This year will pass as the year in which sexual harassment and gender discrimination became most prevalent in Silicon Valley. It might also pass as the year that the big elephant in the room was finally addressed as a major issue, and a reality that the tech and startup worlds have yet to challenge.
The experience of Ellen K. Pao, former interim CEO of Reddit, who lost her position in the middle of a legal fight against Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers, inspired Trae Vassallo and Michele Mandansky, both executives in Silicon Valley, to embark on a study about gender inequality. Their study is titled “Elephant in the Valley.” Alongside that, members of the Female Founders Conference, hosted by Y Combinator, were very vocal about the issue.
“What we realized is that while many women shared similar workplace stories, most men were simply shocked and unaware of the issues facing women in the workplace. In an effort to correct the massive information disparity, we decided to get the data and the stories,” according to the study done by Vassallo and five co-authors.
“We knew this was happening. Now we are acknowledging this happening, and now calling it out and holding people accountable. I think that’s a great step forward,” said Padmasree Warrior, CEO of autonomous electric vehicle startup, NIO, according to the San Francisco Chronicle.
Holding those responsible for such behavior accountable can be seen no further than in former Uber CEO Travis Kalanick’s resignation. After accusations and chaos surrounding his company’s “bro” culture, his sexist policies and communication protocol cost him his job.
For Ellen K. Pao, speaking out about the harassment she experienced resulted in an unwanted ousting from Reddit, but for other women in tech, it has resulted in a solid example of empowerment and strength. Lee Mayer, CEO and cofounder of Havenly, spoke out about the harassment she received by former Binary Capital cofounder and partner, Justin Caldbeck. Consequently, Havenly requested that Caldbeck’s seat on the startup’s board be “immediately terminated.”
Caldbeck took a leave of absence from Binary Capital. The venture capitalist was accused in other similar cases as well which resulted in him stepping down. Ironically, he is now the “Head of Self-Reflection, Accountability & Change,” according to his LinkedIn page. “The power dynamic that exists in venture capital is despicably unfair. The gap of influence between male venture capitalists and female entrepreneurs is frightening and I hate that my behavior played a role in perpetrating a gender-hostile environment,” wrote Caldbeck in a statement per Colorado Public Radio.
This first steps are more important now than ever. The big elephant in the room report found that 88% of female have experienced clients or colleagues direct questions to male peers that should have been addressed to them. Recognizing and speaking up about the problem is only the beginning.
Marco Islas for TechFunnel.com