An Unsettling Trend in Silicon Valley

Posted by Jolie Peters
(@Jolie Peters)

Imagine you are a female. Imagine you’ve created an app. Imagine you spent years working on your product. Imagine you had many sleepless nights, no weekends off. Imagine you used your life savings to bring your dream into fruition. Imagine you land a meeting with a top investment firm in Silicon Valley. You’ve heard just how progressive this tech hub is. You’ve heard the rags to riches stories, in fact they are what kept you going during all of your struggles and doubts. Imagine you spend hours preparing for this meeting. Your pitch deck alone took two weeks. When the big day of the meeting arrives, you’re nervous, but hopeful.

A beautiful secretary walks you into the meeting room where your dreams will either come to life, or be crushed. But when you sit down, you quickly realize that the VC you’ve spent hours wondering about is much less interested in your app, and much more interested in your physical appearance. His eyes wander up and down your body as though he’s sizing up his prey. He holds his handshake a bit too long. He winks at you. And finally, he offers you a proposition. It’s not the kind you were hoping for. This interaction has proven to be an unsettling trend in the world’s largest tech hub, and in recent weeks several women have spoken out about the harassment they’ve received in the workplace.

Dave McClure, the founder of the startup incubator 500 Startups, stepped down from his position after being accused of coming on to women that were applying for jobs at his firm. In this article from the New York Times, McClure is quoted saying, “I’m a creep. I’m sorry.” What’s even worse, Elizabeth Yin, a partner at 500 Startups, also stepped down after reporting that the company tried to cover up a separate incident of harassment by McClure.

500 Startups Founder Dave McClure.

Silicon Valley, where our favorite apps and technology are founded, is run by white male elites. It is run by the same 1% that many progressive millennials hold so much contempt and resentment towards. Silicon Valley is a bubble of people with enough money and entitlement that they can justify protecting the top dogs, instead of the female employees that are being assaulted. It’s time for this trend to end.

While it isn’t the only solution, one way to negate this trend of assault in the workplace is to increase opportunities for women at the top level. A group of strong, fearless women speaking out against McClure eventually led to his stepdown. What if women were in a position to police their male counterparts in the first place? Perhaps McClure wouldn’t have acted in such a manner if a female partner was sitting in on his meetings, making sure he didn’t cross the line. If McClure, and the onslaught of founders in Silicon Valley just like him, can’t be trusted, what other choices do we have?

Women aren’t the only group of people that are underrepresented in Silicon Valley. Women and men of color are also iced out of this tech hub. The same opportunities just don’t exist for people that weren’t born into the world of ivy league elite that dominate Silicon Valley. It is our hope that with more issues like this coming to light, there will be more opportunities for different demographics to step into higher positions, and to have an easier time finding investment across the board. It is bad enough to have your product rejected, but these types of interactions can result in lifelong mental struggles. Silicon Valley VC’s often ask product developers what pain point they’re trying to solve. What if they’re the pain point that needs solving above all else. It’s time to make female founders the rule, not the example.

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