Sil­i­con Val­ley’s sex­ism prob­lem

Kuwait Times - - TECHNOLOGY -

Sex­ism in Sil­i­con Val­ley has been an open secret for years. What’s chang­ing: A grow­ing num­ber of women are com­ing for­ward with per­sonal sto­ries of sex­ual ha­rass­ment and dis­crim­i­na­tion, prompt­ing apolo­gies, res­ig­na­tions and plenty of hand-wring­ing. It’s too soon to tell whether the in­ci­dents will lead to mean­ing­ful, long-term change. But the rev­e­la­tions, many im­pli­cat­ing in­dus­try bigshots, are at least lead­ing to some hum­bled self-re­flec­tion in an in­dus­try long crit­i­cized as ar­ro­gant and self-cen­tered. In the lat­est ex­am­ple, prom­i­nent ven­ture in­vestor Dave McClure apol­o­gized over the week­end for mak­ing “in­ap­pro­pri­ate ad­vances” to­ward sev­eral women. His apol­ogy - ti­tled “I’m a Creep. I’m Sorry” - fol­lows a New York Times re­port that de­scribed of­fen­sive be­hav­ior by McClure and other prom­i­nent ven­ture in­vestors, as re­lated by fe­male en­trepreneurs. On Mon­day, he re­signed from the ven­ture cap­i­tal fund he co­founded, 500 Star­tups.

Re­ports of sex­ism in the in­dus­try are not new, as the male-dom­i­nated tech and ven­ture cap­i­tal in­dus­try has of­ten down­played or turned a blind eye to is­sues of dis­crim­i­na­tion and worse. The prob­lems can be par­tic­u­larly acute for women lead­ing star­tups, as their com­pa­nies are de­pen­dent on clubby ven­ture cap­i­tal­ists for fund­ing.

So what’s prompt­ing more women to speak out? Credit Su­san Fowler, a former Uber en­gi­neer who out­lined a cul­ture of ha­rass­ment at the com­pany. Uber CEO Travis Kalan­ick re­signed in the af­ter­math , and the com­pany has promised to in­sti­tute broad changes. Last month, mean­while, sev­eral fe­male en­trepreneurs told the trade pub­li­ca­tion The In­for­ma­tion about ha­rass­ment by a part­ner at the VC firm Bi­nary Cap­i­tal. He and an­other part­ner re­signed in late June. The ac­cused part­ner, Justin Cald­beck, is­sued an apol­ogy, but that it­self drew crit­i­cism from oth­ers in the tech in­dus­try.

“It feels like you’re try­ing to nudge us to feel sorry for you that you need to leave your pre­cious firm be­hind. YOU CAUSED THIS,” Google prod­uct man­ager Bren­den Mul­li­gan wrote in a post on Medium. One of Cald­beck’s ac­cusers, Nini­ane Wang, wrote that she “laughed out loud” read­ing the apol­ogy.

In­deed, plenty of skep­ti­cism re­mains about the tech in­dus­try’s abil­ity to change overnight. Af­ter the al­le­ga­tions against Cald­beck came to light, LinkedIn co-founder and former CEO Reid Hoff­man lamented a “lack of ou­trage and com­men­tary” fol­low­ing the VC ha­rass­ment re­ports. In a post on LinkedIn, Hoff­man called the re­newed at­ten­tion on Sil­i­con Val­ley’s gen­der prob­lems “very good crit­i­cism.” He urged ven­ture cap­i­tal­ists to es­tab­lish hu­man re­sources poli­cies - just as com­pa­nies and other in­sti­tu­tions do - “so that ven­ture cap­i­tal­ists who en­gage in such be­hav­ior face the same sort of con­se­quences that they would if their over­tures were directed at an em­ployee.” Ex­perts and ad­vo­cates also have long called for im­prov­ing gen­der and racial di­ver­sity in the in­dus­try. Com­pa­nies with more women over­all and more women in lead­er­ship po­si­tions, the think­ing goes, are less likely to face prob­lems of sex­ism and sex­ual ha­rass­ment. While tech com­pa­nies are of­ten blamed for hir­ing too few women, the is­sue is also per­sis­tent at VC firms. Ac­cord­ing to a re­port by Deloitte and the Na­tional Ven­ture Cap­i­tal As­so­ci­a­tion, women hold 26 per­cent of se­nior po­si­tions at VC firms and 11 per­cent of in­vest­ment part­ners and equiv­a­lent po­si­tions. The 2016 re­port sur­veyed 1,336 firms in the U.S., which the groups say is rep­re­sen­ta­tive of the over­all VC work­force in the coun­try.

Of course, the tech in­dus­try isn’t alone. In 2014, the non­profit worker rights group Restau­rant Op­por­tu­ni­ties Cen­ters United es­ti­mated that two-thirds of fe­male work­ers and more than half of male work­ers ex­pe­ri­enced some form of sex­ual ha­rass­ment, whether from cus­tomers, co-work­ers or bosses. The group called sex­ual ha­rass­ment “en­demic to the restau­rant in­dus­try.” The Equal Em­ploy­ment Op­por­tu­nity Com­mis­sion re­ceived 6,758 com­plaints al­leg­ing work­place sex­ual ha­rass­ment in 2016, the lat­est avail­able fig­ure. That’s down from 7,944 in 2010 - though the de­cline of com­plaints does not nec­es­sar­ily indi­cate a de­cline of in­ci­dents. “Tech com­pa­nies are sup­posed to be do­ing things dif­fer­ent,” said Tom Spig­gle, founder of the Spig­gle Law Firm, which focuses on work­place law. “And they have been like Uber, al­most a retro kind of sex­ual ha­rass­ment be­hav­ior.” Spig­gle, who of­ten rep­re­sents work­ers al­leg­ing sex­ual ha­rass­ment and dis­crim­i­na­tion, said in a re­cent in­ter­view that he doesn’t see the prob­lems get­ting bet­ter, de­spite high­pro­file cases such as Uber’s. He said he was shocked when he started tak­ing work­ers’ cases in 2009, say­ing, “It felt like the 1950s.” —AP

BEV­ERLY HILLS: In this Sun­day, Feb 26, 2017, file photo, Uber CEO Travis Kalan­ick ar­rives at the Van­ity Fair Os­car Party. —AP

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