Kim O’ Gandy is an Australian management consultant. In the ’90s he was looking for a new job. When he started submitting applications, he felt pretty confident, as he was–by his own description–”an experienced guy in an experienced guy’s world.” But for the first few months, things were not going too well. He writes:
Somewhere after the four month mark my confidence started to take a hit. The people rejecting me were business people, too. How could my reasoning that I was perfect for these jobs be so different from theirs? Putting on my most serious business head, I went back and scoured my CV. It was the only contact any of my potential employers or their recruitment companies had had with me. My CV was THE common denominator and if something was wrong it MUST have been there.
I had fortunately seen a number of CVs in my time. I was happy with the choice of style and layout, and the balance of detail versus brevity. I was particularly pleased with the decision I made to brand it with my name with just enough bold positioning to make it instantly recognisable, and as I sat scouring every detail of that CV, a horrible truth slowly dawned on me. My name.
My first name is Kim. Technically, it’s gender neutral, but my experience showed that most people’s default setting in the absence of any other clues is to assume Kim is a woman’s name. And nothing else on my CV identified me as male. At first I thought I was being a little paranoid, but engineering, sales and management were all male-dominated industries. So I pictured all the managers I had over the years and, forming an amalgam of them in my mind, I read through the document as I imagined they would have. It was like being hit on the head with a big sheet of unbreakable glass ceiling.
My choice to brand the CV with a bold positioning of my name actually seemed to scream that I was a woman. I could easily imagine many of the people I had worked for discarding the document without even reading further. If they did read further, the next thing they saw (as politeness declared at the time) was a little personal information, and that declared I was married with kids. I had put this in because I knew many employers would see it as showing stability, but when I viewed it through the skewed view of middle-aged men who thought I was a woman, I could see it was just further damning my cause. I doubt if many of the managers I had known would have made it to the second page.
I made one change that day. I put Mr. in front of my name on my CV. It looked a little too formal for my liking but I got an interview for the very next job I applied for. And the one after that. It all happened in a fortnight, and the second job was a substantial increase in responsibility over anything I had done before. In the end I beat out a very competitive short-list and enjoyed that job for the next few years, further enhancing my career.
I assume one take-away from Kim’s experience was to always include the “Mr.” on his future CVs, but it also changed his perspective on the rare women managers in his field. Having directly brushed up against gender discrimination himself meant he could no longer believe that the dearth of women at the top was just because women didn’t want to be there–not after he’d been that Mrs. O’ Gandy persistently knocking on the glass ceiling.