Opinion

Why I changed my LinkedIn profile from Andrea to Andrew

After receiving one too many misguided messages from men on LinkedIn, The China Australia Millennial Project's Andrea Myles made the unusual decision to become one herself.

It was a morning much like any other when I decided to change my gender and become a man on LinkedIn. I woke, bleary eyed, and automatically reached for my mobile, mindlessly scrolling while waking up. I checked my DMs and there it was.

“Hey beautiful, I hope you don’t mind but I just had to say……”

I was pissed. Probably disproportionately to the small transgression of this LinkedIn second connection, who had decided to bust a move.

If you view it from his perspective, it’s just a little misplaced flirtation, maybe even a compliment, so what’s the big deal? I should just block and move on, right?

If you view it from my perspective, it’s yet another little transgression to add to the pile. A pile that underestimates women, pays us less, promotes us less, and devalues our work. And an addition to that pile can be damn infuriating.

So I felt mad, and cornered in my own inbox. That’s where 99% of the sexual harassment on LinkedIn I’ve experienced takes place. In the corners where no one else can see, where the guy’s boss and colleagues can’t view their comments. There, where I’m alone with them.

Contemplating what witty retort I might construct to this joker, I thought: “Men don’t have to put up with this shit…”.

And that’s how I came to change all my pronouns and change my profile photo to the first image a  Google “CEO stock photo” search threw up (By the way, it’s 24 images in before you even see a woman… seated at a desk listening to her male CEO).

For the better part of a month I became Andrew Myles 麦安德鲁, 55-year-old white, male CEO of a platform connecting innovation in China and Australia.

I’d turned myself into the stereotype. The average Australian ASX 200 CEO looks like this: white, male, private school educated and 55-years-old.

As I changed my pronouns, I could feel my stock going up. This Andrew bloke seemed to be doing pretty alright, being bilingual and having 15 years experience in China.

The response online was instantaneous. My own connections found it pretty funny and, to be honest, so did I. On a social media platform where people meticulously tend to their “personal brand”, cultivating their online presence like a precious bonsai , disrupting it and receiving applause emojis felt awesome and rebellious.

Over the course of the month, I commented and posted as I usually would. Same specialist subjects, same vocabulary.

Here’s what I noticed, from the good:

  • When I posted about China or innovation, I noticed I was being taken a little more seriously and no one re-explained my content back to me.
  • When I posted about gender equality, I noticed the general lack of men jumping on the thread to exclaim “men too”, and I got a LOT of kudos.
  • My LinkedIn algorithm changed, and I was connected with men of higher levels at more well-recognised companies.
  • I started to be connected to LinkedIn users who had profiles written exclusively in Chinese.
  • Sexual harassment = 0

… to the bad

  • But I also felt delegitimised in conversations about diversity, like I was just paying lip service without baring any of the risk.
  • I had no idea how to be a gender ally as I’d never done it before.
  • I felt my voice in innovation conversations was also more out of place now I’d lost my shiny millennial label.

But it is healthy to walk in someone else’s shoes. I thought I would feel like the top of the pile, being an old, white man online. While it’s true I had to explain myself less to be better understood and expend less energy to be heard, I didn’t expect to feel like an outsider in some of my regular topics of discussion.

“Micro-aggressions” describe the subtle, cumulative ways marginalised groups are discriminated against these days. The term was originally coined by psychiatrist and Harvard University professor Chester M. Pierce in 1970 to describe insults and dismissals he regularly witnessed non-black Americans inflict on African Americans.

Since then, it could be argued that explicit discrimination has declined, although micro-aggressions describe the subtle ways in which we still marginalise groups of people every day.

It’s why you might feel that a subtle flirtation online isn’t a big deal, because in isolation, it isn’t. Now I’m in my 30s and can look back on a decade and a half of experience, I can see that sexism isn’t a one-off, off-colour remark. It’s a trend. An interlocking system which as a kid, I honestly thought we would have got rid of by now.

When I was Andrew, I noticed things were just a little bit easier. I didn’t notice the massive radical change I thought I would, with people applauding and making me cups of tea wherever I went. But what I did notice were subtle encouragements, which I’m going to call “micro-affections”.

Those little actions that people take or do not take, which let me know that Andrew gets through his day just a little easier than Andrea, and get him a little further while doing so. It can be as subtle as people asking Andrew “where do you work?” and Andrea “who do you work for?”

Multiply that over a lifetime and I gained a glimpse of the difference this would have on how Andrew and Andrea are ranked by society and rank themselves.

So what did I learn being Andrew? Life wasn’t suddenly 100% peachy. I found myself feeling like a bit of an outsider in conversations about the future, innovation and tech, gender and diversity. But ultimately, with no sexual harassment and less explaining to do, I do still miss Andrew, his presumed wisdom and his ever so slightly easier life.

Walking in someone else’s shoes opened my eyes. Why not try it? Men, why not try being a woman online for three weeks. See what happens.

Discussions about gender can seem so intractable, especially when we’re so concerned with crafting our own narrative online and being right.

It’s funny how all it takes is three minutes and a quick Google image search to switch my gender. It’s almost as if it were a social construct.

Andrea Myles is CEO of the China Australia Millennial Project. You can follow her (and occasionally him) here.

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