-“Doctor…Most men in my office hate me—not that they say it in my face.”
Kim X. is a successful defense lawyer in one of top law firms in Brickell but in spite of having earned her standing, her male co-workers deeply resent it. Most of the vitriol consisted of whispered asides at the water cooler that she was able to identify; when she showed up men changed the conversation. However she recently had the suspicion that the misogyny migrated online.
The under-representation of women in the top tier of public administration, business corporations and academia has been extensively documented. That concealed discrimination has been buttressed by a workplace culture that discreetly demeans women and their work as objectionable conversations rarely occur in the open. Misogyny is still alive but hides underground. The water cooler setting has been replaced by the computer or the smartphone.
However the use of the digital media leaves an indelible archive behind. Computer experts have refined some machine-learning techniques adapted to explore patterns in large bodies of text, which can quantify some gossip. Alice H. Wu, a student in the University of California at Berkeley, studied more than a million posts from an anonymous online message board known as “Economics Job Market Rumors” that is well visited by the economists.
That forum is completely anonymous and it’s impossible to find out the gender of the person posting a comment, let alone if he/she is an economist. But the subject of each post can be identified by gender: man or woman. Ms. Wu adapted machine-learning techniques to find the terms associated with the posts about men and those about women. Here are the top ones for gals:
- BB (baby)
The anonymous online discussions of men about women usually involve topics related to their personal behavior, physical attributes or gender issues. In contrast the discussions about men are focused on the field of work or strictly professional issues like job opportunities, career moves or counsel. This data might no be representative of the entire field of economics but an active minority can certainly sour the workplace environment for women.
Gossiping is part of every workplace and we have to deal with it in stride. However the spreading of false or inaccurate information about a colleague can seriously damage her career prospects and skills evaluation process. Once a rumour spreads in an inter-connected place, it takes a life of its own and continues to exponentially grow.
What do you think? Please tell us.
Don’t leave me alone.