Sexual Harassment in Silicon Valley

The venture capital industry continues its nonstop string of sexual harassment scandals. I was gonna write something sooner, but a New York Times article on gender discrimination made me roll my eyes so hard that they fell out of their sockets. It took several days to recover but I’m all better now thanks.

The Times draws on two dozen stories as evidence that sexual harassment in the startup ecosystem is “pervasive and ingrained”. Good grief. Aside from some brief detours, I’ve lived and worked in Silicon Valley since 1982. I promise it’s not that bad.

A typical early-stage founder will meet with over a hundred investors before closing a seed round with a handful of term sheets. Fundraising is a miserable experience only slightly less humiliating than public begging, and a startup CEO can expect to repeat this process every 18 months if her company doesn’t die before then.

Sand Hill Road: Will work for term sheets

When you have an industry that revolves around glorified panhandling, it’s inevitable that participants end up getting kicked and spat on. The Times describes some founders who put up with unwanted sexual advances because they were desperate to raise money for their startups. There’s an old-fashioned word for what these ladies are doing that I shan’t repeat here.

Male founders have to run this emasculating gauntlet too, except that they can’t blame gender discrimination for how dirty they feel at the end of the day.

There’s nothing unusual about the idea that the rich and powerful might abuse those who beg them for money. I imagine it’s one of the most attractive features of being rich. Some VCs are drafting a Code of Conduct that proposes to create a list of “bad actors” known to mistreat women or minorities. That’s a noble idea and all, but most of the bad actors recently harangued by the media were investing their own money. Call them out and paint a scarlet letter on their heads — Do you think the homeless people in Union Square check the Sex Offender Registry before accepting a dollar from a stranger?

The only thing more timeless than the abuse of power is the tolerance of abuse by those who most need the money. A common VC complaint is that there’s too much money chasing a few good companies. The flip side is that there’s a glut of unappreciated startups desperate for any funding at all. Silicon Valley is run by idealists, and I understand the desire to purify the industry — But to think that we can enforce a code of conduct is to completely misunderstand the nature of the supply and demand of capital.

9 thoughts on “Sexual Harassment in Silicon Valley

  1. “Many of the women also said they believed they had limited ability to push back against inappropriate behavior, often because they needed funding, a job or other help.”

    Yep. They wouldn’t say anything because they wanted the money. How noble of them.

    The thing is that the bar for what is considered sexual harassment is now so low that i’m surprised more people aren’t avoiding doing business with women to avoid any accusations.

    I also roll my eyes at how everything is a “culture” now. Notice how many of them revolve around women.
    There are definitely guys that are jerks, though. But with the low bar for what’s harassment, it’s hard to tell which ones are jerks and which ones are just socially inept. It’s too easy to fly the victim flag.

    1. You are correct, it is happening. Men are avoiding women. Kathy at confirms this. She says that many guys are afraid of meetings with her for fear of being accused of harassment.

      Your comment that some men are creeps is telling. Some women are creeps too, but you don’t mention that. Some women use men with their sexuality. You should point that out as well.

  2. Just remember one thing: If you label a man sexist enough times, you will get your wish. My company has a policy, “Don’t pitch the bitch.” No women are allowed at my company. I don’t want the distraction. We are doing serious business and I do not any worry about getting in trouble.

    You may thing your social movement is helping women, but not in my company. And I know plenty of other guys who feel the same way.

        1. From their Values page. The About page of the same site has four people photographed, all make all white.

          “Workforce Diversity

          The employees of AssetLink are a talented and diverse team. Achieving the full potential of this diversity is fundamental to our competitive success. To do so, AssetLink has a strong commitment to equal opportunity.”

  3. In the 1980s and 1990s, I would hire women and blacks without a thought as long as they were qualified (although not a single black applied and few women applied). But now, white men are looked at as if we are predators. And there is a real danger we could be sued when we have done nothing wrong. Even without an actual lawsuit, the tension in the workplace emanating from a small subgroup draws energy and resources from serious work that we need to do to stay competitive.

    This is my company and I am paying for a lot of day to day operations out of my own pocket. I am not going to spend money to be politically correct if it is going to reduce the chance of success. Political correctness is luxury I can not afford.

    Secondly, I do not believe that diversity of gender, race etc. has any effect on the generation of new ideas when it comes to technical problems. IQ, work ethic, creativity, experience, background, skill and reliability are what really count.

    If you take a non-racist, non-sexist white male, and then you accuse of being racist and sexist too many times, that guy will become racist and sexist. I know because that is what happened to me and it is happening to male business owners all over the Valley.

    Accusing people of crimes they did not commit is going to hurt your cause in the long run. White men are afraid to speak out, but their frustration will express itself in the only way it can ,,, in the form of racist and sexist hiring.

    I am happy to hire Chinese men, Korean men, Japanese men, Indian men, White men, European men etc. But I do not want to hire anyone who is angry at white men and who is determined to cause trouble at the smallest perceived slight. My company is not a place to make a political statement. Any of that and you are instantly out.

    More and more white men are angry about what it going on. They don’t need to hold a march to protest. They can uphold their principles very effectively in their own backyard.

  4. A cautionary tale:

    A few years ago, I started dating a beautiful Mexican-American girl I met at Alberto’s on Dana Street in Mountain View. She came to the US as an illegal alien at age 6, but wound up going to Yale and then Stanford for graduate school. Shortly after our friendship started, I learned that she did not like whites, males or sex. And she was very political.

    I had never done anything but treat her with kindness, with consideration and with respect, so I thought she would not apply those preconceived views against me … after all, she professed to be in love. But as the relationship progressed, instead of convincing her that white men weren’t so bad, and sex was a beautiful way to express love, I found myself hating women, hating Mexicans and turning off my sex drive. Since I realized that all of this was unhealthy and I was turning into someone I did not want to be, I ended the relationship.

    Falsely accusing someone just because they belong to a group you think you hate, is destructive at every level, and it eventually causes conflict that perpetuates itself based on absolutely nothing.

    Women are very successful at creating and winning the gender war. At the moment, there are nearly twice as many women in college as men. There is every indication that gender gap will continue to widen. We will soon find out if women don’t need men, and if society does not need men. Men are checking out in droves. Increasingly, women are going to have to carry society’s burden.

    It is uncharted territory and no one knows how this will turn out. But remember: This is what you wanted.

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