The tech industry needs to stop thinking that an apology is all it takes to handle sexual harassment cases
After a long-history of institutionalised sexual harassment in Silicon Valley, the tech scene finally seems to be coming face-to-face with a toxic cultural acceptance of boorish, offensive, and damaging behaviour towards women.
Over the weekend, the New York Times published a piece that revealed several sexual harassment cases conducted by some of the biggest names in Silicon Valley.
Psuedo-celebrity executives from VC firms were mentioned in the piece, and promptly signed on to Medium to apologise. The two biggest names were 500 Startups’ Dave McClure and Chris Sacca of Shark Tank fame.
In the Medium post, McClure apologised for making “advances towards multiple women in work-related situations, where it was clearly inappropriate” and stated that he has been undergoing regular counseling for a month.
Though the day-to-day operation of the company has now been handed to Co-Founder Christine Tsai, McClure will continue to work at the company as General Partner.
There has been zero mention of him resigning, though some have begun to call for it:
I wish I could compliment him the way his supporters do, as can be seen on the comments section McClure’s Medium post … No. Wait. Correction. What am I thinking? I do not wish to do such thing.
In fact, I am going to do the other way around: I am calling out for accountability from McClure, all Silicon Valley executives mentioned in the New York Times, and the companies they have been representing.
I call for an action to be taken. Something that goes beyond writing apologies on a blogging platform.
We don’t get to do bad things, apologise when caught and move forward as if nothing has happened. That is, as one would say, ‘the easy way out’.
Especially since, as the story continues to develop, TechCrunch reported that even 500 Startups’ own LP were kept in the dark about the incident. Indicating systematical hushes of the bad behaviour, instead of tackling it head on.
This case marks a turning point
It is only Monday (in Asia) and yet we have begun to see more women speak up about the issue.
In her Medium post, Allison Baum stressed the importance for women to continue on speaking up about their experiences with sexual harassment.
“When we sweep these small instances under the rug, we give them an inordinate amount of power. Then, we get high on sugar to distract ourselves from the painful reality that in today’s world, if you are a woman, you are going to get shoved into the corner of an elevator at some point,” she wrote, citing a past incident when a “well-accomplished professional” harassed her at an industry conference.
As the sun goes down and the day comes to an end, I expect that more and more voices are going to speak up.
Despite risks that this will end up becoming “just another trending topic” that will be forgotten by the time next Sunday comes around, women have spoken up. The cat is out of the bag and it is unlikely there will be any going back.
Call me a cynic but it seems like in 2017, companies only fear a public relations crisis and will tolerate misbehavior until they are caught. Speaking out is important because it is the only thing that will kickstart them into doing something. That is why they only take action when the cases make headlines.
Another solution that 500 Startups, and other companies with similar problems, can pursue is to start an independent investigation into the incident (kind of like when Uber hired former US Attorney General Eric Holder to investigate its internal culture of sexual harassment).
Even from Asia, an the a helicopter view of the epidemic we see, it is clear that there is something systematic in the Valley.
For cases of sexual harassment to be left unhandled for years requires more than just one victim deciding not to speak up.
A large group of people have decided that the problem should stay under the radar, and nothing should be done upon it.
A large group of enablers.
However, the recent events do feel different, and maybe this marks a turning point that will eventually lead to a long-term positive outcome.
A moment for unity in the tech community.
And last but not least, for both men and women in tech. Please. Stand up for your sisters.
Aulia Halimatussadiah, the Chief Content Officer for Indonesia’s Zetta Media pointed-out that speaking up on harassment is “not easy” as it is “mentally shattering” for the victims, and they often received backlash for speaking up.
“What women can do is to create a support system formed in smaller circle groups, to speak up within the ‘safe space’ and share experiences to understand the situations better while supporting each other,” she told e27.
“Women can also talk about the concerns openly on their personal platforms … and also discussing it with their colleagues, men and women, on what does it mean to have a decent conversation in the workplace,” she continued.
More voices are agreeing that this is something that is not just for women to work on.
“It’s upon both men and women to ensure that the this is not just a wave that dies down but a beginning of a continued conversation that brings about change in the way women are perceived in the industry,” Kashmira Chawak, Founder of Storyboard Communications and Board Member of Female Founders, wrote to e27.
“We need to have stronger work policies that side with women, awareness, and education on appropriate behaviour and address subconscious biases that exist in the industry,” she continued.
I have written about how some women in tech are in denial of the gender inequality issues that the industry is facing; they would even go as far as dismissing the injustice that other women have faced, simply because it never happened to them.
I see founders such as Rashmi Sinha of SlideShare talking about how their company, which is led by a woman, “would not even have raised a Series A” if it was not for Dave McClure.
To be brutally honest, I am seriously questioning her intention for publishing this post because she starts by condoning what McClure has done to the women, but then goes on about the good things that he has done for women in the industry.
Is she trying to make McClure looks good despite what he has done? To tone down the degree of the problem, because yes, it was a harassment, but at least it was done by someone who has helped women entrepreneurs? To strengthen whatever good reputation he has left, so that he can take advantage of it?
Sometimes, people you respect do bad things, and that is just one of the tragedies in life.
Just because a man was once being sweet to you —taking you out for dinner, defending you from catcalls in the street— does not mean his past kindness should outshine the fact that he had cheated on you.
And when that happens, you would expect your friends to stand by your side. So be that friend.
The post Yes, these guys are creeps, and apologies are not enough appeared first on e27.