Open Letter: What We Can Do About Sexual Harassment in Silicon Valley

I’ve been watching the news closely this past week as so many courageous women have come forward to talk about the sexual harassment they’ve experienced from male venture capitalists.

I’m appalled and shaken by allegations in Katie Benner’s NYT piece that point to several prominent men in the VC space who have harassed women entrepreneurs. As someone who has experienced sexual harassment herself—it’s rampant in the tech community—I’m outraged that some people in our community think it’s okay to be so blatantly inappropriate in their encounters with women with whom they have a business relationship.

However, along with my outrage, I have hope that this means a fundamental industry shift is about to happen, thanks to these and more women coming forward. What else can we expect? As Minda Zetlin brilliantly points out in her “Open Letter” on Forbes, we too want to ask our industry “What now”?

Zetlin’s piece points to the fact that these stories are just the tip of the iceberg. Girls in Tech’s employees and the amazing entrepreneurs, companies and investors we work with around the world know exactly what this means.

As much as it pains me to say this, it is a rarity to find women who work in STEM—particularly women of color—who have not experienced unequal treatment, harassment, or inappropriate behavior that, in many other industries, would see the perpetrators fired immediately.

This is further evidenced by the fact that out of the thousands of comments in the original NYT piece, many are from women who share their painful stories of harassment. Many sharing stories from decades past, grieving that there was no system set up to help them at the time.

The toxic culture that produces environments that let this kind of harassment happen is created in the early days of a tech company. A startup’s toxic culture is birthed and then given permission to flourish the moment when a male startup founder is funded by a VC firm with a toxic work culture for women.

So there are two directives here: how VC firms can improve their culture and how tech companies can prevent a toxic culture from developing.

I’d like to second Zetlin’s recommendations for creating a system that could start creating change in our industry. She suggests that:

  • VC firms be required to publish the percentage of their funds they invest in women and non-white-led startups.
  • VC firms be required to hire more female VCs.
  • VC firms create an organization where women can make anonymous complaints. In 2017, there is still is no established system to help women who don’t know where to turn. Or, VC firms need to create a system of checks and balances that withholds this severe imbalance of power and these stories from continuing to happen.

What about the tech industry as a whole? What can we be doing better industry-wide? TechCrunch found in 2016 that just 7% of partners at the 100 top venture firms were women and just 17% of startup founders are female. How can we bring that up to 50%?

We need more women in tech companies and startups. Girls in Tech teaches women to code, and we support them every step of the way, throughout the full lifecycle of their career. Girls in Tech – alongside many other organizations – offers women the technical education that can help them break through the barriers to jump into tech or upgrade their career.

But it’s going to take a heck of a lot more than education to solve this massive challenge. Organizations need management training programs and clear and transparent policies that protect women, such as a clause in VC firm employment agreements about bad behavior that would lead to immediate expulsion should a VC sexually harass or assault a woman.

While we do that, let’s circle the wagons; I want to create a safe space for women (particularly women of color) in technology and the investment fields. We have a network of support for you. In the next few months, we will be adding diversity and inclusion workshops to our major events, such as Girls in Tech Catalyst and the upcoming AMPLIFY for Female Founders, October 18th in SF, to put forward and demand the solutions and changes that tech companies and VC firms need to make. We’ll be shifting our focus as we finish 2017 and go into 2018.

Let’s keep the discussion going. If you have ideas, post them here. If you’d rather share your ideas privately, email Girls in Tech at TakeAStand@GirlsinTech.org. I’ll personally respond to each and every message.

We can do better.

 

Adriana Gascoigne

Founder & CEO

Girls in Tech

2 thoughts on “Open Letter: What We Can Do About Sexual Harassment in Silicon Valley

  • Jeremy Kranz says:

    Appreciate the important work done by GiT and the sentiments in your letter. I work in VC and most of my team of investment officers are women (it has been that way for 10 years) who are amazing investors and teammates. We talk about these issues and we are happy to see the industry poised to take new actions for equal opportunity and a safe work culture. Change is needed. Your proposed solutions should be seriously considered. Another additive way to drive change would be to target the places the VCs worked ‘before’ VC – e.g. the execs at the big operating companies and top tech banks. If more woman and minorities make it to key leadership roles (outside of HR and IR) in those places then it will help to trickle through to VC roles and then change the diversity of who gets VC funding. I offer this as an addition to your proposed list. We have a long way to go. Thanks again to GiT for all the work you do.

  • Adriana, thank your voice and leadership! Diversity is good for business. Period. Not because it’s politically correct, but because diverse teams are challenged by the nature of having different perspectives and they manifest better ideas/products. As I’ve learned from Kat Gordon (The 3% Movement) who has been driving major change in the Ad Industry for the last 5 years (because they’ve had a little diversity problem too), things will change when you demand change, work with guys who get it (and there are many) and start holding companies accountable as you mention above. Kat also went outside the industry to pull clients in…she has gotten many Fortune 500 clients to demand diversity on their teams…why? Because she has proven that diversity helps teams produce better products and increase profitability. But we have to demand it. Who will be The Tech Industry’s Kat Gordon?

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