I have a fake personal assistant. It started almost by accident, but for 10 years has made people take me more seriously.
- Jamira Burley, 34, works in the tech industry and has a fake personal assistant named Matt.
- She says people treat you differently when they think you have an assistant — especially a male assistant.
This as-told-to essay is based on a conversation with Jamira Burley, a 34-year-old who works in the tech industry. The conversation has been edited for length and clarity.
I have a secret to tell you.
For the last 10 years, I've had a fake assistant. His name is Matt, and he answers emails for me. He negotiates rates, schedules meetings, and rejects offers that aren't up to par.
He also doesn't exist.
I created my fake personal assistant, Matt, a decade ago
It happened almost by accident. I had made a separate email account for people to contact me with opportunities, and I got an email where the person seemed to assume that a third person, like an assistant, was manning the contact email address.
And I just rolled with it.
My name is not a blank slate, like Matt's is
You read it and you can tell it's not American. You can also guess that I'm a woman.
As a woman of color who works in tech, I'm often the only person like me in the room. Having "Matt" on my side — a person who could be a white man — made me feel more confident. Talking through a man's voice helped me be able to ask for things I never would've asked for as myself.
People took me more seriously as a professional because I had an assistant
I immediately noticed that Matt garnered a level of respect that I, as Jamira, didn't. People would offer me more money when Matt was involved, and they treated me as more of a force to be reckoned with.
And when an opportunity didn't work out, it was easier to have Matt say no to something than to do it myself.
Creating Matt felt like cracking a code, but it didn't always feel good
I had figured out how to make people take me more professionally, but it was by using a fictitious white man as a go-between.
I try to remind myself that to change the rules of the game, you have to get yourself into the room first. Matt helped me get into more rooms.
Luckily, someone only asked to speak to Matt on the phone once. I asked one of my brothers to get on the phone and pretend to be Matt, which he did. I think people don't usually ask to actually speak to him because I have a deck of all my offerings that Matt would send out so all their questions are already answered.
My fake Matt is actually based on a real Matt
The real Matt is a close friend who doesn't know that he's the inspiration for my fake assistant. I met Matt in high school, and I was so impressed by his ability to believe he's deserving of opportunities that come to him.
He never seemed surprised when things worked out. As a white man, he moved through the world with a confidence that it seemed like he was almost born into.
I wanted to emulate it, so I did. He doesn't know that I've been using him as inspiration for my fake assistant's persona for more than a decade, and he won't know until he reads this. But I think he'll think it's funny.
I posted a TikTok about my fake assistant
It's been viewed more than 550,000 times and liked more than 81,000 times.
"People treat you entirely different when they think you have an assistant, and also when that assistant is male," I said in the video. By posting it, I realized that many more women than I thought do the same thing I've done.
And it's not just women or women of color who do this — it's disabled people or people who are a part of any minority group.
I've grown a lot in my decade with Matt
This is what I've learned: We all have to move through the world with the certainty and confidence of a white man. We are just deserving.
And until we can ask for what we need ourselves, have Matt ask for you.
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