The tech world is for bros only. Faced with rampant frat culture, it isn’t easy for women trying to make it in the tech business. From sexist condescension to overt sexual harassment, men of Silicon Valley make it clear women are not welcome.
Two women entrepreneurs, Penelope Gazin and Kate Dwyer, took a sneaky tactic to tackle sexism in the startup world. They enlisted the services of a man called Keith Mann to act as the third co-founder of their art marketplace company: Witchsy.
One small detail, Keith Mann does not exist in real life.
Grazin and Dwyer created Keith Mann to handle communication with outside tech workers. Early on, Grazin and Dwyer found that when they were dealing with outside web developers or graphic designers they would often get a condescending or disrespectful tone over email. They believed that wouldn’t happen if a man was in charge, so they built a 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.”
Mann also helped shield them from sexual harassment. One web developer they hired tried to delete everything on the Witchsy site when Grazin refused to go out with him.
Of course, it’s easier when you can simply pretend to be a man via email but for the women working side-by-side with tech bros, it’s a different story.
The list of tech companies accused of sexual harassment in the workplace is long. The heavily-funded virtual reality startup UploadVR was on the fast track for success until its former Director of Digital and Social Media sued them for sexual harassment in May.
The lawsuit claimed that UploadVR “created a ‘boy’s club environment at work, focused on sex and degrading women, including female employees.”
In June, co-founder Justin Caldbeck of the venture capital firm, Binary Capital, left the company after a half dozen women who work in the tech industry say they faced unwanted and inappropriate advances from him while discussing business.
Earlier this year, former Uber engineer Susan Fowler accused the ride-sharing company’s human resources department of systematically ignoring her sexual harassment complaints.
Last tuesday, California State Senator Hannah-Beth Jackson introduced a bill to tackle sexual harassment/misconduct in Silicon Valley. Specifically, the bill seeks to address harassment between start-ups and the venture capitalists they rely on. Jackson called investors “gatekeepers” to the tech world. She hopes to lessen the hostility women face when trying to gain access.
And we can’t forget the (ex) Google employee who wrote that memo bemoaning the company’s attempts to increase diversity in hiring.
It makes you wonder how he would feel about Keith Mann.