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This email signature swap experiment shows how difficult it is working while female

They traded email signatures for two whole weeks. She was more productive, but his experience 'f***ing sucked.'


Samantha Grasso


Posted on Mar 12, 2017   Updated on May 24, 2021, 9:03 pm CDT

The hurdles that come with workplace sexism can be difficult to convey to someone who’s never experienced them before.

Getting talked over, not being taken seriously by clients, and getting underpaid for your work might (somehow still) come as a surprise to male coworkers. Which is why this story from a blogger and her best friend serves as a lesson on the importance of actually listening to women when we say, hey, this thing might be a little sexist.

On Thursday, Marty Schneider, a film writer, launched into a Twitter thread about an experience regarding workplace sexism that he and his former coworker and friend Nicole Hallberg shared at a small employment service firm.

“So here’s a little story of the time [Nicole] taught me how impossible it is for professional women to get the respect they deserve,” Schneider opened the story.

As Schneider tells it, in June 2014 he and Hallberg shared a boss who thought Hallberg took too long to work with her clients.

(Like many women, however, Hallberg learned early on that working for her former employer was going to be difficult. Sharing her side of the story later on Medium, Hallberg stated on her second day of work, her boss made a sexist joke comparing Marty’s emotional nature to that of “a girl.” This willfully innocuous yet extremely sexist comment made Hallberg realize what kind of environment this would be.)

Now, as far as her speed went, Schneider, who was also her supervisor, didn’t see a problem with this. He ended up being assigned to monitor her performance, though—a work relationship dynamic they both hated.

It wasn’t until one day with a particular client exchange that Schneider realized what was really going on behind Hallberg’s pace.

“I’m emailing a client back-and-forth about his resume and he is just being IMPOSSIBLE. Rude, dismissive, ignoring my questions… Telling me his methods were the industry standards (they weren’t) and I couldn’t understand the terms he used (I could)… I was getting sick of his shit when I noticed something. Thanks to our shared inbox, I’d been signing all communications as ‘Nicole,'” Schneider tweeted.

That’s when he realized: “It was Nicole he was being rude to, not me. So out of curiosity I said ‘Hey this is Martin, I’m taking over this project for Nicole.'”

Schneider said immediately the client’s attitude improved, though he never once changed his own technique.

“The only difference was that I had a man’s name now,” Schneider wrote.

After asking Hallberg if this rudeness happened to her often (it did), they decided to continue this little slip into a full-on experiment. For two weeks they signed their emails with the other person’s name, just to see what happened.

And surprise, surprise. For Schneider, “it fucking sucked.”

“I was in hell. Everything I asked or suggested was questioned. Clients I could do in my sleep were condescending. One asked if I was single,” Schneider wrote. “Nicole had the most productive [weeks] of her career. I realized the reason she took longer is [because] she had to convince clients to respect her … By the time she could get clients to accept that she knew what she was doing, I could get halfway through another client.”

Hallberg told the Daily Dot that once she sported Schneider’s email signature, clients stopped with the incessant “advice” and questions and treated her as more of an expert.

As for Schneider, he told the Daily Dot a lot of the condescension from clients would come in the form of over-explaining basic technical terms, or saying things such as, “I’m sure if you’re not into this industry (meaning tech, usually), I’m sure this is difficult to understand.”

After the informal experiment, Schneider and Hallberg went back to their boss with the news. And yet, he didn’t believe them. Hallberg wrote in her Medium post that she almost lost it, almost felt like stress crying, screaming at her boss, and shaking him. But because women have learned that being emotional will not get us anywhere in the workplace, she resisted.

“He actually said ‘There are a thousand reasons why the clients could have reacted differently that way. It could be the work, the performance … you have no way of knowing,'” she wrote. “What did my boss have to gain by refusing to believe that sexism exists? Even when the evidence is screaming at him, even when his employee who makes him an awful lot of money is telling him, even when THE BOY on staff is telling him??”

Instead of waiting around to understand her boss’s oblivion, she quit her job and started her own blogging business where she also freelance writes web copy.

Though their boss often exhibited sexism toward Hallberg, such as talking above her with Marty, dropping his attention while she was speaking, or rewriting her work to sound more feminine, it was Marty who actually listened to her.

“…One day, I lit into Marty, telling him that he had a bad habit of talking over me and ignoring me. To his credit, and probably the reason that we are still friends, is that he listened,” Hallberg wrote. “He took it to heart. He started using his voice to bring attention to me in meetings. I’ve seen him do the same for other women in mixed settings since. I’m grateful for that.”

That isn’t to say that Marty deserves a cookie and a pat on the back for being a decent human being. But it’s an example of how men can help amplify women’s voices at work and how just listening to critique from women can help minimize workplace sexism overall.

Hallberg said the response to their story has been overwhelming, with women pouring in to share their similar experiences of casual sexism at work. Though Hallberg has since dropped the male pseudonym and operates her business as Nicole, she thinks women shouldn’t be ashamed should they choose to not counteract everyday sexism.

“Some women are just so tired of the struggle that they don’t have any fight left over after getting through their day. I would say that if you can use a male pseudonym and it would make your life easier, to never feel ashamed to do so,” Hallberg said. “If a woman…does find herself in a position to fight for respect and acknowledgement, I would say the best way is to live your truth and look for support with other women.”

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*First Published: Mar 12, 2017, 8:27 am CDT