Want To Be Successful At Work? Hide Your Gender

Update: Greathouse has just relented on his Twitter feed, calling the original blog post "dreadful" and apologizing that he "told women to endure the gender bias problem rather than acting to fix the problem." Here's hoping he truly has learned his lesson — and will actively work to confront his own gender and identity biases in the future.

This story was originally published at 4:20 p.m.

Want to be successful in tech? Work hard, network like crazy — and while you're at it, take your full name off your résumé in favor of your first initial, and pull your profile photo from LinkedIn and Twitter.

Sounds insane, right? But that's what venture capitalist John Greathouse recommends in a blog post published yesterday for The Wall Street Journal. According to Greathouse, "women in today's tech world should create an online presence that obscures their gender. 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 impartial review."

Brilliant! Why didn't anyone think of that before? Right, they did. For years, women have tried to obscure their sex and gender to fit into a man's world. Look at George Eliot — a.k.a. Mary Ann Evans, a woman who published classics like Middlemarch. Look at Katherine Switzer, a runner who entered the Boston Marathon under the initials KV Switzer when the marathon wasn't open to women entrants. Even JK Rowling was told prior to the publication of Harry Potter to use her initials rather than her full name so as not to alienate potential male readers. Greathouse didn't invent it — he just magnanimously mansplained it.

So yes, it's a tactic. It's probably one every woman who is a minority in her field has considered at one point. But it absolutely should not be a tactic espoused by a white man in a position of power. If Greathouse, a venture capitalist with the power to fund women-backed start-ups, notices that he tends to favor projects backed by men or people with "male-sounding" names, that is his problem. Repeat: That is his problem.

But Greathouse doesn't see it that way. In fact, he suggests that seeing female names and photographs in a pitch deck is distracting, comparing a pitch deck to a novel. According to Greathouse, "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 shaped their fiction."

That's great! But reading habits should not be comparable to work habits. And within this stretched analogy, Greathouse is dancing around the fundamental issue: That the combination of his preferences and his position of power are part of the problem. Throughout his column, Greathouse refuses to accept responsibility. He cites studies that reach the conclusion that inherent bias does exist — but he doesn't once turn to question his own behavior.

How many female-backed projects does he fund? Why is it that he wants to see a pitch deck devoid of full names, photographs, and the actual identities behind the ideas? Why does he see a "neutral online persona" as a step forward instead of a drastic step backward, with sex and gender swept away like dirty little secrets?

Tech superstars were quick to deride him on Twitter.

But what I can't get past is that Greathouse didn't realize there would be backlash — and that The Wall Street Journal decided to give him credibility by even running his piece. Because, as so many equally horrified women said in their tweets, it is not news that women face a disadvantage in the workplace. It is not news, as Greathouse suggests, that people exhibit unconscious bias toward hiring, promoting, or funding someone whose name is "similar" to theirs. It is not news that these unconscious biases are incredibly damaging. And the "news" Greathouse trumpets — hide your identity and get ahead at work — is a tired trope that needs to die.

Furthermore, the suggestion to remove any photos simply doesn't make sense in the digital age. And I can't help but notice that Greathouse has a Twitter photo of himself on his page; so again, he's saying that it makes sense to literally hide your face, but only if you're a woman. Because, in Greathouse's world, an egg is more worthy of funding than a woman.

Hopefully, John Greathouse (sorry — J. Greathouse, would hate for readers to get distracted by his gendered first name) will learn from his column. Because, as is evidenced by the social media outrage, both women and men in tech have certainly learned to stay far away from his biased venture capital firm.


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