The New York Times published an in-depth story this week headlined Women in Tech Speak Frankly on Culture of Harassment, which included interviews with more than two dozen female entrepreneurs who shed light on the disturbing treatment they’ve received by their male peers in the tech industry.
The report, which just led to the departure of Dave McClure at 500 Startups, came out one week after The Information revealed how Binary Capital’s Justin Caldbeck made unwanted advances to six women, some of whom were seeking funding or advice for their startups. Caldbeck and his Binary Capital partner resigned shortly thereafter, while the firm itself will be shut down.
And just weeks prior, an internal investigation at Uber — sparked by a former employee who wrote about being harassed at the company — revealed deep cultural issues and led to the resignation of CEO Travis Kalanick, along with firings of 20 of his former colleagues.
Sexual harassment issues and sexism in the tech industry are not breaking news, but now the problems are front-and-center as more women speak out about their experiences. There is certainly some momentum toward a cultural shift not just in Silicon Valley but across the industry worldwide.
Julie Sandler, a Seattle-based venture capitalist who just joined Pioneer Square Labs after a 6-year stint at Madrona Venture Capital, told GeekWire that stories like the scandal at Binary Capital are “nauseating.”
“I, like frankly any woman in the realm of venture capital or startups, knows and in certain cases have experienced instances that feel familiar to the narrative that you see playing out right now,” Sandler said.
She noted that it’s encouraging to see more people talking about how to fix the deep issues that are causing this behavior and what can be done in the future to move forward.
— Julie Sandler (@juliesandler) June 27, 2017
Kate Reinmiller, co-founder at Ad Lightning, a startup that recently spun out of Pioneer Square Labs, told GeekWire that these recent stories are a good example of the “bro culture” that exists in the tech industry.
“Most women, if they haven’t experienced something similar themselves, know someone that has,” she said. “It’s critical that companies enforce a zero-tolerance policy for this type of behavior; it often seems like this behavior can go on for too long within an organization.”
Other Seattle-area tech leaders are sounding off as well. Heather Redman, who recently helped launch a new Seattle VC fund called Flying Fish, penned a blog post that stressed the need for more diversity in leadership positions, particularly at the venture capital level.
“Building that diverse team at the VC level, i.e., higher on the capital stack than at the founder level, and at the most senior level of the VC (i.e., full investing partner) creates huge leverage because now you’ve created an entity that is much more likely to fund diverse teams, and one that is a lot less likely to discriminate against diverse founders, consciously or (very importantly) unconsciously,” Redman wrote.
Redman, who has been harassed by a potential investor, said she’s tried to create a diverse team at Flying Fish and invest in startups with diverse founders.
“We have no quotas, preferences or even programs,” wrote Redman, who also recently spoke on a panel about this topic. “We’re doing straight-up traditional VC style returns-driven investing — not impact investing at all. Our lens and our networks are simply broader and we attract more diverse teams, not instead of but IN ADDITION TO the teams every good VC in our sector attracts.”
More diversity at the VC level could have a big impact on how female entrepreneurs raise venture funding. A new study conducted by researchers from Columbia Business School and University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School during pitch sessions at TechCrunch Disrupt New York found that male-led startups raised five times more funding than female-led ones.
The study also found that male founders were asked different questions than of female founders.
“When we analyzed video transcriptions of the Q&A sessions (with a linguistic software program and manual coding), we learned that venture capitalists posed different types of questions to male and female entrepreneurs: They tended to ask men questions about the potential for gains and women about the potential for losses,” the researchers noted in the Harvard Business Review. “We found evidence of this bias with both male and female VCs.”