What's in a Name? Big Profits, Apparently
Oh no he didn't! Oh yes she did-- and it worked! You wouldn't think professional gender bias in this century would be much of an issue, but according to an extremely successful female blogger/copywriter who goes by the name of James Chartrand, taking on a male pen name meant the difference between applying for welfare and buying a house.
The single mother of two from a small town in Quebec, Canada, was at wit's end scrambling for writing jobs that would enable her to care for her young daughters. So she decided to take advantage of a perceived bias. "In my own perception of the business world today, I think of men in suits at the top. I think of male CEOs," she explains.
Becoming One of the Boys
Her first step was to create a writing persona that smacked of boys club success--someone those men in suits could easily relate to. She pulled the name 'James Chartrand' out of thin air, and began experimenting by pitching the same job under the same terms, with his name and with her own given name. The results were immediate and surprising. The male pitch outperformed the female pitch in each instance.
"They didn't question me as James," she says. "What struck me most was the instant respect I received. No one asked me about working at home and dealing with kids. They just assumed I worked in a professional office and had the brains, the talent, the ideas and the skills. I expected more money, and I got it."
After testing the waters by submitting proposals under both male and female names, she eventually decided to stick with the masculine moniker, and began blogging under it. When Michael Stelzner listed her on his Top Ten Blogs for Writers, things really took off. Men with Pens was launched, a site that offers "On target web design and copywriting to help you hit the bulls-eye of success." It has been such a hit that she has taken on a partner and brought in the services of other writers as well.
Coming Out of the Closet
She kept her little secret under wraps for about three years, until an angry former friend threatened to 'out' her online. She decided to do the honors herself, and wrote an extensive blog on the popular blog site, copyblogger.com, wittily slugged "Why James Chartrand Wears Women's Underpants." The results of her outing were also surprising.
"I'd say it's been about 95% positive, 5% negative," she notes. "Anyone who's ever been discriminated against on a job application because of their name, whether it's Indian, Asian or anything else, certainly understands." But has it affected her work?
"My clients say it changes nothing -- they just want to know if they'll have their copy by Friday." She has decided to continue writing under her masculine pseudonym, more for privacy's sake than for any other reason. She lives in a small town, and is very protective of her children. "Using a man's name seemed to make some people uncomfortable, and they seem to think I'm repressing who I really am" she adds. "But writing as James, I feel liberated, not repressed James is part of who I am." She says she enjoys being free of female stereotypes--and lower female pay.
Prose by Any Other Name
"I'm looking at twitter right now, and people are asking me if I'm going to change my writing style," she laughs, incredulous that people would even wonder such a thing. Besides, going into proverbial closet then coming out may have been one of her most unwittingly strategic moves yet. Since confessing in her blog, she has been besieged by the media: in less than an hour she received a call from Newsweek, a literary agent, and an AOL blogger (that would be me). Do a web search for James Chartrand, and you'll see her story everywhere.
Still, she says she wouldn't advise others to try it. "You face a lot of pressure from other people who question who you are," she says, referring to the fact that the tension inherent in keeping a secret about your identity can be daunting. Although she's received incredible opportunities for having admitted to her transgendered professional personality, she says most people respond with, "Yes, you're a woman, now can we all move on and get back to work?"
Lisa Johnson Mandell is an award-winning multi-media journalist and author of Career Comeback--Repackage Yourself to Get the Job You Want. Her work has been translated into 20 different languages, and she is a frequent expert guest and commentator on news and talk shows. She has been featured in The Wall St. Journal, on the CBS Early Show, NBC Today, CNBC, Fox Business News, Dr. Phil, Oprah.com and many other media outlets. Lisa discusses her AOL pieces each week and interviews vital guests on the web TV show, This Week in Careers. Learn more on LisaJohnsonMandell.com.