Roger Ailes, Fox News. Bill O’Reilly, Fox News. Harvey Weinstein, Miramax. Donald Trump, President. James Toback, director. Dave McClure, 500 Startups. Justin Caldwell, Binary Capital. John Besh, chef. Al Franken, Senator. Matt Lauer, NBC. Charlie Rose, PBS. Mark Halperin, MSNBC. Eric Bolling, Fox News. Russell Simmons, Def Jam Records. Michael Oreskes, NPR. Brett Ratner, director. Kevin Spacey, actor. Jeffrey Tambor, actor. Mario Batali, chef. Twenty employees at Uber.
The list of powerful individuals accused of multiple incidents of sexual harassment keeps growing. Some have also been accused of outright sexual assault. Although many of these disclosures started in Silicon Valley, they quickly spread to other industries: news, entertainment and finance.
For years, the start-up and venture capital industry had been immune to criticism about its behavior because the industry has created immense wealth by churning out hit companies, such as Facebook, Snap and Uber. However, the backlash in this and other industries now suggests that those successes are no longer enough to excuse the conduct of these individuals.
The Numbers on Sexual Harassment
The statistics on sexual harassment of women are staggering. Studies have found:
- 90% witnessed sexist behavior at company off-site and/or industry conferences.
- 60% reported being the target of unwanted sexual advances from a superior.
- 60% who reported sexual harassment were dissatisfied with the outcome.
- 33% say they felt afraid for their personal safety because of work-related circumstances.
In Silicon Valley, the bias is evident, based on the survey results.
- 47% of women have been asked to do lower-level tasks that male colleagues are not asked to do (e.g., note-taking, ordering food, etc.).
- 66% of women say they’ve been excluded from social or networking opportunities because of gender.
- 88% have had clients or colleagues address questions to male peers rather than to them.
- 87% have been on the receiving end of demeaning comments from male colleagues
- 75% say they were asked about marriage and family in interviews.
Additionally, for the women that have spoken up, they have felt the repercussions.
- 30% stayed mum about being harassed because they didn’t want to remember it happened.
- 29% signed a non-disparagement agreement.
The male culture dominates in Silicon Valley, and sexual harassment has been so routine, it had almost become part of acceptable behavior for startups and venture capital firms. A good example is Ellen Pao.
Ellen Pao's Story
Back in 2010, Ms. Pao was a junior partner at the powerhouse venture capital law firm, Kleiner Perkins. She had an engineering degree from Princeton University, a law degree from Harvard Law School and an MBA from Harvard Business School. She alleged that she had been harassed by a senior partner for over a year.
The firm conducted an investigation. Despite the fact that they had no human resources department, no policy on harassment, and another partner made the same allegations against the same partner, the firm found no discrimination or harassment. In March, 2015, a jury reached the same conclusion.
Does this mean Ms. Pao was not harassed or discriminated against, or that this type of behavior does not exist in Silicon Valley? Far from it. Since Ms. Pao’s allegations, the veritable floodgates of harassment allegations have opened.
Speaking Out Against Sexual Harassment
Across several industries and numerous decades, dozens of people are being accused of harassment and (sometimes grossly) inappropriate conduct. Although sexual harassment is nothing new, maybe enough victims will finally speak up that the behavior will be less prevalent, if not gone entirely.
However, not everyone is convinced that the culture will change, at least in Silicon Valley. Jennifer Schwartz, an attorney who has represented tech workers in discrimination cases, said she wasn’t convinced that Silicon Valley will change: “The culture in the tech industry is so hugely focused on this no-holds-barred, money rules the day. All else takes a backseat to people’s drive to create the next best thing, to have the next best idea.”