So a week ago I posted a survey of four upcoming blogs and asked my Twitter followers to vote on which one should be posted next. It came down to a tie between a positive post on the joys of being in your 40s and one about the myriad of ways people and companies delay or refuse paying you for your time, experience or services. Then two things happened.
Virgin Media installed a new internet router in our home, which didn’t work, plunging the Lumley homestead into a WiFi-free existence for five days (our 12 year old son is still suffering from flashbacks.) And second, I posted a question – on Twitter, Facebook and Linkedin. And what happened next is what I would like to dissect. It offered me clues and improvements on how to communicate on social media, where my social media bubbles are strongest and the dangers and anxieties people have about voicing questions or a point of view in a public forum.
Over the past few months I have been talking to several people either around working on a project with them or joining their company full time – hence the genesis of this site. I started to notice that with three separate organisations, and with conversations with four different people (two at the same company), I was being asked the same two questions.
“Can you come into the office in central London on a regular basis and are you OK to travel?”
Being asked once I could understand. The travel question didn’t raise many suspicions. But the ‘can you come into the office‘ one raised some doubts in my head. Why was I continuously being asked if I could come into the office, when I hadn’t indicated I was looking for a job where I could, predominately, work from home? All of the questioners were men and I am (bit of a spoiler here) a woman. So I decided to ask a question. In startup land this is called ‘validating your assumptions’. I was making an assumption, based on past experience (more on that later) and niggling doubt and I needed to know if I was barking up the wrong tree (or in fact if there was any tree to even bark at).
The question I asked (variations on exact language depended on the limitations of the social media platform) was, ‘How would you interpret being asked if you can make it into the office on a regular basis and are you OK to travel? Is this code for ‘do you have a child?’ How many men have been asked this question?’
That was the main question – the only question I asked. How many men have been asked these questions? Come on people of Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn – help me validate or invalidate my assumptions!
More than half of you did just that. Several men came forward, on all platforms, saying ‘Yes, I get asked that all the time. Reasonable questions.‘ So thank you. Thank you men and women of social media. My assumption was incorrect. There was no sexist tree to bark at. I can go about my merry way spreading the gospel of digital banking and equal opportunity.
However, there were other people who answered in other ways.
Several people, exclusively on LinkedIn, asked for more context. Understandable. At times, social media platforms don’t offer the right environment to give the full context, back story, reasoning etc… behind a particular post or question. That is an issue solved by clearer communication on the part of the poster (me). And I hope the above provides better context to my initial question.
Quite a few people offered advice on how I should answer these questions (including a solicitation to buy a course of career coaching sessions) Thank you all, your advice is very sweet. It wasn’t actually what I asked for, but I take your advice with the benevolence in which it was intended.
Three people, two men and one woman, responded to my questions via DM. The reasons being, as explained by one, was that he didn’t want to get into a public debate. I understand. It can be disheartening to see a thread go off on a tangent or have people react to what they think you are saying, rather than what you are trying to get across. Most people who voice opinions in public, are in a way, the agents of their own agenda. I can see how some may wish to just converse with me directly, and not get drawn into a discussion that wasn’t theirs to begin with (I have been there).
I need to remember that I have a thick skin in regards to voicing my opinions in public, having done it for so long. I have had numerous people tell me my views are full of shit, both in print and on stage. I am one of those lucky women who has never endured threats of violence or abuse online (but I know people who have) *knock on wood*. And no-one who responded to my ‘How would you interpret this…‘ question on any social media platform was abusive. Annoying some, a few random manplainers others – but not abusive.
Public forums should be a place where people are free to voice an opinion and ask a question – even if those opinions are misplaced, or out of context or ‘barking up the wrong tree’. In this age of propaganda and attack-bots and fake news, the only way to distinguish fact from fiction is to discuss and gather views from a wide variety of people. But then again, I am a public forum type of person.
A few respondents objected that I should never have suspected any sexist intent at all – that somehow my experiences, and therefore my question, was irrelevant. Now, here is where I get a bit touchy.
One, was from a good friend, who has long complained that any talk about gender basis in our industry is the luxury of ‘university-educated, middle-class women’. A view I disagree with, but I do admit there is an element of truth in it. In my world I can complain about having to sit on a bar stool and not having a place to stick a lapel mic while speaking at an event – an event I was flown into on business class and put up in a five star hotel by the organizers. The jobs I am looking at are global in scale and require a certain amount of relationship-building and strategic and creative thinking – with the salary to match. Basically Sally Field isn’t going to be playing me in a movie any time soon.
Another was from someone I went to school with, 25 years ago, and to my knowledge has zero experience working in global financial services, software companies or tech startups. It is a certain flavor of mansplainer who seeks to invalidate the experiences of others when those viewpoints don’t mesh within the context of their own experiences. However, to eliminate all flavors of mansplainers from your discussions would shrink your available pool of viewpoints down to a handful of girlfriends you end up downing two bottles of Proscecco at a bar while screaming at a poor waiter, ‘Well, you’re ALL bastards!‘ (I am not claiming that ever happened)
However, for those of you who need additional context…
The end result of the random sampling of my social media connections resulted in me being pretty confident that men and women get asked questions of this nature when applying for a job on a regular basis. However, the reason for having a doubt in the first place is not misguided. I have written before, on various platforms, that I have worked in a very male-dominated industry for most of my career. Tech and Finance are the alpha males of the alpha male dominated industries.
I have worked at a company, where my boss – when faced with two equally qualified potential employees – commented, ‘Well, this girl is 30 and just got married, so…ya know…’ and hired the man instead. I have consulted more than one female startup founder who was going through the process of legally reverting back to her maiden name because she found it difficult to even get a meeting with a venture capitalist if it looked like she was married. I have sat on stage with high-flying female startup founders, who will say point blank that investors will ask ‘about your fertility and your levels of commitment’.
I have been the only women on stage at banking and tech events to appear all day. I have given keynote speeches on FinTech hubs and startup-building gazing out to a sea of men in dark suits or hackathon t-shirts (the number of women in the audience you can count on one hand – there is never a queue for the ladies rest rooms 🙂 ). When you look at the ranks of journalism or marketing in FinTech, or even that well-worn female ghetto ‘operations’, it would be easy to remark that FinTech, as an industry, has many women leaders. But when you move up the ranks – the C-suite, to the people who make decisions and earn the big money – that pool turns increasingly male. And of course, we all know of the more blatant types of sexism I have written about here.
Women comprise less than 7% of CEO positions Fortune 1000 companies. Women of color hold even fewer leadership positions. In 2016, less than 3% of board directors at Fortune 500 companies were Asian, Black or Hispanic. In the startup world, it is even worse. Female founders gain less than 2.1% of VC funding. And recently, a study published in Venture Capital found that even having one woman on a company team makes them far less likely to get funding in the first place.
So, my question was not hysterical or misguided or ‘barking up the wrong tree.’ It is based on experience. I was asking a question, to see if my assumptions were correct or incorrect. Awright!
Now for engagement and a validation of where my bubbles lie. I posted my question on Twitter. My beloved Twitter. Impressions – around 1,300. Total engagements – around 13. I had a few of my buddies comment and then, that was it. This may be down to the ephemeral nature of Twitter or it is evidence that here lies my most exclusive bubble.
Ah Facebook. Better engagement here. More commentary. However, I tend use Facebook for my most personal posts. Picture of friends, family and kitties as well as semi-regular rants on the state of US politics – that type of thing. Bubble by design, rather than by circumstance. My Facebook had been public until last year, when I moved it to ‘friends only’. The emergence of a certain orange person in the White House meant I started getting ‘commentary’ from people whose avatar is a bald eagle, with a hand gun in its mouth, superimposed on an American Flag. No one needs that.
Now LinkedIn. The granddaddy of social media platforms. I have seen many posts from people complaining that many LinkedIn users are engaging with the platform ‘like it was Facebook‘. Considering this was a ‘work-related’ question, I posted it on LinkedIn as well. Oh boy, oh boy!
Almost 30,000 views. Over 50 comments. The comments were wide-ranging and diverse, even though it also confirmed that asking if a potential employee can travel to the office on a regular basis is a common as fuck question. I guess I know now where my bubble is widest and most inclusive.
So what have I learned? Whenever possible, offer as much context as you can to gather the best responses and information. Understand that others will be working towards their own agendas, experiences and context – that although doesn’t always gel with yours – can often times be useful. And I am going to be posting on LinkedIn waaaay more often. (I still love you, Twitter *snif snif*)