First Impressions Matter

You never get a second chance to make a first impression.

Will Rogers (or Oscar Wilde), late 19th century or early 20th century

Early impressions are hard to eradicate from the mind. When once wool has been dyed purple, who can restore it to its previous whiteness?

Saint Jérôme,  late 4th century

When Will Rogers and Saint Jerome agree, they must be right, right? At GenderAvenger, we think so.

When we ask “Where are the women?”,  how many times have you heard what we are often told: “Don’t worry, this is just our preliminary list. Check back in awhile.”

That’s what happened after GenderAvenger, Rachel Sklar, and loads of others became part of the viral reaction to the Wall Street Journal announcement of its October WSJDLive conference with a full-page ad featuring 18 men and ZERO women. WSJDLive replied to our direct inquiry in a Facebook chat with "Stay tuned. That first WSJD Live announcement was just a preliminary one. We'll be announcing more speakers very shortly." Checking back, we found some change. Now there are now 5 women speakers (20%) – this is better than none but hardly bragging material.

The same thing happened when GenderAvenger (that means you) took on Fortune after the promotion of its July Brainstorm Tech 2014 conference touted 19 male and 3 women participants.

Brainstorm Tech 2014 must not have liked being in the Hall of Shame. They tweeted a reply:  “Please check back over the next few days. Many more ppl are being added to the site.” Checking back, we found an improvement in the number of participants, which is now up to a whopping 26%.

In our experience so far, it appears that first impressions not only count but may indeed be correct. Lo and behold, on the first day of Brainstorm Tech 2014, 10 men and one woman (10%) will be on the main stage. And, adding the second and final days, they manage to get all the way to 20% participation by women on the main stage. Even the roundtables and breakout sessions are out of balance at 26%. Of course that includes one session on the “equality gap” featuring two women and one man.

GenderAvenger updates its members when improvements occur. However, most folks’ first impression is likely to remain their only impression.

Emily Thorson, assistant professor of Media and Public Affairs at George Washington University, has found that first impressions have an outsize effect on attitudes. As she told us:

In the world of politics, I find that even when a piece of information about a candidate is immediately discredited, it continues to shape attitudes by creating what I call 'belief echoes.' The existence of belief echoes suggests that it is very difficult to undo the initial damage done by negative information.

Event organizers need to think before they advertise. They need to wonder what their “preliminary” agendas say about who’s important to the conversation they are conducting.

We will keep you informed. What else should we do? Add #1st impressions count to our tweets? Promote our 1st impressions count tumbler? Do a research project to prove our point? Something else?

Let us know.

P.S. We are hoping on the other side of the ledger that our Hall Of Famers benefit from their good first impressions!