As the co-Founder of LinkedIn and Greylock Partners VC, Reid Hoffman has about as valid a platform as anyone to comment on the recent sexual harassment allegations within the Silicon Valley and wider venture capitalist markets. His article raises a lot of talking points:
If you’ve missed some of those headlines, here is a quick overview; first, a female engineer at Uber publicly opened up about her numerous reports of sexual harassment going ignored by the firm. More recently, three female entrepreneurs came forward about their experiences of sexual harassment and unwanted advances with Justin Caldbeck, co-founder of Binary Capital. In the wake of that, the New York Times published allegations that ‘500 Startups’ founder Dave McClure and VC Chris Sacca had also engaged in some sexual misconduct.
Caldbeck immediately apologised and announced an indefinite leave of absence, but one of the three women involved responded; “While we’re happy that he apologized…our strong preference would have been to not be in this position to begin with” – and that is the big point here and the focus of much of Hoffman’s article. How do we correct this? How do we stop it from becoming an unwanted part of the industry culture?
Interestingly, Hoffman first suggests an industry-wide HR function to govern this behaviour.
VCs preying on entrepreneurs – or vice versa – can slip under the radar as neither side operates under the same roof. Most companies in Silicon Valley are populated by forward thinking (and often young) people who build cultures of dignity and collaboration in gender – but they also have competent HR functions to ensure respectful behaviour within their organisations.
Of course industry regulators exist as the norm already, designed exactly for problems such as this – but a cross-sector authority created specifically to oversee engagements between different industries or sub-sets of industries is an interesting notion. It’s an idea that could very obviously be transplanted onto the insurance, trading, consulting or recruitment sectors – but of course the nature of global trade and commerce means it has relevance with every part of the economy.
Beyond a regulatory body, Hoffman also places emphasis on the individuals involved. He puts forward the idea that you should forfeit any notion of a romantic or sexual relationship if you are pursuing a business one – and vice versa. The two do not and should not mix.
He also simply proposes that those in power stop working with and investing in VCs displaying that type of behaviour.
Most importantly, however, he promotes the idea of speaking up.
Zero tolerance on this issue will only come about if everyone buys-in to that idea. As he says, staying silent and not acting just allows the problem to perpetuate and sends the public signal, “we don’t care”.
The hope is that those who were brave enough to come forward and very publicly put their names and stories on full view will open some doors for others. The three women involved in the allegations against Caldbeck have, between them, co-created Google Desktop and founded Journy – the successful transport app. It should at least give this much needed conversation some momentum.
- by Tariq Siraj