How a man named Courtney is helping women overcome gender bias

Usually when a man tries to offer females advice on how to succeed as a woman in their workplace, they are often called mansplainers or misogynists.

But for one Melbourne dad, his tips come from experiencing gender bias firsthand.

Johnny Cash sung about A Boy Named Sue, burdened with a girl’s name and having to prove his masculinity through life, but Courtney Dorward is embracing his “unusual name” and using his experiences in gender bias to help others.

Mr Dorward is a digital product owner at NAB, where part of his role includes offering mentorship to colleagues and speaking at industry seminars.

Dad Courtney Dorward is an advocate for women in business.
Courtney Dorward is helping women in business overcome gender bias because he has seen it for himself, with his traditionally-female name.

The 35-year-old often coaches women, helping them overcome perceived gender bias in their careers. Mr Dorward knows their struggle, because with a traditionally-female first name, he has experienced it too.

‘I didn’t really notice it was unusual’

Mr Dorward and his wife – who happens to have the traditionally-male name of Rhyse – both grew up in a small town in rural NSW, near Wagga Wagga, where they each didn’t realise their names were uncommon for their gender.

“I didn’t really notice it was unusual. Teachers didn’t allude to that when I was a kid, and adults didn’t pick up on it,” he told Yahoo News Australia.

“As I got older I realised it was different, and other kids realised it was a different name. [But] I didn’t get teased for having a girls’ name.”

He said his dad is Canadian, so he suspected the name had a French influence. His siblings have common names for their genders, with brothers Justin and Lachlan, and sisters Ebony and Katie, while his wife’s brother’s name is Jarred.

“I didn’t get to chose it, but I am enjoying it,” Mr Dorward told Yahoo News Australia of his own name.

Dad Courtney Dorward (left), with wife Rhyse and their son Talon. Source: Courtney Dorward
Dad Courtney Dorward (left), with wife Rhyse and their son Talon. Source: Courtney Dorward

He and his wife have a three-year-old boy named Talon, and another child on the way. He said their shortlist of baby names was unconsciously gender-neutral.

“Because we’ve had such a life on uniqueness, it’s not risky – it’s comfortable,” he said.

A traditionally-female name is met with confusion

Despite being comfortable with his name, Mr Dorward is constantly overcoming hurdles when it comes to public perception.

He has often been questioned about his identity while picking up packages or using credit cards in the days before payWave.

“I never put coffee or pizza orders in my real name. I always use CJ which is my nickname,” he said.

When he tried to correct an insurance policy in the name of Mr Rhyse and Mrs Courtney Dorward, he was told only Mrs Courtney Dorward would be able to close the account – but she obviously didn’t exist.

And just this week, his three-year-old came home from daycare with a Father's Day present that the workers had addressed “To Rhyse".

Kensington dad Courtney Dorward (left), with wife Rhyse and their son Talon.
Courtney (left) and wife Rhyse Dorward (right) with their son Talon, are planning a gender-neutra name for their unborn child. Source: Courtney Dorward

Helping women overcome gender bias at work

As an adult, now living in Kensignton, west of Melbourne, Mr Dorward has noticed a definitive gender bias in the way people, especially men, communicate – particularly in the workplace.

“I experience the crap [women] have to go through just to be heard,” he said.

“Something else I experience is when people communicate over email and assume my gender as female. I can see the change in tone over email from that realisation point onwards.”

He said he often receives emails from men who assume he’s an “order taker”, with detailed instructions about a simple project.

If he pushes back on anything, he is sometimes told to “just do it”.

“I worked with a lady called Sam and we managed an email inbox together and she felt the same but opposite tone.”

He said the tone later flipped when the associates met the pair in person, then Sam began receiving the more condescending emails.

Being “a huge advocate for women in business”, Mr Dorward is using his experiences with gender bias to relate to females in his industry and help them overcome this for themselves.

He is leaning on his communication techniques as tools for colleagues, who he has also coached on how to negotiate promotions and pay rises – some areas which women are often afraid to broach with their managers.

“If I can show vulnerability in my name, it helps other people open up about their own vulnerabilities,” he said.

Champion Kelly Slater, with a traditionally-female first name, surfs at Jeffreys Bay, South Africa.
Surfing champion Kelly Slater is such a household name that many don't bad an eyelid to his traditionally-female name. Source: Ed Sloane / WSL via Getty

Famous people with reverse gendered names

While a man named Courtney and a woman named Rhyse might appear unconventional, dozens of celebrities have names commonly given to the opposite gender, which don’t seem out of place as household names.

We hardly bat an eyelid these days to the actresses with traditionally male names: Drew Barrymore; Glenn Close; Blake Lively; and Reese Witherspoon.

Some unconventionally-named men that come to mind are surfer Kelly Slater; basketballer Tracey McGrady; comedians Tracy Morgan and Leslie Nielsen; and actor Dana Carvey, who played Garth from Wayne's World.

And let’s not forget Fleetwood Mac flying the flag for progressive names, with female singer Stevie Nicks and former male guitarist Lindsey Buckingham.

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