A recently revealed trend of female entrepreneurs using fake male assistants demonstrates how gender norms play out in business communication.
It is no surprise that women in business, especially those who are themselves entrepreneurs, face unique difficulties. A number of women have spoken out about this. A few women have even come out to reveal how they navigate these issues.
One way they have found helps their work is by having a fake male assistant who handles certain tasks.
Kelly Doody and Jandra Sutton are two such entrepreneurs who utilize this tactic. Doody is the CEO of Social School, and Sutton is a podcaster. Sutton revealed her use of a fake male assistant in a tiktok that went viral, seen here.
Male Authority Figures Perceived more Positively than their Female Counterparts
Both concur on a lot of points about their fake male assistants. Male authority is received more positively than female authority, which makes it easier for them to be more forward with clients. Where men are seen as being naturally assertive, women are perceived in a negative light.
Further, women tend to have a harder time during negotiation processes. Men are expected to do this, almost to the point of being considered natural for them. For women, though, they are not expected to negotiate, and therefore are taken less seriously when they do.
Often called the “likeability bias”, this phenomenon explains why women feel the need to employ fake men to serve in an authoritative assistant role. Since women are expected to be subservient and pleasant, they often are challenged in authority roles.
Such misogynistic perceptions become even more challenging when crossed with racism. Women of color have an even harder time acting in authority roles because racial stereotyping pushes people to feel they are being aggressive. This is a bias that has been seen both in and out of the business world.
Where Women are seen as Bossy, Men are seen as Reliable
Many studies exist that prove the existence of such biases when it comes to men versus women in business settings. An experiment done in 2003 by professors Frank Flynn and Cameron Anderson showed that men and women displaying the exact same behavior were perceived in different lights.
Participants in the study were given a case study about an entrepreneur. Half of the copies called them “Howard”, and the other half called them “Heidi”. Howard was perceived as someone who would be a good person to work with, but Heidi was seen as selfish and forceful.
Such biases have even farther reaching implications. In the age of Covid, women have noted that their businesses have been struggling more than those owned by men. It is no doubt that part of the issue lies with the perception of female entrepreneurs.
Confronting Biases against Women
As Doody notes, “If I have a Mike help desk versus a … Claudia, the way that people interact with that ‘person’ is remarkably different.”
Unfortunately, almost every woman can understand and relate to that sentiment, regardless if they work in business or not. These biases that cause issues for female entrepreneurs are noticed in all areas in which women are interact with others in patriarchal culture.
Having to work around these biases is something that disadvantages women in the business sector. However, women have found a way to circumvent the issues that arise because of them.
In truth, these fake male assistants prove that more change is needed in working against gender stereotypes. Women should not have to utilize the image of a man for them to be successful entrepreneurs. Being aware of these biases and working against them within ourselves and challenging it in others is the only way to bring about a future without them.
Takeaway for Donor Activists about the Authority of Male Assistants
The gender norm bias that women face in business is on full display here — and some women are finding creative workarounds that benefit them. This phenomena begs the question, in the virtual world we live in, of whether women should cloak their identities more frequently in the identities of men, in order to move along progress for gender equality.
In this way, a relationship with a man in which he will carry the message of gender equality could function similarly to the fake male assistants dynamic. Those in the patriarchy will more easily listen to a man, and therefore the agenda can be ramped up more quickly. For example, if Bill Gates was able to carry the message of gender equality and articulate it well, that would be of great benefit for gender equality movements. However, it appears that his focus is not particularly on gender equality, and therefore a great deal of influence is lost on his inability or unwillingness to play the role of the male authority figure articulating a feminist vision for society.
Perhaps many in the feminist donor community can think of a man in their lives who would be willing to “front” for them as an ally for gender equality. This kind of support and assistance, similar to having a fake male assistant, can be game-changing in terms of influencing social change.