Women! Share your numbers! (aka ‘The surprising reason why I give women fewer work opportunities’)

Two common complaints:

  1. From ‘the public’ – “Women aren’t asked as often as men to sit on panels, speak at events, write expert columns, etc…”
  2. From commissioning editors – “Women are harder to find”

Question is: why are they harder to find?

A weird answer recently hit me in the face.

One morning, I was increasingly exasperated at being unable to find a Conservative activist teacher to write an expert column. I amassed a hit list of five names. I put the women first, for balance, as that week we already had several male writers.

But I couldn’t find a mobile number or email for any of them. Meanwhile the two men had mobile numbers listed on their web pages.

As this was happening, the latest edition of Schools Week (the newspaper I work for) arrived. I flipped through, then recoiled in horror. On the editorial team page someone had printed our mobile numbers. There was mine, right under a pic of my face.

“Mum will not be best pleased” was my first thought. (And began rehearsing how I’d calm her security worries).

Then I thought: This is stupid. Here I am complaining that women don’t put their mobile numbers in public at the same time as I now panic about mine being out there.

Besides what was I worried about? That a random person might call me up and say mean things? That people might figure out how to contact me?

Well, yes. Exactly.

And here appears to lie a genuine if very subtle difference between men and women. In subsequent weeks of discussing this incident I’ve yet to find a woman happy for her mobile number to be strewn around the world. Plenty of men, however, said they’ve never once thought NOT to share it.

Women all said their fears were predicated on something bad happening, and that because they would have given their number out to strangers they would somehow be part-responsible for the ambiguous Bad Thing.

Some men were also uneasy about numbers being public, but largely it was because they wanted a work-life separation. Safety was rarely mentioned. “I was told not to as a kid” and “Bad Thing would be my fault” were never mentioned.

I’ve written before about how much I hate a big deal being made out of gender differences but this one smacked me in the face.

Seems to me, women simply don’t put their contact details out in the world at the same rate as men. Hence they don’t get contacted with opportunities at the same rate either.

Simple, ridiculous and easy to solve, right?

Only, would you recommend I end this blog with my phone number? I thought about it. But it still felt like I was just asking for trouble.


20 thoughts on “Women! Share your numbers! (aka ‘The surprising reason why I give women fewer work opportunities’)

  1. Good article … Women feel vulnerable. And are castigated for being naive. Compare with Curley’s Wife in Of Mice & Men. Bad thing her fault too.
    It’s not too long since dirty phone calls with heavy breathers were a problem on landlines. Ex directory was an ace way to go to prevent / stop that. Mobile numbers not listed so generally you’re safer.
    When I had my mobile number out with a work ad for private language tuition a few years ago I got a series of dirty phone calls. My approach was just to hang up. But after a while it is intimidating.

  2. I have never considered leaving my mobile number on my website. I figure if someone want to contact me they’ll email. On reflection I attribute this to being a curmudgeon and not wanting to have unnecessary conversations. I have though felt baffled my the reluctance to share emails on Twitter – the expectation is that these precious pieces of information must only be shared privately by direct mail. Whenever I put my email address on the public stream someone always gets in touch to let me know the apparent dangers.

    Anyway, in the interests of social experimentation: 07966355059

  3. I think a large part of this may be to do with the fact that when a woman is the victim of a crime the assumptiom is usually that she was to somehow at fault. She shouldn’t have dressed provocatively, been out late at night alone, drunk, etc. Men almost never get blamed in the same way as women victims do. So,I suppose in the back of our minds we think that if something happened people will say, “She put her number out there so what did she expect?”

  4. Working for a listening service (Nightline) led me to very intense awareness/paranoia re how disturbing (and common) it is to receive unexpected abusive or sexual phone calls, and also how those callers primarily do so to female volunteers.

    Your point may be correct, but the buffer zone of email feels like a necessary security. Sadly.

  5. I’ts easy enough to have a second, cheap,”pay as you go” phone with a fiver on it.Keep the number for things like this.Choose when you are and aren’t available with the off switch and if things do go wrong, it goes in the bin.

    1. I think that’s probably a smart compromise. Though it still doesn’t get to the core of (a) what we think is going to happen, and (b) why women feel that’s necessary more than men.

      1. I think the second phone suggestion is relevant irrespective of gender, if you’re going to put your contact details out there for the whole weird world you have to be ready to change them. That said women are statistically(from what I remember ,please don’t ask for a source) more vulnerable to crimes involving stalking and the like and hence (I believe) intuitively more protective of the information that lets other people locate them.

  6. Damn, comment failed to upload!
    For me, this is more about keeping the personal/private separate from professional ‘work’ life. So as Lynn says, 2 different mobiles. Currently only one mobile, so once email contact established would decide whether to share mobile. @rrunsworth

  7. If you don’t share your number out, you will never know whether you’ve missed out. I have shared my mobile number because I’m always out and about delivering RFR, but people prefer to get in touch by email anyway!

  8. I can understand the need to have work/life separation and to keep yourself protected from unwanted calls (I think calls from Laura offering work would be classified as wanted though).

    Some of us have multiple numbers to handle this. I have a work phone (provided by my employers), a personal phone (under a personal contract) and then I have numbers I give out where they are not related to my day job (or where my employer would consider it as not in my normal remit but I am free to follow up privately) or not close enough to give out my personal number.
    These numbers will either by a free PAYG Sim stuck into an old phone (unlocked after upgrading as part of contract renewal) that I have only ever put £5 top up on in the last 3 years, or my SkypeIn number …

    Being honest, this is not too dissimilar to how people have email addresses used when signing up for things … you create a gmail account just for this so you don’t get a heap of spam, but one you can use if you are not sure what you are getting in to.

    It is also similar to how some celebs run their phones … They have a ‘known’ number which is controlled by an aide, and a personal number known to hardly anyone.

    Protecting yourself and having work/life balance is easy enough, but takes a bit of thought who you want to contact you and how easy to make it.

  9. I wouldn’t put my phone number or home address anywhere public because of the risk of stalkers. I’ve had one person with mental health problems and a history of harassing people (in real life) they found on the internet making comments about me (although fortunately they lost interest when I just didn’t respond). There was also a commenter and tweeter who seemed completely obsessed with me. I would block them, stop them commenting on my blog, stop responding and then months later their timeline on twitter would still be full of tweets about me. Also, when anonymous, I had someone taking a picture of me and posting it online, and others tweeting my real name. So all in all, I have suspicions about a lack of respect for my privacy and a worry about finding one of the more unstable types rummaging through my bins one evening. Similarly, I have never clearly said on Twitter who my girlfriend is (although it’s hardly a secret) in case this causes her to get hassle.

    However, and I admit I have not looked up the evidence, I think women, particularly young women, are probably more at risk of stalkers. I’ve never experienced anything like some women bloggers I know have, so I can’t help thinking that women have more reason not to share their number (although, obviously, that is, as far as I know, entirely the fault of men and a terrible thing).

    Because of this suspicion that women have more fear of unwlecome attention, when I organise social events for bloggers, I try to do it obsessively by email and DM, not by text message or phone. Recently, I’ve also been trying to include lists of who is going to any event (if people agree to me sharing their name) and I think (on flimsy evidence) that this has also resulted in more of a gender balance. Not sure how this principle can apply to any of the other circumstances where women are reluctant to take part though.

    1. Here’s the thing though – you make a distinction between private/public and we seem to have got ourselves into the idea that email/DM is ‘public’ but text or phone is ‘private’ but, when I think about it, I can’ see where that has come from?

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