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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.

Career

Male Managers Afraid To Mentor Women In Wake Of #MeToo Movement

Women in the workplace have always experienced a certain degree of discrimination from male colleagues, and according to new studies, it appears that it is becoming even more difficult for women to get acclimated to modern day work environments, in wake of the #MeToo Movement.


In a recent study conducted by LeanIn.org, in partnership with SurveyMonkey, 60% of male managers confessed to feeling uncomfortable engaging in social situations with women in and outside of the workplace. This includes interactions such as mentorships, meetings, and basic work activities. This statistic comes as a shocking 32% rise from 2018.

What appears the be the crux of the matter is that men are afraid of being accused of sexual harassment. While it is impossible to discredit this fear as incidents of wrongful accusations have taken place, the extent to which it has burgeoned is unacceptable. The #MeToo movement was never a movement against men, but an empowering opportunity for women to speak up about their experiences as victims of sexual harassment. Not only were women supporting one another in sharing to the public that these incidents do occur, and are often swept under the rug, but offered men insight into behaviors and conversations that are typically deemed unwelcomed and unwarranted.

Restricting interaction with women in the workplace is not a solution, but a mere attempt at deflecting from the core issue. Resorting to isolation and exclusion relays the message that if men can't treat women how they want, then they rather not deal with them at all. Educating both men and women on what behaviors are unacceptable while also creating a work environment where men and women are held accountable for their actions would be the ideal scenario. However, the impact of denying women opportunities of mentorship and productive one-on-one meetings hinders growth within their careers and professional networks.

Women, particularly women of color, have always had far fewer opportunities for mentorship which makes it impossible to achieve growth within their careers without them. If women are given limited opportunities to network in and outside of a work environment, then men must limit those opportunities amongst each other, as well. At the most basic level, men should be approaching female colleagues as they would approach their male colleagues. Striving to achieve gender equality within the workplace is essential towards creating a safer environment.

While restricted communication and interaction may diminish the possibility of men being wrongfully accused of sexual harassment, it creates a hostile
environment that perpetuates women-shaming and victim-blaming. Creating distance between men and women only prompts women to believe that male colleagues who avoid them will look away from or entirely discredit sexual harassment they experience from other men in the workplace. This creates an unsafe working environment for both parties where the problem at hand is not solved, but overlooked.

According to LeanIn's study, only 85% of women said they feel safe on the job, a 5% drop from 2018. In the report, Jillesa Gebhardt wrote, "Media coverage that is intended to hold aggressors accountable also seems to create a sense of threat, and people don't seem to feel like aggressors are held accountable." Unfortunately, only 16% of workers believed that harassers holding high positions are held accountable for their actions which inevitably puts victims in difficult, and quite possibly dangerous, situations. 50% of workers also believe that there are more repercussions for the victims than harassers when speaking up.

In a research poll conducted by Edison Research in 2018, 30% of women agreed that their employers did not handle harassment situations properly while 53% percent of men agreed that they did. Often times, male harassers hold a significant amount of power within their careers that gives them a sense of security and freedom to go forward with sexual misconduct. This can be seen in cases such as that of Harvey Weinstein, Bill Cosby and R. Kelly. Men in power seemingly have little to no fear that they will face punishment for their actions.


Source-Alex Brandon, AP

Sheryl Sandberg, Facebook executive and founder of LeanIn.org., believes that in order for there to be positive changes within work environments, more women should be in higher positions. In an interview with CNBC's Julia Boorstin, Sandberg stated, "you know where the least sexual harassment is? Organizations that have more women in senior leadership roles. And so, we need to mentor women, we need to sponsor women, we need to have one-on-one conversations with them that get them promoted." Fortunately, the number of women in leadership positions are slowly increasing which means the prospect of gender equality and safer work environments are looking up.

Despite these concerning statistics, Sandberg does not believe that movements such as the Times Up and Me Too movements, have been responsible for the hardship women have been experiencing in the workplace. "I don't believe they've had negative implications. I believe they're overwhelmingly positive. Because half of women have been sexually harassed. But the thing is it is not enough. It is really important not to harass anyone. But that's pretty basic. We also need to not be ignored," she stated. While men may be feeling uncomfortable, putting an unrealistic amount of distance between themselves and female coworkers is more harmful to all parties than it is beneficial. Men cannot avoid working with women and vice versa. Creating such a hostile environment is also detrimental to any business as productivity and communication will significantly decrease.

The fear or being wrongfully accused of sexual harassment is a legitimate fear that deserves recognition and understanding. However, restricting interactions with women in the workplace is not a sensible solution as it can have negatively impact a woman's career. Companies are in need of proper training and resources to help both men and women understand what is appropriate workplace behavior. Refraining from physical interactions, commenting on physical appearance, making lewd or sexist jokes and inquiring about personal information are also beneficial steps towards respecting your colleagues' personal space. There is still much work to be done in order to create safe work environments, but with more and more women speaking up and taking on higher positions, women can feel safer and hopefully have less contributions to make to the #MeToo movement.