (or a unisex name) and eliminate photos."
Brilliant! If women simply strip out all aspects of their personality, culture, background and physical appearance – anything that could clue people into the fact that they may not be white men – they might be rewarded with a level playing field. KV Switzer, for example.
"Much like a book, people cannot avoid judging their fellow humans by their 'cover'," John wisely notes. "As such, women in tech should consider what they can do to broaden the audience willing to engage with them while mitigating potentially negative misconceptions. A neutral online persona will encourage more people to evaluate your work products and experiences based on their inherent qualities, unclouded by preconceptions."
So there you go girls, an insightful and fascinating guide to how to get white men to give you a fair shot.
Of course, that's not the end of it. Tune in next week when John will tell you how to disguise your appearance so you can even look and sound like a man. You'll need some new clothes, small towels and some vocal practice, but it'll be worth it. Just ask James Barry, Billy Tipton or Murray Hall. ®
Unfortunately, it seems John will not be enlightening women any further. Just as we were hitting the publish button on this piece, he posted the following update on Twitter:
"I apologize for the dreadful article I wrote in the WSJ. I told women to endure the gender bias problem rather than acting to fix the problem. I hurt women and I utterly failed to help, which I wholly regret and I apologize for having done.
"Women have a tough enough time having their voices heard and my insensitive comments only made matters worse. I am truly sorry."