What happens when two coworkers swap gender for a week? The answer might depress you, but probably won’t surprise you.
Two coworkers in the United States recently had a chance to do this, at least for their email correspondence — one of them male; the other female — by switching their online work identities for a week.
Can you guess how that week differed from their usual work week, for each of them?
First, let’s look at the experience of Nicole Hallberg, who got to spend the week the week pretending to be her male coworker. Hallberg wrote about her experience online afterwards, saying she had “one of the easiest weeks of my professional life”.
This is because Hallberg usually finds herself dealing with constant dismissal, harrassment, and condescension from male clients who correspond with her via email.
But during her week of pretending to be a man, she found a sudden shift in tone: the very same clients now took her more seriously, dealt with her more calmly, and didn’t talk down to her anymore, she says.
So how about the experience of the male coworker who she switched places with for the week? His name is Martin Schneider, and he wrote about his experience on his Twitter account.
In Schneider’s own words, “Everything I asked or suggested was questioned. Clients I could do in my sleep were condescending. One asked if I was single.”
That’s right: a client who thought he was dealing with a female worker decided to ask if she was single. Needless to say, that doesn’t fit with Schneider’s usual experience of work life.
This quote from Schneider’s Twitter account pretty much sums up the problem:
I wasn't any better at the job than she was, I just had this invisible advantage.
— Martin R. Schneider (@SchneidRemarks) March 9, 2017
It’s that invisible advantage for Schneider that is also an invisible disadvantage for all women in the workplace.
For more information about their experiment, you can read Nicole Hallberg’s essay about her experience on Medium.