Silicon Valley’s Overdue Cultural Pivot

June 24, 2017

This has certainly been a week to remember: Travis Kalanick, the CEO of one of the fastest growing startups is pushed out. Prominent venture investor, Justin Caldbeck, is forced to take “an indefinite leave of absence.” (Edit: and has now resigned from Binary.) Any one of these events is a notable occurrence, but both together is the sign of what I hope is a transforming social conscience. Behaviors that previously were swept under the rug in favor of profits and returns are now being called out by incredibly brave people. And, those daring revelations are now leading to very real consequences.

While I’m happy that the investors and board members finally took action for the many bad behaviors at Uber, I’m more grateful to Susan Fowler, who put her career on the line to bravely call out injustice. I’m grateful to Niniane Wang, Susan Ho, and Leiti Hsu who put their careers on the line. It takes real guts to go on the record on these issues. Retaliation is very real. Victim blaming is all too real, just look at the Bill Cosby case, or Brock Turner case. I’m thankful to the journalists like Sarah Lacy and Reed Albergotti who dug in relentlessly to amplify these stories.

This trend is happening outside of Silicon Valley as well with both Roger Ailes and Bill O’Reilly finally getting real consequences for their behavior. Taking real action means taking real steps. It means not hiring a known harasser, it means not investing in a known harasser, and it means not collaborating with a known harasser.

When we published the “Elephant in the Valley” study, it raised some eye opening statistics. Over sixty percent of the women we surveyed experienced unwanted sexual advances in the workplace. And ⅓ of those women were afraid for their physical safety. On top of that, 39% didn’t report the harassment for the very real fear of retaliation. In addition to the survey, we asked women to submit anonymous stories of their experiences. A common theme was the predatory behavior in the venture community. Unfortunately, this behavior exists well beyond the Justin Caldbecks of the world.

I stood up to sexual harassment in the workplace and it was really hard. I’m lucky — the negative after-effects that I was bracing for were definitely infuriating, but ultimately haven’t slowed me down. In fact, they’ve only further cemented my desire to help make a positive dent. And we still have a long way to go.

In the entrepreneurial ecosystem, we celebrate our ability to pivot. And that’s clearly what we need to do with part of our current culture. Let’s not forget that these are two examples of much bigger and systemic problems. We need our CEOs, board members and investors to hold our leaders accountable. So please, let’s not forget this week. Let’s remember, celebrate and support the brave people who come forward, and most importantly, let’s band together to collectively move our culture forward with real accountability.

Trae Vassallo

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