Female Witchsy founders use fictional male to beat sexism

image copyrightWitchsy
image captionKate Dwyer (left) and Penelope Gazin, co-founders of Witchsy

Two female US entrepreneurs have revealed that they created an imaginary male co-founder to dodge sexism and make setting up their company easier.

Penelope Gazin and Kate Dwyer of online art marketplace Witchsy said male developers responded better to emails signed by "Keith Mann".

They replied faster and were less condescending, the entrepreneurs said.

Earlier this month a Google employee was fired for saying women were unsuited to tech.

The memo - which suggested there were fewer women at Google due to biological differences - broke the firm's code of conduct, chief executive Sundar Pichai said.

Ms Gazin and Ms Dwyer said they came up with the idea for Keith Mann because they were struggling to get the services they needed from graphic designers and web developers.

Potential collaborators in the male-dominated tech world were slow to reply and sometimes rude, Ms Dwyer told the BBC.

"The responses were cold and we were not taken seriously," she said, adding: "Developers didn't use our names in their emails; one used the term 'ok girls'."

'Difference in tone'

But things changed when fictional Keith Mann began signing their correspondence - with a certain level of assertiveness.

"Keith would chase things up; 'You guys said this would be done, what's the status?' he would write. The responses were pretty speedy," Ms Dwyer said.

She said that Keith was addressed by name and that "there was a noticeable difference in tone, a kind of level of comfort [in dealing with Keith]".

But rather than get angry, Ms Gazin and Ms Dwyer used Keith Mann to make progress on their start-up, now a year old and profitable.

In its first year, Witchsy has sold about $200,000 (£155,000) of offbeat and dark-humoured art from a number of artists, who receive 80% of the purchase price, its founders say.

The name Witchsy originated after the two became "frustrated" and "annoyed" with the banning of witchcraft-related items by online retailer Etsy, Ms Dwyer said.

In getting their business off the ground, however, she said they both felt "scrutinised".

"There's just not a lot of women in tech, there is such male dominance," she said.

In an interview with Fast Company magazine, Ms Dwyer said that her experience was "clearly just part of this world that we're in right now".

She said that while the introduction of Keith Mann helped Witchsy to materialise, the "ultimate goal is for a change in people's attitudes".

"It's unfortunate that we had to invent Keith to make progress, but no-one would get on board until we could show them what we were doing," Ms Dwyer said, adding that the services of developers were necessary to get their site up and running.

"Now that the business is established, we can send Keith on vacation," Ms Dwyer said.

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