Why Women in Tech Might Consider Just Stuffing a Sock in Their Pants
Professional women, are you properly curating your online first impression?
We create an immediate impression of everyone we encounter, whether online or in-person. This is not surprising, as evolution rewarded the ability to make snap judgments about others. Studies have shown that the less time someone has, the greater degree they rely on their gut, rather than data, when evaluating someone for the first time. These initial impressions might be positive or negative — but they are seldom neutral.
Professional orchestras in the 1970s were comprised of an average of 95% men. Nearly 50 years later, the gender mix of most orchestras reflects that of the general population.
A number of elements played a role in the dramatic transformation of the gender mix of professional musicians, including the overall gains women enjoyed in all professions. However, the single most significant factor was the introduction of blind auditions during the late 1970s, in which a screen obscured the musicians’ age, gender and ethnicity from the panel of evaluators.
In a similar fashion, women in today’s tech world should stuff a sock in their pants. The sock allows women to adopt a gender-neutral persona that allows them to access opportunities that might otherwise be closed to them.
Here’s a helpful chart explaining in more detail:
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.
As a reader, I appreciate a book when I don’t know the author’s gender and haven’t formed a concrete image of him or her. If I enjoy a particular work, I then research the writer to better understand how their background and motivations and the sock in their pants shaped their fiction. It’s a shame that tech investors and hiring managers can’t approach the work-product of women in a similar, nonjudgmental fashion.
According to Renee Rottner, Assistant Professor, at the University of California, Santa Barbara’s Technology Management Program…
Gender-bias limits us whether we are investors, employers or educators. In studies that reveal gender, but keep the content the same — the same venture pitch, the same resume, the same online course material — women are perceived as less competent than men, even though their performance was identical.
What’s more, these studies find that the evaluator’s gender has little effect — women and men are equally biased in their judgments against women — not exactly a win for gender equality. However, once we accept that we all have these biases, then we are in a position to fix the problem. By telling women to, quite literally, put a sock in it.
If you assume investors and tech hiring managers are rational and their ultimate goal is to maximize their success, it is fair to also assume they will seek the most promising investments and employees, irrespective of race or gender.
There is also a fundamental persuasion principal associated with names — likability. Persuasion guru Robert Cialdini notes in his book “Yes! — 50 Scientifically Proven Ways To Be Persuasive,” liking is accentuated when the persuader has a name that is similar to the person being persuaded.
In one study, 56% of the subjects were twice as likely to complete a survey sent by someone with a name similar to their own, versus 30% of the subjects in the control group. A man will not feel such inherent “liking” from a female name, unless the female entrepreneur happens to put a sock in her pants.
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 above-waist photos of your team in your pitch deck. If you identify your team via their below-waist photos (men and women), you effectively strip out all preconceptions related to race, ethnicity and gender, as long as the women put socks in their pants. In your LinkedIn profile, Twitter account, email address and online correspondence, use your initials (or a unisex name) and a photo of you with a sock in your pants.
I am not suggesting that people shun their ethnicity and not wear socks on their feet. 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.
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 sock in your pants will encourage more people to evaluate your work products and experiences based on their inherent qualities, unclouded by preconceptions.
This article was published as a satire of “Why Women in Tech Might Consider Just Using Their Initials Online,” published in the Wall Street Journal on 9/28/2016.
I hope you consider both articles with equal weight.