Time for Boards to Catch Up to VC’s When it Comes to Addressing Workplace Sexism and Sexual Harassment

Word cloud based on the description of the conversations held by VCs re: accusations coming out across Silicon Valley of sexually inappropriate behavior and/or sexism or the broader #MeToo movement

theBoardlist and Qualtrics are releasing today the findings of a new survey we conducted about the actions and attitudes of Board of Directors and Venture Capital firms in the wake of the #MeToo movement. We conducted this survey in February and March of 2018 as a follow-up to the survey we did six months earlier to understand the power of a movement that was just beginning.

In this new targeted survey, 134 Board members and 46 venture capitalists in the U.S. participated to help us delve deeper into what sort of impact on leadership the #MeToo movement and increased media scrutiny into workplace sexism and harassment are having.

What We Found

Our follow-up survey found that there has been some improvement when it comes to discussing and addressing the issues posed by the #MeToo movement both on public and private boards as well as at VC firms; however, VC firms (which were largely located in Silicon Valley) reported much more interest in tackling the problem.

Previously, our 2017 survey revealed that the vast majority of boards (77%) had not discussed accusations of sexually inappropriate behavior and/or sexism in the workplace. Nearly all (88%) had not implemented a plan of action as a result of recent revelations in the media. The updated numbers reflect steps in the right direction, but the majority of Board of Directors (57%) had not discussed the topics at all.

The numbers are not much better for boards this time around, when asked if their board had discussed implementing a plan of action as a result of these revelations, only 22% reported yes, while 78% still reported no (compared to 77% last fall). In addition, when asked if their board had already taken actions as a result of these revelations, three-fourths (75%) said that they had not (compared to 88% in the fall).

For those board members who reported that their boards still had not discussed the topic, reasons given ranged from “threatening to our CEO” to various themes of “not seen as relevant” or “lack of prioritization”. These responses are disheartening, especially given that two-thirds of respondents who sit on a board (64%) report having personally experienced a “MeToo” moment in their careers.

It’s Not All Grim

The news on the venture capital side seemed a bit more promising, 89% of respondents said that the #MeToo movement, sexually inappropriate behavior and/or sexism had been addressed (up from 83% in the previous survey). Over half (54%) report that they have plans to or have already taken action as a result of these revelations. Additionally, over two-thirds (68%) of VC’s report advising their smaller companies that don’t have HR departments to do so as well.

Reasons cited for paying attention to the topic ranged from more of a “focus on diversity” to “new opportunities for women to lead emerging”. VC’s particularly have been taken to task this past year for a lack of female leadership and for having a culture that is generally largely unsupportive of diversity. These findings demonstrate the power of the media and social movements for accountability and potential action.

While it is great news that the VC community appears to be taking the current climate of change seriously; it is equally disheartening to see that it is not as big of a priority yet for boards, especially outside of Silicon Valley. We are looking to our leaders, many of who are men to join in finding a solutions to the lack of opportunity for women at the leadership level and it often starts with a frank discussion of the obstacles and issues faced.