A Woman and a Man Switched Email Signatures. The Results Will (Not) Shock You.


In a recent viral tweet-thread, Martin Schneider illustrates something that any woman could tell you: sexism in the workplace is very, very real.

Martin Schneider used to work at a resume-polishing company. One day, Martin was struggling with a difficult client and realized that he’d been accidentally sending emails to the client in his co-worker Nicole Hallberg’s name. Could sexism be at play?  (Side note: in Nicole’s account of the story, she describes Martin as a co-worker; in the tweet thread, Martin notes that he was Nicole’s supervisor. Hmm.)

The minute Martin realized his mistake and corrected his name … things changed:

Inspired by the event, Martin and Nicole decided to conduct an experiment. They would send emails as each other for the next two weeks:

Surprise! Martin had a rough go of it:

Nicole, on the other hand, had “one of the easiest weeks of [her] professional life.”

A 2012 social science experiment backs up their investigation – Yale researchers sent out identical applications for a lab manager application in the style of a famous racial bias study. However, instead of using names that were perceived as Black or white, they used male and female names. Resumes with a woman’s name were consistently rated significantly lower in “competence, hirability, and whether the scientist would be willing to mentor the student.”

This experiment went pretty viral as well, but coverage consistently discussed it in the context of the scientific field. The name of the study itself was “Science faculty’s subtle gender biases favor male students,” and headlines included such quips as “Scientists, Your Gender Bias is Showing.”

While I understand that social scientists wouldn’t be willing to extrapolate to the whole workforce from one study, I have no such compulsions. Gender bias in the workplace is, in fact, not a science thing, though it may be more obvious in male-dominated fields and companies. (Helloooo, Uber.)

Martin and Nicole’s story is an example of sexism in and of itself.

To flag some irony: Martin and Nicole’s experiment went viral because of Martin‘s tweet thread, not because of Nicole’s thoughtful account of the event. In Nicole’s blog, she only gives the experiment a couple lines of thought. As she says,

"But I knew long before this experiment that my life at this company was always going to be harder. I knew this on my second day."

Martin and Nicole’s story is popular because a man realized the struggles that women face every day. In other words, it’s an example of sexism in and of itself: people are paying attention to the rampant sexism in the workplace because a man has spoken up about how hard it is to be a woman.

Related Story: Uber Nightmare: Ex-Uber Engineer Details Horrific Sexism in Company

That being said, props to Martin for putting himself in a woman’s shoes. To the other 3,477,829,637 men in the world: any takers?