Leaning Into the Step Backward

I once worked on a large project that required creating a number of characters to explain and, ultimately, sell the product my client offered. Now, no direction was given on this — except for the product.

In the process of creating these characters, I thought it might be a good idea to — since the product is high-tech and can be used across different types of organizations — put women in many of the roles. I thought that putting them in leadership positions could increase the visibility and impact the cultural awareness of women in STEM. That is, I’m in favor of trying to be the change you want to see in the world.

The client, however, disagreed. 

Now, that’s not to say I put it to the client in the same way as I did above. I merely presented it as another project. They weren’t buying it, though.

They said there were too many women in too many high-level roles to be believable. (A female CFO is unbelievable? Three out of five characters are women? That’s too many?)

I was surprised. The client-side team was all-female.

They went beyond complaining about the number of women — they also didn’t agree with the races used in some positions. Only an Asian or Indian could be in IT. One character didn’t look Hispanic enough. Another looked like he did her lawn, one woman said.

My point, though, aside from acknowledging the overt racism and sexism in the business world today, is that we damage ourselves when we act this way. In this case, the glass ceiling was reinforced by those it holds back (not to mention the perpetuation of racial stereotypes), which were then fed into the digital marketing we created, impacting (in some small way) all those who saw it.

I’ve seen lots of sexism and racism (including reverse) — and I have rarely seen it benefit the racist or sexist. There’s always a cost.

In the end, they weren’t happy with some of my pieces and secured a different writer for a later phase of the project. They’d traded quality for speed. Thus, I’m not certain I would have taken another project with them anyway. I don’t like to produce shoddy work. And I don’t like being forced to do so even more.

Final lesson: Writers get to know you.

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