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It’s easy to understand on a theoretical level that female founders face more hurdles launching successful startups. It’s less common to see the often insidious sexism they face blatantly illustrated.
Penelope Gazin and Kate Dwyer a year ago launched a successful art marketplace, Witchsy. The site, which has sold $200,000 worth of art, needed contributions from developers and designers to get off the ground. Many of those contractors were men, who often behaved dismissively toward Gazin and Dwyer and their cute art project.
So the pair invented a third cofounder, who only communicated with difficult outsiders via email. Keith Mann (get it?) became the invisible yet vocal third partner in Witchsy.
Of course, it worked.
“It was like night and day,” Dwyer told Fast Company. “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.”
While Gazin and Dwyer dealt with a developer who addressed them with the greeting, “Okay, girls,” Mann was addressed by name. Mann’s “presence,” for some people who worked with Witchsy, changed their perception of and even legitimized the business.
These differences weren’t an anomaly. A viral Twitter thread earlier this year captured a similar experience when a man at an employee services firm accidentally emailed a client as his coworker, Nicole. Martin Schneider found that “Nicole” faced rude pushback from clients that he never experienced when doing the same work under his own name.
I was in hell. Everything I asked or suggested was questioned. Clients I could do in my sleep were condescending. One asked if I was single.
— Martin R. Schneider (@SchneidRemarks) March 9, 2017
These examples are yet another reminder of how hard it is to be a woman in the tech industry, where unconscious and conscious bias cause women to face questioning of their skills and knowledge constantly.
Keith Mann, on the other hand? He gets the royal treatment.