VCs: Funders must address diversity, sexual harassment

Silicon Valley on map
Silicon Valley fosters a male-dominated culture in which women are in the minority and often suffer from harassment. (Getty/zimmytws)

The tech industry’s recent surge in sexual harassment scandals has exposed problems that both founders and funders need to acknowledge and address, according to venture capital (VC) investors who appeared at a Silicon Valley Business Journal event on July 27.

Four of the six venture capitalists who appeared at the meeting—all women—confirmed that incidents of harassment such as those that have surfaced at Uber, Binary Capital, and 500 Startups have been all too common. In the wake of the recent disclosures, both Dave McClure, founding partner of 500 Startups, and Justin Caldbeck, managing partner at Binary Capital, have resigned.

Indeed, the women of Silicon Valley describe repeated propositions for sex from male investors, unwanted groping and kissing, sexually explicit texts in the middle of the night, and pressure to get a hotel room after a business meeting, according to a report by Wired.

And they also complain that the continuing problem is a function of being totally outnumbered. According to Tech Insider, a special edition of Business Insider, in 2016, VCs invested $64.9B into male-founded startups versus $1.5B in female-founded startup—representing a mere 2.25% of the total funding. For women of color, that number is basically zero at 0.2%.

"I would say that it is … common in a lot of industries," said Lauren Loktev, a partner at New York City-based Collaborative Fund, according to the local news outlet. "But in [venture capital], it’s particularly pronounced because the industry is 90% male and there is an extreme skew to the people that get funded as well."

That gender disparity has created a disturbing power dynamic that has enabled tech professionals to get away with bad behavior for a long time, Loktev said at the event. While it's commendable that bad actors and the problems they have created are being exposed, she noted, “it’s clear that there’s a lot of work to be done," Loktev said.

Aileen Lee of seed-stage VC Cowboy Ventures of San Francisco said she is optimistic that the problems will be solved, because it's not just women who are speaking out about it.

"It's making men mad, too," she said. "It’s not one team versus the other. We’re all human beings.”

"We love Silicon Valley and we love entrepreneurship because it’s supposed to be a meritocracy," Lee said. "But it’s been stacked against women for a long time."

Chloe Condon, a musical theater actress turned developer, recently explained “what it’s like to be a woman at a tech conference” on the site NewCoShift. She made it short and sweet. “Here’s how my inner monologue sounded:

“So … many … dudes … oh! Is that a woman? Hmmm, no … she’s on the catering team. Oh wait! Is that another one? Nope, just a dude with a man bun.”

According to Wired, the dual problems of diversity and harassment are now being acknowledged by an embarrassed and guilty tech industry. The tech news outlet reported, “Venture capitalists reacted much more supportively in public to harassment allegations than they have in the past. In Medium posts, on their company blogs, and, of course, on Twitter, prominent investors praised the women for coming forward and voluntarily acknowledged the patterns of abuse.

Reid Hoffman, a partner at Greylock Capital and a cofounder of LinkedIn, framed the industry’s inaction as a human rights issue and urged his fellow investors to be more outraged. "Yes, many of us do care," Hoffman wrote on Medium. "This is entirely immoral and outrageous behavior. And it falls to us to stand with you, to speak out and to act."