Catherine Nichols, a writer for Jezebel.com, recently sent pages of her novel out to publishers under female and male names after reading studies about unconscious bias and how male applicants are typically viewed as better candidates than females.
Under her male alias, Nichols first sent out only six queries including a letter that described the novel and the author along with the first few pages of the manuscript.
Within 24 hours “George,” as she refers to her pseudonym in her own recounts of the experiment, received three manuscript requests and two pleasant rejections that offered praise for his work.
When Nichols sent out the same letter and pages to more than 50 agents under her own name, she garnered only two manuscript requests and silent rejection.
“The responses gave me a little frisson of delight at being called “Mr.” and then I got mad,” Nichols said.
“Three manuscript requests on a Saturday, not even during business hours! The judgments about my work that had seemed as solid as the walls of my house had turned out to be meaningless. My novel wasn’t the problem, it was me—Catherine.”
She decided to continue the experiment and sent out a total of 50 queries as "George" which got 17 manuscript requests compared to her two as Catherine.
Nichols cited unconscious bias as a key factor in the significantly contrasting responses she and “George” received.
She considered that a book by a George might be easier to sell than a book by a Catherine or maybe the novel was mistaken for “Women’s Fiction” when Catherine submitted it but was not seen as such when George sent it in.
Upon completing her experiment, Nichols took the strong, in-depth critiques that “George” received about the manuscript and used them to improve her novel. She now has an agent to represent her and a whole new outlook on her work.
Nichols' experiment brings up a very valid issue that exists in just about every industry of the work force.
Whether subconscious or intentional, men are still revered by employers as more capable of carrying out successful tasks and creating strong material than women, despite the major feats women have accomplished throughout history and continue to achieve today.
Not to suggest that women should start applying for jobs as men, because that is dishonest and greatly compromises one's integrity, but….there is a valuable lesson to be learned from Nichols’ experiences.
Should your feminine name -- that you had no part in choosing -- be a deciding factor in whether or not employers are willing to take a chance on you? How far must women go to get noticed or receive their due credit?
Perhaps all parents should be giving their daughters unisex names like, "Tyler/Taylor," "Jordan," "Sam," "Mason," "Kendall," "Charlie," etc. Or...society could just work on improving its portrayals of women.