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In an industry where money rules and male investors are treated like demigods, more and more women are speaking up. But will it work? The entrepreneur Sarah Nadav was talking to a potential investor at drinks at a major tech conference, when he leaned over and stuck his tongue into her mouth.
She pushed him off, but he tried again — this time more aggressively. Nadav, now the CEO of Civilize, is one of numerous female entrepreneurs to come forward to talk about their experiences of sexual harassment in Silicon Valley. In the last week, the public testimonies of dozens of women has triggered a huge backlash and the reation of at least two venture capitalists.
But critics were quick to argue these were about PR damage control more than meaningful ability. It began when numerous women accused the prominent venture capitalist Justin Caldbeck of sexual harassment, prompting the Binary Capital co-founder to step down. Women have since come forward with claims of mistreatment by numerous high-profile players, including Tesla. A critical ingredient in their success — at least in the short term — is attracting enough money from the right venture capital firm or angel investor. In addition, this elite group of moneymen and they are disproportionately men can add a stamp of approval to a fledgling business that in turn helps to attract more investment and publicity.
Silicon Valley treats these investors like demigods, in front of whom founders must parade themselves in order to stay afloat. Stories like this are widespread. After the Dating Ring founders turned down the money from the groper, Kay said, they struggled to raise money from investors who seemed more interest in getting a date than an equity stake in a dating company.
There are no rules. If you speak openly about an investor, you can be sure to be blacklisted. For some, the recent naming and shaming marks a tipping point for Silicon Valley. I hope it will instill fear in men who thought they could get away with it.
Sam Altman, the president of Y Combinator, said that he had noticed a shift in the way that men in the industry were reacting to the public debate. Inhe wrote a blogpost about sexism and diversity. Now, some of those same men are coming around. If proof were needed, one investor ended the week with a blog in defense of David McClure.
Sexual harassment in Silicon Valley: have we reached a tipping point? The last week has seen women in Silicon Valley share stories of sexual harassment, assault and discrimination, prompting a backlash and high-profile reations. Photograph: Alamy Stock Photo.
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