The tech industry is largely predicated on an ambition to solve problems, and two women behind a recent tech startup have distinguished themselves as remarkable problem solvers. In order to make their online marketplace, Witchsy, a reality, Penelope Gazin and Kate Dwyer faced an all too common problem in tech: sexism. But they came up with very creative solution to deal with that problem.
The two business partners had to learn to navigate condescending male web developers and graphic designers who referred to them as “girls,” asked them out on dates, and dismissed their startup as a “cute hobby.” But after they created a fake male co-founder, the appropriately named Keith Mann, and began using the fabricated male alter ego to sign their emails, the two women said they noticed an immediate improvement in their business relationships.
“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.”
It was a sharp contrast, Gazin added, compared to their previous experience of being ignored, talked down to, or hit on via email. In one case, she confided, a web developer secretly tried to delete everything from their site in a nasty show of retribution after she turned down his offer for a sexual relationship.
In the year since it launched, Witchsy, a website created as a foil to larger creative marketplaces such as Etsy, managed to sell about $200,000 in art — and even secured an investment from Rick and Morty co-creator Justin Roiland. Without Keith Mann’s help, the site’s co-founders said, the project might never have been completed.
“I think we could have gotten pretty bent out of shape about that,” said Dwyer. “Wow, are people really going to talk to this imaginary man with more respect than us? But we were like, you know what, this is clearly just part of this world that we’re in right now. We want this and want to make this happen.”
Dwyer and Gazin’s remarkable story is set against the backdrop of a tech world that appears to be struggling deeply with sexism. Recent incidents include the case of a Google employee who wrote a company-wide memo declaring women are inherently different than men and, therefore, less likely to seek out tech jobs. There was also a highly-publicized incident in which an Uber board member who told Arianna Huffington that women talk too much during a meeting meant to address sexism at the company. In a case similar to Dwyer and Gazin’s, a male and female coworker recently shared what happened after they traded email addresses for the week — an experience that altered both of their perspectives on sexism forever.