Today in news that will make you want to eat your own eyeballs, a male and female coworker switched email signatures for a week — so he was signing off as Nicole Pieri and she was signing off as Martin Schneider — and the social experiment revealed some truths about workplace sexism that have us screaming.
In a series of tweets that have gone viral, Schneider shares the email-switch story and the insights he gleaned from it about the uphill climb women face in the workplace.
Schneider writes that he and Pieri previously worked together at an employment services firm, where he was Pieri’s director supervisor. He was pleased with her performance, but the boss above them found that Pieri took too long dealing with clients.
Schneider goes on to explain that one day, while emailing back and forth with a client about his resume, the client was being inexplicably rude and difficult.
Then he noticed something.
Realizing the error, he emailed the client saying, “Hey this is Martin, I’m taking over this project for Nicole.”
Schneider said he then asked Pieri if she’d had this experience before. “I mean, not ALL the time,” she said. “But yeah. A lot.”
So the two colleagues decided to try an experiment.
As for Pieri, she had one of the best workweeks of her career at that company.
It’s worth noting that though Schneider’s experience was shocking to him, the kind of disrespect and condescension he describes are something women experience all the time. And though many women choose not to speak out about workplace sexism, plenty do — but their stories often aren’t believed.
Case in point: When Schneider and Pieri presented their “findings” to their boss, he dismissed them.
Schneider says the experience was truly eye-opening for him.
And he acknowledged another Twitter user, too, who noted that for women with “black-sounding” names, the experience of workplace sexism is amplified by racism.
Following Schneider’s tweet thread, Pieri detailed her own experience of the social experiment on Medium. She explains that it wasn’t just clients treating her badly, it was male coworkers — including Schneider, who she calls “Marty” here — creating a hostile work environment.
She says she later confronted Schneider about his behavior and noticed an immediate change. “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.”
Her boss, though, remained a real piece of work. She concludes her essay by saying that her boss’ refusal to accept the result of her and Schneider’s experiment was the last straw.
“What did my boss have to gain by refusing to believe that sexism exists?” she writes. “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 losing her cool or searching for answers, though, “I quit and started my own business writing blog posts and web copy as a freelancer.”
That’s a brave decision, and we totally applaud Nicole. But we’re still rolling our eyes at the denial of women’s experiences, and look forward to the day when workplaces welcome everyone.