As new sexual harassment allegations come to light, leaders in Silicon Valley are taking a deeper look at what has become a pervasive issue.
Uber recently fired more than 20 employees following an internal investigation into allegations from former Uber engineer Susan Fowler who alleged the company failed to act on sexual harassment and gender discrimination complaints.
Now, a venture capitalist is at the center of sexism claims. Half a dozen women have accused Justin Caldbeck, formerly at Bain Capital, of making unwanted sexual advances when they went to seek out funding or advice from him, according to a report in The Information. (In a statement Caldbeck said: "It is outrageous and unethical for any person to leverage a position of power in exchange for sexual gain, it is clear to me now that that is exactly what I've done.")
The revelations have led LinkedIn co-founder and former CEO Reid Hoffman to speak out. In a LinkedIn blog post he explained how venture capitalists can help fix the culture.
For one thing, the industry should work on building an industry-wide HR function, so that venture capitalists who engage in such behavior face the same sort of consequences they would if their overtures were directed at an employee, he wrote.
Until then, Hoffman wants those who work in the industry to help improve its "working conditions and the overall ethical climate" by acknowledging that sexual harassment is unacceptable.
To Hoffman, this means three different things for VCs:
- VCs should interact with entrepreneurs the same way a manager would with an employee. Sexual relationships and business relationships should not mix.
- Those who see VCs behaving inappropriately should share that information with colleagues.
- Limited partners should take a zero-tolerance attitude toward this behavior, and stop investing in VCs who behave badly.
"This behavior occurs in our industry not just because some believe it's no big deal, but also because those who do find it unacceptable don't do enough to actively discourage it," said Hoffman.