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founders of witchsy

These women created a fake male co-founder to help with their startup

The subject of sexism in professional settings is still a hotly debated topic. Many - if not most - women will have a story about how their gender negatively affected their role in their workplace, but often such accounts are ignored or not taken seriously.

For entrepreneurs Penelope Gazin and Kate Dwyer, sexism was a huge barrier when it came to starting their own company. The pair were attempting to open up 'Witchsy', an online shop selling offbeat clothing and quirky designs, but whenever they pitched their idea, they were met with rather patronising responses.

"When we were getting started, we were immediately faced with ‘Are you sure? Does this sound like a good idea?’" Dwyer said in an interview. "I think because we’re young women, a lot of people looked at what we were doing like, ‘What a cute hobby!’ or ‘That’s a cute idea.'"

A lot of the opposition they faced certainly seemed to be linked to their gender, with one of the most extreme instances of backlash coming from a male web developer threatening to delete everything the pair had built after Gazin refused to go on a date with him.

Unwilling to give up on their endeavours, the women came up with a plan to get more people to listen to them about their project. It was simple: they would invent a male co-founder. The fabricated business partner they came up with was aptly named, 'Keith Mann', and the alias was used whenever Gazin or Dwyer had to communicate with people via email.

According to Dwyer, the difference was instantly noticeable:

“It was like night and day. 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.”

alt Credit: Witchsy

Even when the pair would then take over communications and deal with associates using their real identities, they found that their imaginary co-founder was always the most trusted and respected out of all of them. Gazin mentioned another developer who would always defer to Mr. Mann when speaking with her, and who also treated the women in a much more impersonal manner than he treated Keith. "Whenever he spoke to Keith, he always addressed Keith by name," she said. "Whenever he spoke to us, he never used our names."

The founders aren't bitter about it, though. In its first year, Witchsy has sold $200,000 of merchandise, which is no mean feat for a company that was brushed off as a 'cute hobby'. Gazin and Dwyer seem to have taken it all in their stride, saying that,

“I think we could have gotten pretty bent out of shape about that. 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.”

Cases like this are not uncommon, either. A quick search of the hashtag 'everydaysexism' will bring up thousands of results of women saying very similar things.

And while it may seem petty to those who don't have to deal with things like this - just remember that cases of sexism are not usually isolated incidents, and obviously have a detrimental effect on women when they're constantly being undermined in the workplace.

For Gazin and Dwyer, though, the story has a happy ending. Oh, and Keith has since been let go from the company.