“Professional women, are you properly curating your online first impression?” John Greathouse, a white dude who works as a partner at a venture-capital firm, asks in his recent op-ed for The Wall Street Journal. (More specifically, “The Experts” blog for The Wall Street Journal.) Surprising as it might seem from such a charming and thoughtful opening line, what comes next is a train wreck of sexist apologetics and generally bad thinking: According to Greathouse, women who work in tech might want to eliminate any digital evidence that they are, well, women, lest it knock them out of the running for a position because a potential employer found out they weren’t men. From The Wall Street Journal:
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 photos of your team in your pitch deck. If you identify your team via their initials (men and women), you effectively strip out all preconceptions related to race, ethnicity and gender. In your LinkedIn profile, Twitter account, email address and online correspondence use your initials (or a unisex name) and eliminate photos.
Greathouse cites several studies regarding the dangers of personal bias. In one, he explains 56 percent of people are more likely to complete a survey from someone with a name like their own. Or, as he eloquently put it, “a man will not feel such inherent ‘liking’ from a female name, unless the female entrepreneur happens to use a unisex name.” (Cindy Johnson and Cynthia Johannson, for example. Hope you weren’t planning on working in tech, Cindy and Cynthia!)
This is, it hardly needs to be said, insane. It’s essentially saying that if people are biased against you, it’s your problem, not theirs. It you want to be liked and to get hired for the job you probably deserve anyway because you are smart and well-trained, just go change everything about yourself. It’s just like the finale of Grease! Except don’t wear those black leather pants or stilettos to the job interview, or your potential new boss will definitely know you’re a woman.
There’s some hell-world logic by which Greathouse’s advice makes sense — if you, individually, can’t fix the problem of your potential employers’ bias, maybe you need to work within it. (What a horrible world where “hide who you are” is even briefly worth consideration as life advice!) The problem is that Greathouse should be directing his advice elsewhere. The market is short 600,000 engineers, and yet women are leaving the tech industry “in droves.” Talent, ideas, products, opportunities, and resources are lost — apparently because employers can’t see beyond the names on a résumé and investors go insane at the sound of a woman’s voice.
Now if you’ll excuse me, I have to go change all my social-media handles and firebomb all my profile pictures. Better yet, I think I’ll just start applying to all jobs under the name “Steve Jobs.” That should do the trick. Thanks for the great advice, John!
Update: John says he’s sorry.