Female writer sends out manuscript with male name and more than doubles agent enquiries

Women using male pseudonym Our sister company InclusIQ have been preparing e-learning for a client that looks at the the differences in how CV’s are perceived from women and ethnic minorities (if name suggests non-Anglo name) compared to men. Research has seen time and time again how much more receptive both men and women are to applications and CV’s, even research papers from male applicants. That’s why we were interested in this great article about one novelist’s experiment in sending out the same covering letter and writing sample to agents – under a ‘homme de plume’, a male name. Her astounding experience shows just how prevalent this bias remains, even when comparing the same content.

As novelist Catherine Nichols writes in her Jezebel article, ‘Homme de plume: what I learning sending my novel out under a male name’: ’I sent the six queries … Within 24 hours George had five responses—three manuscript requests and two warm rejections praising his exciting project. For contrast, under my own name (female), the same letter and pages sent 50 times had netted me a total of two manuscript requests. The responses gave me a little frisson of delight at being called “Mr.” and then I got mad. Three manuscript requests on a Saturday, not even during business hours! The judgments about my work that had seemed as solid as the walls of my house had turned out to be meaningless. My novel wasn’t the problem, it was me—Catherine. I wanted to know more of how the Georges of the world live, so I sent more. Total data: George sent out 50 queries, and had his manuscript requested 17 times. He is eight and a half times better than me at writing the same book. Fully a third of the agents who saw his query wanted to see more, where my numbers never did shift from one in 25.’

Nichols had already written a previous novel, one which was praised by her agent, but didn’t get an offer of representation – and received non-specific feedback on how she should ‘keep trying.’ As Nichols explained: ‘Being rejected is par for the writer’s course. But what chilled me was the possibility that it was not a surface problem but an astigmatism in my understanding of human nature—that I’d written something better but somehow less meaningful, that I could make nice sentences, but what I think people do is not what people do. …The problem reached into every part of my mind—not only that I had written the wrong book, but that I was the wrong person….Most of the agents only heard from one or the other of us, but I did overlap a little. One who sent me a form rejection as Catherine not only wanted to read George’s book, but instead of rejecting it asked if he could send it along to a more senior agent. Even George’s rejections were polite and warm on a level that would have meant everything to me, except that they weren’t to the real me. George’s work was “clever,” it’s “well-constructed” and “exciting.” No one mentioned his sentences being lyrical or whether his main characters were feisty (which was a common refrain given to Catherine).’

Historically lots of women have published under male names, such as George Sand, in order to get published at all. However, considering women make up a majority of readers and we have great examples of successful female authors, we’d like to think we are past this in 2015. No doubt Nichols did as well. It raises the question of which writers will we never hear from and who gets overhyped.

So why focus on Nichols experience? Because as a writer she could conduct a personal ‘blind’ experiment, sending out the same exact work as both a male and female writer to see if there was any difference – and she was dismayed to see what an astounding difference it made. For women who work in an office, lab or other face to face setting, there is no possibility of this kind of controlled experiment. We simply have to give the world the benefit of the doubt and assume we are treated equally to men despite the evidence around us suggesting we are not. Instead we have to trust we are being promoted or rejected based on quality of our work; a trust it would seem based on Nichols experience may be optimistic and misplaced.

Want to understand what’s going on inside your colleagues heads? Read fiction.

Woman readingA study from the New School of Social Research found participants who read literary fiction (National Book Award finalists or winners of the 2012 PEN/O) – outperformed those who read the latest best-sellers or non-fiction in tests of reading and measuring other people’s emotions. Kidd and Castano, published their findings in Science and suggest ‘Unlike popular fiction, literary fiction requires intellectual engagement and creative thought from its readers….features of the modern literary novel set it apart from most bestselling thrillers or romances.’

In order to truly react to the characters in a book, you have to put yourself in their shoes – understand how the someone else sees the world.  This is the purest definition of empathy. Why do we identify with the naive but well intentioned Jane Austen character ‘Emma’? Why does it bother us that the protagonist in Du Maurier’s ‘Rebecca’ is never actually named? Why do we wonder about the ‘mad woman in the attic’ featured in Jane Eyre – so much she inspired other writers to create a back story for her, such as ‘Wide Sargasso Sea’ by Jean Rhys? Because we are empathetic, we want to get into other people’s heads…and it’s a highly valuable social skill to have.

While their sample sizes are small the research is limited, what’s notable is these disparities came after merely reading long excerpts – the participants didn’t claim to be life-long readers or huge fans of non-fiction in order to be classified. Their classifications was based on what they had been randomly assigned to read. This suggests these skills can be improved if readers read works with strong but nuanced characters. Kidd and Castano explain : “Just as in real life, the worlds of literary fiction are replete with complicated individuals whose inner lives are rarely easily discerned but warrant exploration”. So get reading! It may just help you understand your colleagues, your boss and your clients all the more. And who doesn’t want more of that type of insight?

Partner spends too much or too little? Lessons for modern female breadwinners

Female breadwinner and spendingMarketplace.com recently looked at ‘Being the breadwinner: A blessing and a curse’. In it, Mackenzie Dawson and I discussed how to react if your male partner spends too little or too much. This is a conundrum made even trickier when you add in gender politics. I’ve coached a banking executive whose lower earning husband didn’t feel he deserved the villa holidays she wanted for them. He insisted they go camping instead. Their compromise? One luxury and one camping holiday a year, that they both paid for respectively.

Equally, I’ve worked with female clients who felt their other halves were a bit too self-indulgent with yet another set of golf clubs, studio recording equipment or lavish nights out with the boys. Have an ongoing and honest dialogue with your partner; people are fluid so continually checking in that it still works well for both of you is vital.

Dawson asked me for my top tips for dealing with partners who spend too much or too little:

  • Lower earning partners may question if they should be spending your earnings. Some will feel reticent to spend it since they haven’t technically earned it through their own paid labour – spending ‘her’ money can be a threat to their masculinity. A great way to change their attitude is to ask how they would feel about you spending their money if they were the main earner? “Often men can see the double standard they are imposing on themselves when they realize they would be happy to provide for her.”

  • On the other hand, potential tensions arise if they are a bit too free with the cash; talk about your joint goals as a family. Ask him about his ideas for the 2 or 3 big goals you have for the year. You each pick a goal plus (new bedroom furniture or a golf trip with the boys) a third you jointly pick, such as a family holiday to Greece. Determine a limit on how much you’ll spend on each goal. Then when decisions over cash come up; ask how spending that money gets you closer or further away from that goal.

Women drive social media growth

Women and social mediaIt’s now widely known that women are responsible for purchasing 80% of household goods according to The Wall Street Journal. Their combined purchasing power makes companies sit up and take notice. Plus, according to ‘Women Want More’ by Michael Silverstein women are more likely to take recommendations from friends when trying new products, so it’s even more important for brands to relate to their female audience – and through the mediums they favour. On financeonline.com: ‘Why women are the real power behind social media’, found of the 1,801 adults surveyed, women use social media more often and in different ways than men. Here are some facts:

  • Women were more common users of Facebook (76% vs 66%), tumblr (54% vs 46%) and Pinterest (33% vs 8%).
  • 30% of women used social media several times a day.
  • 58% of women used social media for news.
  • Instagram, Pinterest and Tumblr gained 10 million new users in 2013, the majority being women.
  • 53% of women found special offers through their social media interaction with brands.

When looked at this way, women dominate social media – and why shouldn’t they – it’s ultimate utility is in making and maintaining relationships; a human urge, but one to which women are particularly well-attuned. So how much sense does it make for the main creators of social media to be men? ‘When we need people who understand both tech and the person buying it, women who have combined the technical expertise and softer skills such as empathy, will thrive’. Nadja von Massow, head of creative at The GIG at DST believes women are better communicators than men. They tend to choose roles which combine their tech skills with communication, such as, social media marketing, PR and client services. Social media marketing’s advancing and it’s creating an even greater wealth of opportunities for women in tech, both as users and servers.

Why Sheryl Sandberg’s ‘Lean In’ culture is killing us

leanin_2506122bAs you can imagine, the recent article in the Washington Post :’Recline, Don’t Lean In: Why I Hate Sheryl Sandberg‘ caught our eye. As an organisation that helps women and men ‘lean in’ to workplace gender equality, we recognise that ‘leaning in’ is de rigour for any aspiring professional. However, it’s a hollow victory if we only achieve equality of exhaustion.

The article by Rosa Brooks, a foreign policy expert, explains the dangers of continuously leaning in: ‘We’ve created a world in which ubiquity is valued above all. If you’re not at your desk every night until nine, your commitment to the job is questioned. If you’re not checking email 24/7, you’re not a reliable colleague. But in a world in which leaning in at work has come to mean doing more work, more often, for longer hours, women will disproportionately drop out or be eased…Because unlike most men, women — particularly women with children — are still expected to work that “second shift” at home.’

Brooks continue: ‘Men today do more housework and childcare than men in their fathers’ generation, but ..as long as women are the ones doing more of the housework and childcare, women will be disproportionately hurt when both workplace expectations and parenting expectations require ubiquity. They’ll continue to do what too many talented women already do: Just as they’re on the verge of achieving workplace leadership positions, they’ll start dropping out.’

While ubiquity hurts women, men are not escaping the ill effects either. I spoke at a corporate event last week where the main topic became how the ‘Always On’ culture is a key reason for the departure of both women and men. I think the difference is that women have to be more honest and prioritise their families, whereas men are more reluctant to publicly admit to their exhaustion. But this comes with a heavy cost for us all.

As Brooks explains: ‘Henry Ford didn’t advocate the eight-hour day for his auto assembly line workers because he was a nice guy. He advocated the eight-hour day because research demonstrated that worker productivity cratered after more than eight hours. As Brigid Schulte documents in her forthcoming book, “Overwhelmed: Work, Love and Play When No One Has the Time,” humans can only take so much for so long. When a workplace is full of employees who always lean in and never lean back, it’s full of employees who are exhausted, brittle and incapable of showing much creativity or making good decisions.’

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