This female startup invented a fake male CEO to expose the sexism of business
I have something that gives me an inherent advantage in the world of technology, and sadly it’s nothing to do with aptitude. It’s that handy Y chromosome which gives me a whole series of invisible advantages from being higher on the pay scale to being given unfair deference in meetings. A gentleman may indeed make his own luck, but his biological roll of the dice should certainly be credited with an assist.
The key word there, of course, is “invisible”. Although my beard and 6ft 4in frame may make my gender instantly apparent, there are plenty who believe that the playing field is entirely equal for men and women. To those people, here’s an interesting case study to chew over, concerning Witchsy – an online marketplace for art that doesn’t fit in with Etsy’s saccharine flavour of whimsy.
As explained to Fast Company, the company founders Penelope Gazin and Kate Dwyer discovered that the men they found themselves dealing with as they tried to get their business off the ground were pretty trying: terse and condescending, one developer even tried to stealthily delete code from the website when Gazin turned him down for a date.
This is when Gazin and Dwyer decided to hire a man: Keith Mann to be precise. Only Keith was purely fictional: an imaginary CEO hidden behind a wall of email text to placate their sexist business partners. “It was like night and day,” explained Dwyer. “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.”
“I think we could have gotten pretty bent out of shape about that,” Dwyer continued. “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.”
And they have. In its first year, Witchsy has turned over around $200,000 worth of art, giving content creators 80% of every transaction. The result is the Keith Mann has stepped down from the day-to-day fake running of the business to spend more time, no doubt, on the fake golf course.
The phenomenon of men being taken more seriously than women in business – especially technology – is not a new one. Indeed, a 2006 study discovered that women are more likely to moderate the way they write emails so as to be seen as friendly, rather than awkward. This fascinatingly depressing Twitter Moment demonstrates what happens when men and women accidentally swap email signatures.