To be taken more seriously in business, Penelope Gazin and Kate Dwyer created a fictional third cofounder for their company, Witchsy: Keith.
But Mann doesn't exist.
Gazin and Dwyer told Fast Company's John Paul Titlow that they invented their third, male, cofounder after repeated instances of condescension with a sexist tone, like a developer who addressed an email to them starting, "Okay, girls ..."
"It was like night and day," Dwyer told Titlow of working through Mann. "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."
On Quartz, Dwyer told Lila MacLellan that before Mann existed, "it was very clear no one took us seriously and everybody thought we were just idiots." But when those same people received emails from Mann, Gazin told MacLellan, "they'd be like 'Okay, bro, yeah, let's brainstorm!'"
Dwyer told MacLellan they even gave Mann a backstory:
"He was a dude's dude, they decided, the kind who played football in college. He was devoted to his wife of five years, and he couldn't wait to be a dad. 'He was just a really good guy,' says Gazin. 'He doesn't really understand Kate and I, but he's been happy to help us with our project before we find husbands.'"
Dwyer and Gazin's experience struggling to be taken seriously as company founders isn't as unique as you might hope. Gender bias and sexism in the business world is well-documented.
One of the biggest stories in tech this year was the internal memo sent by Google engineer James Damore, who was fired from the company after writing that there are biological differences to blame for the lack of women in tech. Google CEO Sundar Pichai responded that the claims were "offensive and not OK," but that "people must feel free to express dissent" in a respectful way.
And the stunning string of blows that ultimately led to Uber CEO Travis Kalanick stepping down from his post began with a blog post by former employee Susan Fowler alleging she experienced gender bias and sexual harassment at the company.
In an email to Business Insider the day after Fast Company reported on Mann's existence, Dwyer reflected on the reaction they've gotten to the news.
"People have been losing their minds over the fact that we just gave him the last name Mann," Dwyer said. "So masculine."
She continued: "When people read about Keith they've been pretty upset at the idea that a fake character was taken more seriously than we were. He's being used as a tool now to help highlight how rampant sexism is in tech and the workplace in general. It's been great seeing so many people respond positively. Once again, Keith has done a great job!!"