These Female Entrepreneurs Created a Fake Male Co-Founder to Work Around Sexism. How Well It Worked Is Incredibly Eye Opening.
Their experience shows how despite an intensified focus on issues of sexism in the tech industry, there is still a long way to go.
From the scandals involving gender bias at Uber and Google and the resignations of two prominent investors as a result of accusations of sexual harassment, the last few months have seen an intense focus about how issues of workplace sexism and discrimination are addressed, especially in Silicon Valley.
The sexism at play in the tech industry can manifest in a number of ways. It doesn’t have to lead to the downfall of a big name CEO such as Travis Kalanick to be a pernicious force. But there are just as many ways that female founders are fighting back.
Last year, two Los Angeles artists, Penelope Gazin and Kate Dwyer, started a company called Witchsy, an online marketplace for art with an odd, unconventional sensibility. The pair bootstrapped the venture and brought in $200,000 in sales, with 80 percent of the transactions going back to the creator of the item that was purchased. But they found themselves running into the same roadblock over and over again.
Gazin and Dwyer told Fast Company about some of what they experienced as they worked to grow their company -- for example, a developer attempted to delete everything he had worked on for them after Gazin wouldn’t go out with him. While most of the time they weren’t up against outright sabotage, the reception they got to their questions was often condescending or demeaning.
Until these two female entrepreneurs came up with a solution. They created a third co-founder, a male partner aptly named Keith Mann. “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.” Gazin noted that Keith would always get addressed by name, while the two women did not get the same courtesy.
While Silicon Valley's tech scene is often the most talked about in the state of California, Los Angeles shouldn’t be dismissed, especially in the discussion about pay parity.
LiveStories, a hub for civic data, recently released its Los Angeles Gender Pay Gap report, which found that the gap for the tech community in particular is widening. Between 2006 and 2010, women in these occupations were paid 97 cents on the dollar, but as of 2015, women were making 82 cents on the dollar, which is worse than the national average of 84 cents on the dollar. According to the research, no other field in L.A. has become so much less equitable that quickly.
While we here at Entrepreneur are not necessarily advocating that you create an imaginary business partner -- for whatever aim you might have in mind -- what the Witchsy co-founders experienced is a damning illustration of how despite increased discussion around the harm of unfair treatment of women in the workplace, way more still needs to be done.
Nina Zipkin is a staff writer at Entrepreneur.com. She frequently covers leadership, media, tech, startups, culture and workplace trends.