“Please note: Colour; Noun is a partnership that believes in equality in all things, so if I have copied in firstname.lastname@example.org it is because we are equals. Please ensure that any replies don’t go just to me, but include her as well. Thank you.”
I have that as the signature on my email. I wish I didn’t have it, but it’s become necessary. In fact, emails are the tip of the iceberg.
We’ve all had it… the email that you send where you copy someone else in to keep them in the loop, followed by the reply that goes straight to you, ignoring the person you tried to include. Sometimes it’s an oversight, the consequence of the distance between “reply” and “reply all”. Sometimes it’s intended to keep people’s inboxes from overflowing with clutter. But, unfortunately, I believe, in this case, it’s part of a wider problem, rooted in attitudes and biases that don’t show much sign of going away. Let me tell you how the rest of the iceberg looks. But first of all a bit of background.
Colour; Noun was set up as an equal partnership between me – a man in my fifties - and Vicky Holding – a woman in her twenties. We split everything down the middle, whether it is work, money or responsibility because what we do requires both of us to bring our particular skills and apply them as necessary, when necessary. But…
So far, so male business world. But it isn’t. Alarmingly we’ve seen women do it too, many, many times. I could take this down a route that could lead to accusations of self-flagellation and a desperate desire to accentuate my feminist credentials, but I won’t. Even as I write this I am aware that it reads like I am attempting to protect her and plead her case. It’s not that at all. She is perfectly capable of holding her own, pushing herself forward and throwing herself wholeheartedly into whatever challenge comes along- and she does so all the time. In fact, I know that however unfair these attitudes are, she recognises them as part of life and has made her peace with that.
No, this isn’t about protecting Vicky’s feelings. It’s much more self-centred than that.
I get embarrassed. Embarrassed that people think I’m somehow more important, or cleverer, or better than her, when none of those things are true. Embarrassed by having to engineer inclusion into conversations by saying “what do you think Vicky?” or “you know more about this than I do”, when her repeated self-inclusion attempts don't work. Embarrassed that people think I turn up to meetings with a secretary, or a PA, or someone to take my notes and write up my reports. I hate leaving a meeting, or an event, or reading an email that elevates my status at the expense of someone who is most definitely at least half of Colour; Noun, and without whom we would not be what we are.
I’m not going to even try to change the way the world is through a blog post. I’m just saying it’s there and I hope that this article might make you think twice about the assumptions you make when you deal with people professionally.
And if I can eventually get rid of my email signature, you will make an (older) man very happy.