Where Your Reputation Preceeds You

Anyone who is of a certain age (or is a fan of the show Mad Men) likely knows how far women have come in the workplace over the past generation. We no longer are expected to work as secretaries and leave the office for good upon giving birth to a child. We no longer are openly belittled and objectified. While we may not yet make the same salaries or get promoted at the same rates, the gaps are narrowing and women have the ability to pursue almost any profession they desire.

But you’ve heard the old saying: two steps forward and one step backwards. That’s how I feel about our progress these days – in the digital age. The gains described above reflect the “two steps forward” that women are making each and every day. But new workplace realities in a virtual world often get delineated, as if by default, along crass gender lines.

A worker’s online reputation is a case in point. As the recent furor over companies asking job applicants for their Facebook password illustrates, no longer is it sufficient to consult references as part of a standard background check. Instead, that background examination now includes a close perusal of a person’s Twitter feed, Facebook profile, Pinterest page, and much more. Employers are also likely to “Google” a candidate’s name to see what comes up. Thanks to this practice, information about you that was public years ago can be viewed by bosses – and, of course, be preserved for eternity online.

What’s your online and social media record? Do you need to go about repairing your online reputation? These are important questions to ask, even if you’re currently employed. And especially if you’re a woman.

Not too long ago, I was working at a mid-sized firm while also being careless with my Facebook use. I didn’t take any pains to de-tag myself from compromising pictures – pictures where I was inebriated – and would occasionally Tweet about my company (although never in a negative way) while at work. If this sounds foolhardy to you, perhaps it was, but I had one strong factor in my defense: the male employees at the firm took no pains to manage their online reputation. I often saw “inappropriate” photos of them on Facebook – photos that our bosses could see, as well.

But that’s where the similarities ended. Although I ran into trouble among co-workers and bosses and was ultimately let go as a result of my online reputation, the men in my office were entirely immune. Nobody cared that they drank at outside functions. A woman, on the other hand, was fair grounds for censure.

Speaking with other women made me realize that this is too often the case. Whether employed or in the application process, fired or simply criticized, our personal lives tend to matter more than the personal lives of male employees. And, since our online reputation is often an extension (or at least a reflection) of our personal lives, we need to be far more cautious about it than the average man.

So my advice for workers: manage your reputation carefully. Don’t let your Facebook profile be viewed by non-friends and err on the side of disclosing less information online, not more. Conduct a Google search of yourself and try to assess the data out there when applying for any job.

And my advice for women: stay vigilant when it comes to discrimination in the workforce – even of the digital age variety. Although tremendous progress has been made new challenges only continue to arise, meaning that it is always important to be cognizant of the situation around you.

Photo credit: iStockphoto

About the author: Samantha Peters enjoys writing on topics that relate to avoiding gender-based discrimination in the modern workplace.  With an ever-expanding accessibility to your personal information found on the internet, managing your online reputation must remain a high priority in order to successfully grow your career.

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