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The Reality Of Sexual Harassment In Silicon Valley (And What To Do About It)

Business

I wanted to address some of the disturbing news that broke recently about sexual harassment of women raising capital in Silicon Valley.


Sexual Harassment Again? Really?

Men treating women in professional settings in ways that violate basic rules of decent behavior that any college freshman would understand is nothing new. Unfortunately, this type of thing happens all the time in every industry. But when stories surface from women entrepreneurs about inappropriate encounters with male VCs, it's just another wake-up call that we have so much more work to do before we can reach gender parity in the entrepreneurial world.

A brief recap: In late June, The Information, a tech news site, reported that six women called out Justin Caldbeck, co-founder of Binary Capital, for “unwanted and inappropriate advances.” These experiences happened when these women were raising money or looking for guidance as they started their own businesses.

Three of the six women went public. Susan Ho, co-founder of Journy, a travel agency for Millennials, said Caldbeck texted her in the middle of the night asking to meet up while in the process of discussing investing in her startup. Leiti Hsu, another Journy co-founder said the venture capitalist grabbed her thigh under a table at a bar. And Niniane Wang, co-creator of Google Desktop, allegedly said that Caldbeck attempted to sleep with her while informally recruiting her to work for his company.

These stories involving Caldbeck sparked a huge conversation on social media. Many women shared their stories with other publications like Techcrunch and Fortune, including Wethos founder Rachel Renock (one of the winners of the pitch competition at the Million Dollar Women Summit) who was featured in the New York Times coverage of this issue in Silicon Valley.

Caldbeck’s initial response was total denial of these allegations, but as the story spread, he issued an apology to the women who spoke up. A small victory, but also a reminder that there are still many more Caldbecks who will never deliver apologies in print and have already sabotaged hundreds of companies in early stages run by women.

As a huge advocate for women raising money, it’s disheartening to see that this kind of sexism and the inappropriate advances that I’ve heard about anecdotally for years is even more rampant than I thought. And it's important that the offenders feel on notice. I think we can check that box now.

Now What Can We Do?

Let me tell you my take on this. There have always been men like Caldbeck who are part of the problem, not the solution. I have met them in every phase of my career, but I also personally know plenty of "good guy" VCs who fully support women entrepreneurs and stand for more equitable treatment of women. Some of them are on my advisory council for Million Dollar Women and many more have funded thousands of women-run companies.

While the media is heavily focused on the offending VCs right now, I want to remind you that rapid change comes from building new networks that champion women entrepreneurs.

These new networks include the VC firms (even the all male ones) that have pristine gender track records and women-owned VC firms and women's angel groups. Let's find them, work with them, build successful businesses, bring other women with us and just let the moldy cherry tomatoes fall to the bottom of the crate.

Studies show that when minorities make up over 30% of the group they are integrating, discrimination problems tend to subside. We are far from that 30% today, but we will get there.

Today just 3% of women entrepreneurs make a million in revenues and only 4% of VC money goes to women entrepreneurs. That needs to change.

I’ve made it my mission to work on getting these two statistics to be relegated to history (remember when women couldn't vote or get a credit card or loan in their own name?) by supporting women entrepreneurs with everything I’ve got and building a thriving community so that we can succeed in greater and greater numbers, no matter how many tomatoes are in the box. We will see these 3% and 4% numbers soar in our lifetimes by building powerful networks that cross gender, race, age and industries.

How to Avoid Moldy Tomatoes

If you are a woman entrepreneur and have found yourself in a situation with a male VC you know seems over the line, stop working with them immediately no matter how much money is on the table (they don’t deserve to work with you and be a part of building your dream company!) and make sure to warn other entrepreneurs to avoid them as well. Always do your research, not just online but by asking other women who have raised. It's a small world when you are raising capital and there is pretty much nowhere to hide.

By connecting with other women entrepreneurs through communities like Million Dollar Women, SheWorx, NAWBO and Dreamers and Doers, we will be able to identify who to steer clear of and who to put at the top of your pitch list.

I believe the best way to keep moving the needle on the growth of women-run businesses is to focus all of our time and energy on the VCs and investors in this space who want to see women entrepreneurs succeed. What do you think? Come find me on Twitter @juliapimsleur or Facebook.

For additional fundraising resources, check out this free list of female-friendly angels, VCs and accelerators.

6min read
Health

What Sexual Abuse Survivors Want You to Know

In 2016, I finally found my voice. I always thought I had one, especially as a business owner and mother of two vocal toddlers, but I had been wrong.


For more than 30 years, I had been struggling with the fear of being my true self and speaking my truth. Then the repressed memories of my childhood sexual abuse unraveled before me while raising my 3-year-old daughter, and my life has not been the same since.

Believe it or not, I am happy about that.

The journey for a survivor like me to feel even slightly comfortable sharing these words, without fear of being shamed or looked down upon, is a long and often lonely one. For all of the people out there in the shadows who are survivors of childhood sexual abuse, I dedicate this to you. You might never come out to talk about it and that's okay, but I am going to do so here and I hope that in doing so, I will open people's eyes to the long-term effects of abuse. As a survivor who is now fully conscious of her abuse, I suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and, quite frankly, it may never go away.

It took me some time to accept that and I refuse to let it stop me from thriving in life; therefore, I strive to manage it (as do many others with PTSD) through various strategies I've learned and continue to learn through personal and group therapy. Over the years, various things have triggered my repressed memories and emotions of my abuse--from going to birthday parties and attending preschool tours to the Kavanaugh hearing and most recently, the"Leaving Neverland" documentary (I did not watch the latter, but read commentary about it).

These triggers often cause panic attacks. I was angry when I read Barbara Streisand's comments about the men who accused Michael Jackson of sexually abusing them, as detailed in the documentary. She was quoted as saying, "They both married and they both have children, so it didn't kill them." She later apologized for her comments. I was frustrated when one of the senators questioning Dr. Christine Blasey Ford (during the Kavanaugh hearing) responded snidely that Dr. Ford was still able to get her Ph.D. after her alleged assault--as if to imply she must be lying because she gained success in life.We survivors are screaming to the world, "You just don't get it!" So let me explain: It takes a great amount of resilience and fortitude to walk out into society every day knowing that at any moment an image, a sound, a color, a smell, or a child crying could ignite fear in us that brings us back to that moment of abuse, causing a chemical reaction that results in a panic attack.

So yes, despite enduring and repressing those awful moments in my early life during which I didn't understand what was happening to me or why, decades later I did get married; I did become a parent; I did start a business that I continue to run today; and I am still learning to navigate this "new normal." These milestones do not erase the trauma that I experienced. Society needs to open their eyes and realize that any triumph after something as ghastly as childhood abuse should be celebrated, not looked upon as evidence that perhaps the trauma "never happened" or "wasn't that bad. "When a survivor is speaking out about what happened to them, they are asking the world to join them on their journey to heal. We need love, we need to feel safe and we need society to learn the signs of abuse and how to prevent it so that we can protect the 1 out of 10 children who are being abused by the age of 18. When I state this statistic at events or in large groups, I often have at least one person come up to me after and confide that they too are a survivor and have kept it a secret. My vehicle for speaking out was through the novella The Survivors Club, which is the inspiration behind a TV pilot that my co-creator and I are pitching as a supernatural, mind-bending TV series. Acknowledging my abuse has empowered me to speak up on behalf of innocent children who do not have a voice and the adult survivors who are silent.

Remembering has helped me further understand my young adult challenges,past risky relationships, anger issues, buried fears, and my anxieties. I am determined to thrive and not hide behind these negative things as they have molded me into the strong person I am today.Here is my advice to those who wonder how to best support survivors of sexual abuse:Ask how we need support: Many survivors have a tough exterior, which means the people around them assume they never need help--we tend to be the caregivers for our friends and families. Learning to be vulnerable was new for me, so I realized I needed a check-off list of what loved ones should ask me afterI had a panic attack.

The list had questions like: "Do you need a hug," "How are you feeling," "Do you need time alone."Be patient with our PTSD". Family and close ones tend to ask when will the PTSD go away. It isn't a cold or a disease that requires a finite amount of drugs or treatment. There's no pill to make it miraculously disappear, but therapy helps manage it and some therapies have been known to help it go away. Mental Health America has a wealth of information on PTSD that can help you and survivors understand it better. Have compassion: When I was with friends at a preschool tour to learn more about its summer camp, I almost fainted because I couldn't stop worrying about my kids being around new teenagers and staff that might watch them go the bathroom or put on their bathing suit. After the tour, my friends said,"Nubia, you don't have to put your kids in this camp. They will be happy doing other things this summer."

In that moment, I realized how lucky I was to have friends who understood what I was going through and supported me. They showed me love and compassion, which made me feel safe and not judged.