Some followup on Katie Benner’s brutal New York Times article about widespread sexual harassment from venture capitalists when female founders attempt to raise funding for their companies. And this followup is actually a piece from back in 2014, when Jeff Bercovici of Forbes published an account from a female founder who requested anonymity:
After some small talk, he sat next to me on the couch and commented that I looked stressed. He put down his glass of wine and reached to massage my shoulders. As he slid his hands further, I made a nervous joke, quickly trying to shift my weight away from him. I leaned into the corner of the couch and crossed my legs, attempting to put an obstacle in his way. Undeterred, he continued to reach for me.
I got up and walked across the room. Trying to keep it light, I comment on how often men made inappropriate advances towards me during business meetings, hoping he’d get the message.
“Yeah, that’s tough. You can’t really say anything because it’s one tight knit community,” he said, probably thinking he sounded sympathetic.
If I chose to complain—or make a scene and wake up his children who slept nearby—it would be another case of he said / she said, like the countless harassment cases that have made headlines in the tech community but have not done much to change status quo. Given his standing in the community and his personal wealth, who would believe my claims as anything more than those of a spurned little girl upset that a VC had chosen not to invest in her company?
Anyone who claims that Silicon Valley is a meritocracy is talking out of their ass. If male founders were subject to the same pervasive sexual harassment as women face, reforms would have happened a long time ago.
Yet, despite high-profile resignations lately from men implicated in these reports, I’m not really sure any meaningful reforms are currently taking place. Top venture capital companies are overwhelmingly run by men, and their power allows a festering quiet environment where women are propositioned to exchange sex for funding. The relative dearth female venture capital partners is, quite possibly, a symptom as well for a much bigger and more pervasive problem — women simply aren’t respected or treated as seriously as their male counterparts. That’s something that needs to be fixed everywhere, but for an industry that encourages reinventing the world, it’s especially problematic.