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.
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, , Director, Women in Comms