Saturday, September 2, 2017

On the internet, nobody knows you’re a woman

So last week I posted about the problem of buyer/customer discrimination; we have laws to deal with discrimination by employers, by businesses that sell to the public, by landlords – but there isn’t much to address discrimination that runs in the other direction.

It was timely, then, that this article has been making the internet rounds:

When Penelope Gazin and Kate Dwyer decided to start their own online marketplace for weird art, they didn’t expect it to be easy. After all, the L.A.-based duo of artists were bootstrapping the project with a few thousand dollars of their own money and minimal tech skills. But it wasn’t just a tight budget that added friction to the slow crawl toward launching; the pair also faced their share of doubt from outsiders, spanning from the condescending to the outright sexist.

…  After setting out to build Witchsy, it didn’t take long for them to notice a pattern: In many cases, the outside developers and graphic designers they enlisted to help often took a condescending tone over email. These collaborators, who were almost always male, were often short, slow to respond, and vaguely disrespectful in correspondence. In response to one request, a developer started an email with the words “Okay, girls…”

That’s when Gazin and Dwyer introduced a third cofounder: Keith Mann, an aptly named fictional character who could communicate with outsiders over email.

“It was like night and day,” says 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.”

Dwyer and Gazin continued to deploy Keith regularly when interacting with outsiders and found that the change in tone wasn’t just an anomaly. In exchange after exchange, the perceived involvement of a man seemed to have an effect on people’s assumptions about Witchsy and colored how they interacted with the budding business. One developer in particular seemed to show more deference to Keith than he did to Dwyer or Gazin, right down to the basics of human interaction.

“Whenever he spoke to Keith, he always addressed Keith by name,” says Gazin. “Whenever he spoke to us, he never used our names.”

Stories like this are pretty common; for company founders, they may be disadvantaged but they can just try to power through it – as these women did – but when the woman on the receiving end is someone else’s employee, it can affect her job performance, as illustrated by this twitter thread.

In sum, plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose.

Ann Lipton | Permalink


Thanks for posting this, Ann. I had a good belly laugh watching the video. But I am not as entertained by the continuing anti-female bias . . . . I can say, however, that I think these female entrepreneurs were pretty crafty. Props to them.

Posted by: joanheminway | Sep 3, 2017 4:32:45 PM

Heh - there are really no words for how much I loved (still love!) Remington Steele. But man, I too would have preferred it stayed fictional!

Posted by: Ann Lipton | Sep 3, 2017 4:41:02 PM

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