On Wednesday, Wall Street Journal leadership expert John Greathouse published the piece "Why Women in Tech Might Consider Just Using Their Initials Online," and dropped some advice on how women in the industry can combat gender bias. His solution: dupe those discriminatory men!
Rather than look at the abysmal number of women holding leadership positions in Silicon Valley and offer solutions as to how we can eradicate these institutions of bias, Greathouse suggests that women "create an online presence that obscures their gender."
Let's break down some of the points made in this story.
Professional women, are you properly curating your online first impression?
If the answer isn't metaphorically taping your breasts down to obscure your true gender identity, you sure aren't.
In a similar fashion, 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.
Instead of suggesting that companies ensure their hiring managers and investors aren't biased against women, women should lie their way in. Because if someone is biased against women, they will surely change their mind and treat you differently in person.
I happen to believe that this bias is at least somewhat the result of unconscious factors. But whatever the reason – and however unfair it may be – 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.
Whatever reason compelled you to remove responsibility from individuals exhibiting bias, implicit or not, I would suggest that if you are an expert in leadership, you don't put the onus on women to accommodate discriminatory management.
I am not suggesting that people shun their ethnicity and run from their cultural identities. My point is that many people in the business community are intellectually dishonest. They say that they believe in diversity of thought, but their pattern matching habits cause them to prematurely narrow their aperture before giving certain entrepreneurs a chance to prove themselves.
I'd argue hiding your identity isn't dissimilar from shunning or running away from it.
Much like a book, people cannot avoid judging their fellow humans by their "cover." 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.
People can. And if hiring managers and investors, or anyone in your company, is discriminating against a colleague or potential colleague, the solution isn't to force them into neutrality. It's to reevaluate your discriminatory workplace.
A study published in PNAS in 2012 proved that yes, gender bias existed in scientist applications, with male applicants rated "significantly" higher than female applicants with the exact same application, and were offered higher salaries. And as the author notes, "equally competent women in science are viewed as less competent because of their gender. Remember them. Cite them. And if you want change, I would urge you to share them as widely as possible."
Don't hide behind a neutral online persona.