Women In Comms

Hey Men of Silicon Valley, Stop Being Creepy!

Another day in Silicon Valley, another forced apology by a male leader accused of sexism, harassment and discrimination: It's becoming a pretty consistent theme as more and more foul play comes to light, forcing tech companies and their bro-CEOs to act on it.

Sexism and harassment in the Valley has long been an issue; nothing has changed there, but it's only recently that we're hearing more and more women speaking out about it -- emboldened by a few high-profile stories and also fed up with what is a pandemic in tech.

And it's not even about Uber this time, folks! (See Kalanick Steps Down as Uber CEO, Uber Hopes Holder Reform Will Stop Implosion and Uber's HR Nightmare: Company Investigates Sexual Harassment Claims.)

At the end of last month it came out that Binary Capital investor Justin Caldbeck had a history of sexual harassment that spans seven years and three venture firms, as told to the Information by six separate female founders who were harassed while pitching him for funding. The story prompted many more women to come forward, sharing their own accounts of sexual harassment, discrimination and inappropriate encounters with those abusing their power. It also sparked some apologies from other accused perpetrators. More than two dozen such women have since spoken with The New York Times, which shared their stories of harassment and backlash in a piece last week.

Following this, well-known investor and frequent Shark Tank guest Chris Sacca posted a blog acknowledging this role in perpetuating a masculine, exclusionary culture in tech, albeit without admitting any specific wrongdoing. That was followed by an unrelated post titled, "I'm a creep. I'm sorry." copping to some quite specific wrongdoing from David McClure, the cofounder of accelerator and investment firm 500 Startups.

Both Sacca and McClure have advocated publicly for women-owned startups, but have also privately contributed to a culture that makes it very hard for them to thrive. McClure's role at 500 Startups has since been limited to managing partner, from his former CEO spot, and he says he's attending counseling to work on his behavior, which includes sending inappropriate messages to female founders.

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When they're exposed, typically after years of coercing and threatening women into keeping quiet, men like McClure and Uber's Travis Kalanick are suddenly grateful for being shown the light, wanting to change and realizing it's time to grow up and change their ways. Sacca (who to be fair, wasn't accused of specific wrongdoing outside of an inappropriate face touch in 2009) said in his call-to-action post, that "It’s a living outline of work that is going to take years..." (See Silicon Valley Writer Foresees End of Bro Culture.)

Yes, it takes a long time to change what is an engrained, well-established company culture and to stack the tech workforce with women at every level, which will be important to bringing about change, but why must it take years to tackle the creep problem? Is it really so hard for some men to not abuse their power, hit on women and act inappropriately? Just stop. Right now. That is the best first step I can think of, and it's not complicated.

Like Sacca, I am also grateful to the strong women speaking up on these vital issues, that he says are teaching us with their courage, but why some men need to be shown the light on their creepiness, forced to grow up and not abuse their power is beyond me. Silicon Valley, it's time to get over yourself and just be decent.

There's a lot of work to be done still, but that has to be step number one.

— Sarah Thomas, Circle me on Google+ Follow me on TwitterVisit my LinkedIn profile, Director, Women in Comms

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Sarah Thomas 7/6/2017 | 3:23:21 PM
Re: reader email... hmm that's never something I aim to do, especially with a capital T.
mendyk 7/6/2017 | 2:22:39 PM
Re: reader email... I think I've just been Trumped.
Sarah Thomas 7/6/2017 | 2:19:45 PM
Re: reader email... Journalists never turn down a free dinner, but there's a clear line between professional dinner and date. Considering the number of men who don't understand LinkedIn is not for creeping either, I'm not surprised some still don't understand professional contexts.
mendyk 7/6/2017 | 2:10:45 PM
Re: reader email... Mike Pence among others agrees with you.
Sarah Thomas 7/6/2017 | 1:13:32 PM
Re: reader email... Sorry, but you don't have the right to ask anyone out to dinner, especially in a professional setting and especially when that person is coming to you through the proper channels in hopes of receiving funding for her startup. That's an abuse of power, it's uncomfortable and it's not ethical. I don't care if you look like George Clooney or not. It's not okay to put compromise her integrity and your own in such a way, even if it's innocent (which if it's happening in a pitch, it's definitely not).
Sarah Thomas 7/6/2017 | 1:11:37 PM
reader email... A reader email I thought I'd share:

     It's clear to anyone with a single functioning neuron at this point that "harassment" typically means "a nerdy guy asked me out" or "a rich guy asked me out but then we broke up." 

       Look at the case of Joe Lonsdale

           You have the right to ask anyone out to dinner. In our society, men do the asking and that's how women prefer it. (According to Psychology Today, 93% of women prefer to be asked out; only 6% prefer to ask men out.)  Hence, women don't get to decide that only George Clooney can ask them out.

    And if you're serious about "Yes Means Yes," then a dinner invitation (or even Rebecca Watson's invitation to have coffee) means just that.



Joe Stanganelli 7/5/2017 | 9:18:13 PM
Re: stating the obvious @Mari: I too have noticed this in particular with IoT-related events (Smart Cities included).

Ditto for other tech verticals. The annual Bio-IT World Conference & Expo in Boston, for instance, has notably heavy female representation compared to other tech conferences -- particularly among speakers.
danielcawrey 7/5/2017 | 4:35:03 PM
Re: stating the obvious It's pretty crazy to think how insular Silicon Valley is if this stuff has been happening over the years. 

When it comes to Dave McClure, I think everyone knew he was a bit out there. I knew nothing of these allegations, which again is why the Valley is so insular. In other industries, we would have heard about this much quicker. 
Sarah Thomas 7/5/2017 | 4:20:40 PM
Re: stating the obvious Yeah, I know gender balance is a problem in other industries (like finance), but it it pretty unique -- and uniquely awful -- in tech and, specifically, the startup scene. Glad to hear smart cities are an improved arena, as Intel's Caroline Chan predicted at our conference in Austin. 
msilbey 7/5/2017 | 3:39:48 PM
Re: stating the obvious I was shocked at the difference in going to a smart cities conference recently compared to attending a standard tech or telecom event. Far greater gender balance, and the women there were highly active participants. Unsurprisingly, better balance also means the creep factor goes down. 

Ethnic diversity at the smart cities event was better too, although not better enough. 
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