A Canadian woman in her mid-30s needed a job—and fast. She had two young daughters, was single, and living in a tiny Quebec apartment. So she turned to the Web, started a business, and hit a wall. “I was having a hard time landing jobs. I was being turned down for gigs I should’ve gotten,” she says. So the woman did what many female writers have often wondered about: she changed her name. She became James Chartrand, the founder of “Men with Pens,” a Canadian Web design and copywriting business whose testosterone-heavy Website declares it’ll help you “hit the bulls-eye of success.”
Suddenly, jobs came pouring in. The woman’s day rate doubled. Business opportunities fell into her lap. People asked for her advice—and thanked her for it. “It’s a fact that the majority of business is conducted by men,” Chartrand, who has not revealed her real name, told NEWSWEEK by phone. “So I assumed, if I choose a male name I’ll be viewed as somebody who runs a company, not a mom sitting at home with a child hanging off her leg.” Apparently it worked. The 38-year-old Quebec mom shared her thoughts on the experience.
Why out yourself?
I’ve been running this way since 2006, and I really didn’t have any intention of telling anyone. It worked and I earned a living. But an ex-business partner started telling people, and I wanted to set the record straight.
Did your business partners already know?
They didn’t know at first. But once I knew I could trust them, they got a phone call. And I have to say, they all laughed. They said “It’s brilliant, it’s great.” But they already knew me. They had a sense of who I was.
What if you had to talk to people on the phone?
Sometimes I bit the bullet and told them who I was, sometimes I was "James's assistant"—but I highly avoided phone and usually told people we just don't do calls. That "Can I call you?" question was the one I hated the most!
You’ve said it was somewhat of a fluke that you changed your name—to disassociate with a former business. But you must have had an idea about what a male name might get you.
I knew when I chose the name it was for a one-shot deal. I wanted to hire people on the Internet and I didn’t want to be seen as a mommy blogger, I wanted to be seen as serious and credible. So I chose a male name for that. And I have to say, the result didn’t surprise me much. I figured it would happen that way. I guess it reinforced my own perceptions of the world.
Do you consider yourself a feminist?
No. Which is why it’s funny that I have people calling me the next evangelist for the women’s movement. I don’t consider myself an activist, I didn’t want to break any glass ceilings. I’m all behind people who want to do that, but I don’t want to be the leader standing out there shouting for equal rights. We should know these things by now, you know? When it all comes down to it, I’m here for me and my family, that’s what matters most. But it has definitely sparked a conversation.
How much did your pay rate go up when you changed your name?
It immediately doubled. But what got me the most was not necessarily that I got more money, but that nobody questioned it. Nobody told me it was too expensive. Nobody asked me to bring it down. And even today, when I use my real name and I do business, there is always, always, “Is that the lowest you can go?”
What’s next, now that your gender has been revealed?
Well, I don’t want to give up the name, quite frankly. There’s a huge difference in respect I’ve noticed, and I don’t want to give that up. In a way I really found the whole experience liberating. Society tells you you’re supposed to act a certain way, and suddenly I was free of that stereotype.