Blueprint: Sexual Harassment Prevention best practice for the Israeli VC industry

Sexual Harassment. We’d like this to be a thing of the past, and not a part of our future.

Back in July 2017, when the #metoo wave hit the Israeli VC industry, we knew we wanted to make sure we do anything we can to prevent this from happening at lool ventures. The entrepreneurs engaging with us should — must — feel safe, so that we can all focus our attention on innovation.

Israeli law provides the basic framework for preventing sexual harassment at the workplace. The Voluntary Code for Preventing Sexual Harassment adds and clarifies on top of the law.

One potential pitfall though is that entrepreneurs are not employees, co-workers, clients or customers of an investor. The relationship between an entrepreneur and an investor is very loosely defined, especially pre the potential investment — and yet, investors hold a position of power in the minds of an entrepreneur seeking investment: they are perceived to have the power to make the entrepreneur’s dream come true, or crush it.

If an entrepreneur feels unsafe due to sexual harassment, the set of tools they have at their disposal is rather limited. Not only they have to deal with the complex set of feelings that arise in these situations, they may also be concerned that reporting may have negative impact on their ability to raise funds from the VC organization, and — given the small size and gender bias of the VC industry — from the entire VC industry. On top of that, it is quite common that the only person they ever met from the VC firm is the harassing person — how would they even go about finding who the right person is in the VC firm to handle their complaint?

To overcome this, we’ve built a framework designed to (a) reduce the possibility of a sexual harassment incident from happening in our firm (b) reduce the possibility of a sexual harassment incident from happening in one of our portfolio companies (c) if something does happen, make the reporting mechanism easily accessible and safe for the person reporting.

Here are the highlights of the sytem we built:

  • Clear focal point: We’ve appointed a Sexual Harassment officer. We’ve elected to use an experienced HR person who is not an employee of our organization to ensure the independence of this person.
  • Internal Training: We trained our staff based on the guidelines of the Voluntary Code for Preventing Sexual Harassment.
  • Public commitment: We created a public page on our web site: http://lool.vc/safe/, and linked to this page from our Contact Us page, so that people can actually find it at a time of need. We stated “You will receive an acknowledgement within 2 business days. You will receive the findings reported by the person in charge of the subject within 7 business days”
  • Reporting mechanism: We created a special email address (safe@lool.vc) to which complaints can be sent. These complaints are seen only by the person in our organization who is in charge of this (in our case, the Sexual Harassment officer), and not by anyone else in the organization.
  • Anonymity: We’ve also included a recommendation to use an anonymous email address and linked to a service that offers this.
  • Mandate: We’ve guided the appointed Sexual Harassment office to handle potential complaints using the procedure outline in section 8 of the Voluntary Code.
  • Portfolio: We also went one step further. We’d like to make sure that the companies we invest in are also are formed with the right values, culture and attitude from the get-go. To help this happen, we’ve offered our portfolio companies who have less than 10 employees to use our own Sexual Harassment officer “as a service”, free of charge.

We encourage all Israeli VCs to adopt a similar system. We’re happy to help with lessons learned, implementation tips, pointers to relevant professionals.