Join

Enter Details

Comment on stories, receive email newsletters & alerts.

@
This is your permanent identity for Business Insider Australia
Your email must be valid for account activation
Minimum of 8 standard keyboard characters

Subscribe

Email newsletters but will contain a brief summary of our top stories and news alerts.

Forgotten Password

Enter Details


Back to log in

2 women entrepreneurs who invented a fake male cofounder say acting through him was 'like night and day'

Penelope Gazin Kate Dwyer witchsy 2Courtesy of WitchsyKate Dwyer, left, and Penelope Gazin are the cofounders of art marketplace Witchsy.
  • Witchsy cofounders Penelope Gazin and Kate Dwyer created a fake male cofounder to conduct business by email.

  • They noticed an enormous difference between how contractors and contacts treated him versus how they treated the women.
  • They’re glad to see that the story of Keith Mann, their fictional cofounder, is bringing more attention to sexism in tech and in the workplace.

Penelope Gazin, Kate Dwyer, and Keith Mann are the cofounders of art marketplace Witchsy.

But Mann doesn’t exist.

Gazin and Dwyer told Fast Company’s John Paul Titlow that they invented their third, male, cofounder after repeated instances of condescension with a sexist tone, like a developer who addressed an email to them starting, “OK, girls …”

“It was like night and day,” Dwyer told Titlow of working through Mann. “It would take me days to get a response, but Keith could not only get a response and a status update, but also be asked if he wanted anything else or if there was anything else that Keith needed help with.”

On Quartz, Dwyer told Lila MacLellan that before Mann existed, “it was very clear no one took us seriously and everybody thought we were just idiots.” But when those same people received emails from Mann, Gazin told MacLellan, “they’d be like ‘OK, bro, yeah, let’s brainstorm!'”

Dwyer told MacLellan they even gave Mann a backstory:

“He was a dude’s dude, they decided, the kind who played football in college. He was devoted to his wife of five years, and he couldn’t wait to be a dad. ‘He was just a really good guy,’ says Gazin. ‘He doesn’t really understand Kate and I, but he’s been happy to help us with our project before we find husbands.'”

Dwyer and Gazin’s experience struggling to be taken seriously as company founders isn’t as unique as you might hope. Gender bias and sexism in the business world is well-documented.

One of the biggest stories in tech this year was the internal memo sent by Google engineer James Damore, who was fired from the company after writing that there are biological differences to blame for the lack of women in tech. Google CEO Sundar Pichai responded that the claims were “offensive and not OK,” but that “people must feel free to express dissent” in a respectful way.

And the stunning string of blows that ultimately led to Uber CEO Travis Kalanick stepping down from his post began with a blog post by former employee Susan Fowler alleging she experienced gender bias and sexual harassment at the company.

There have been reported instances of gender bias and sexism in every industry from Hollywood to economics.

In an email to Business Insider the day after Fast Company reported on Mann’s existence, Dwyer reflected on the reaction they have gotten to the news.

“People have been losing their minds over the fact that we just gave him the last name Mann,” Dwyer said. “So masculine.”

She continued: “When people read about Keith they have been pretty upset at the idea that a fake character was taken more seriously than we were. He’s being used as a tool now to help highlight how rampant sexism is in tech and the workplace in general. It’s been great seeing so many people respond positively. Once again, Keith has done a great job!!”

NOW WATCH: Ideas videos

Business Insider Emails & Alerts

Site highlights each day to your inbox.

Follow Business Insider Australia on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and Instagram.