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.

‘Why Innovation is the New Normal: How to Stay Ahead in the 21st Century’ – Networking lunch at Brown’s Courtrooms, London 24th Sep 2015

innovationAs it’s back to school time, I’m currently helping my step-daughter think through her career options – a tricky task for any parent. On the one hand you want them to pursue their dreams and on the other you want them to be practical. The truth is you can pursue your dreams – but they may look different from what your 6 year old self may have originally envisaged. I no longer pine to work with dolphins for example!
My daughter is great with people. Fittingly, she is currently a receptionist at one of the big accounting firms. However, she’s smart enough to know checking in for appointments will increasingly be done by iPad and one ‘uber-receptionist’ who handles all the tricky enquiries an iPad can’t. Unless she up-skills or becomes that ‘specialist’ receptionist, her job will become obsolete. This future is frightening and dystopian to many, but there are ways to prepare – and they lie in honing the skills that can’t be outsourced cheaper globally or done by a machine.
This is where women may have an advantage. Many of these key skills; communication, collaboration and creativity are areas in which women excel. The fastest growing jobs revolve around personal and health care leading the list as detailed in The Telegraph. We are heading towards a future where the safest jobs of yesterday: doctor, lawyer and accountant are changing so much they may become obsolete as we know them now. The trick is in taking yesterday’s ‘safe degree’ to become the specialist collaborative doctor, the creative and communicative lawyer- the trusted advisor accountant.
Preparing for this change and the constant up-skilling required to stay current will be a topic on which I’ll be speaking at the next lunch hosted by Lady Val: ‘Why Innovation is the the new normal: Staying ahead in the 21st century’ in London on Sept 24, 2015.  Lady Val’s lunches are part of an award winning network and are a fantastic atmosphere. Women from multiple professional backgrounds come together to meet like-minded ambitious women. Hope to see you there.

In fact, throughout the autumn, I’ll be speaking interactively at more events on a range of new topics including Personal Innovation, Female ‘Superpowers’ and Why the Smartest Guys get Diversity. If you are looking for a new presentation to truly engage your audiences, get in touch.


Unintended gendered consequences: When family-friendly policies backfire on women

family friendlyNot surprisingly, we advocate flexibility and family friendly policies with our corporate clients. However, a series of new research shows  promoting such ‘benefits’ as being aimed primarily as women, can actually undermine their advancement as it gives employers an excuse to discriminate against them as potentially problematic employees. They see women as ‘not worth the risk’ of leaving or potentially needing costly support. As detailed in the New York Times by Claire Cain Miller,

For example, in the US, after the introduction of the Family and Medical Leave Act in 1993, still one of the least generous programmes in the developed world, women were 5% more likely to remain employed but 8% less likely to be promoted than they had been before the introduction of the law. Similarly, Chile introduced a child-care law which required employers with more than 20 women to provide and pay for local childcare to mothers with kids under the age of 2 years. While the smallest employers often didn’t comply, many of the rest compensated for the perceived loss by offering women starting salaries that were 9% to 20% less than they had before the law.

Spain introduced a new law in 1999 giving workers with children younger than 7 the right to ask for reduced hours. It was predominantly women who requested reduced hours and in the subsequent decade companies were 6% less likely to hire women of child-bearing age compared to men, 37% less likely to promote them and 45% more likely to dismiss them. The probability of unemployment amongst women of child-bearing age also increased by 20% during that time. As explained in the New York Times: ‘ These findings are consistent with previous research by Francine Blau and Lawrence Kahn, economists at Cornell. In a study of 22 countries, they found that generous family-friendly policies, like long maternity leaves and part-time work protections in Europe, made it possible for more women to work — but that they were more likely to be in dead-end jobs and less likely to be managers.’  The answer is not in reducing the benefits afforded women but in making sure such ‘benefits’  flexibility is gender neutral.


‘Queen Bee’ myth quashed

Mean bossOne of the most commonly asked questions I receive is ‘why are female bosses mean to junior women?’ They’re not – in fact, they are no ‘meaner’ than male bosses. It’s more likely we have higher expectations of ‘nurturing’ behaviour in women than we do of male bosses. In fact, the latest research bears out that women actually do better when they work for companies with a female CEO.

Columbia University looked at top 1500 management teams over a 20 year period and found that when female CEOs were appointed to an organisation, other women were more, rather than less likely to attain other senior positions. Additionally, female CEO’s pay higher wages to all employees, and reduce the gender wage gap to just 1.5%. However, there’s a ‘sting in the tail’ of the Queen Bee. When a woman was appointed to a top job, but not the CEO position, the chances of other women following her into the upper echelon were 50% less.

So what’s going on? After looking at the evidence, the authors concluded women at this second type of organisation are part of an ‘implicit quota’. In The Times, Sian Griffiths explained how the authors felt: ‘While firms gain legitimacy from having women in top management, the value of this legitimacy decreases with each additional woman, whereas the perceived costs, from the perspective of the male majority in top management, increases with each woman.’ In fact, it’s perceived that majority group resistance increases when women (and one could argue any other perceived minority group) grows to even just 20%. In fact, women in senior jobs may indeed themselves be subconsciously accepting this ‘implicit quota’ and therefore any other women who come to the table are a potential threat – which may be where any resistance to other junior women comes from. So, it seems the only person who thinks it’s not enough to have a few tokens at the table are the female CEO’s – the same people we’ve historically maligned as unhelpful Queen Bee’s.

‘Higher expectations for women’, not ‘work/life balance’ as main barrier to female career success

Women in leadership

According to a recent poll of over 1,800 American adults by Pew Research Centre, most Americans now find women indistinguishable from men on key leadership traits such as intelligence and capacity for innovation, with many saying they’re stronger than men on compassion and organisation. While that’s a sign of progress, what’s most interesting is instead of blaming that old chestnut of ‘work/life balance issues’, the highest proportion (nearly 40%) point to a double standard for women seeking to climb to the highest levels of either politics or business, where they have to do more than their male counterparts to prove themselves.

Recognition of this double standard is a big shift away from continuing to blame work/life balance and a much needed turning point. It’s perhaps not surprising about two-thirds (65%) of women say their gender faces at least ‘some discrimination’ in society today, compared with 48% of men who believe women face some discrimination. It’s promising that nearly half of men agree. Historically, it’s been convenient to blame women’s reproductive choices for their lack of career progress. This research suggests that if both women and men understand the system is biased, we’ll make quicker progress.

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