Should female founders in tech invent a male co-founder?

What’s in a name? If you work in tech, it seems to depend whether your name is male or female.

You don’t think so? Well, consider the story of the founders of online art marketplace Witchsy: Penelope Gazin, Kate Dwyer, and Keith Mann.

Except - Keith Mann doesn’t exist. ‘Mann’ was invented by the women co-founders to combat the condescension they faced from male developers and designers they worked with when launching their site.

Gazin and Dwyer reported that the fictitious Mann saw faster responses to his emails, and a greater willingness to engage with his ideas. All because he was a ‘Mann’. In fact, they described the difference in the way they were treated as like, “night and day.”

Why this is significant? Because it's another example of how the tech industry is struggling with gender bias.

We already know that women are hired to tech roles in lower numbers than men and leave tech at twice the rate of their male colleagues. The experience highlights the difficulties women face even when they should have power – when they are creating new opportunities and offering business to tech vendors.

As the influence of the tech industry continues to increase, and the number of women entrepreneurs grows, we can’t afford to continue dismissing women-led opportunities. So what can we do to interrupt this bias?

Raise awareness and speak up

Raising awareness is step one in addressing the problem. It definitely isn’t easy for women who need a job, investment or other help to speak up, and there are many examples of the backlash they face from hiring managers, investment companies and online trolls, so I applaud the founders of Witchsy for telling their story.

At, we're committed to being an ally, and working hard to raise awareness about these issues through our conferences, workshop and presentations. We're also developing tools and solutions to support gender equity in the workplace.

Make gender equity everyone's issue

The majority of tech CEOs, management, engineers and developers are men, so change will only happen if these men recognise the issue, and push for change. I'm encouraged by the shift I see among male leaders who recognise that gender equity isn't a ‘women’s issue’ but ‘everyone’s issue’.

Anyone who believes in gender equity – man or woman – should invite their male colleagues to learn more about gender equity and its value in the workplace. Unconscious bias training might not eliminate our biases, but it's eye-opening to learn where our biases lie.

Address systemic biases

It's not just women who are held back by gender inequality. Our businesses, economies and societies can't achieve their full potential when we limit half our population. In fact, earlier this year, McKinsey reported that gender bias is costing Canada $150 billion.

If government, institutions and companies believe this issue is important then they need to address their people, process and systemic biases.

Achieving gender equity will surely be a long journey, but I believe that technology will be the greatest enabler of social change, and this is why tech companies need to address their biases, and prepare to lead this change.

Read the  Fast Company article.

Visit the Witchsy website.


Wyle Baoween