Many Startup Founders Doubt Extent of Sexual Harassment
There’s some cognitive dissonance in startup-land. The nationwide focus on sexual harassment, assault, and retaliation arguably started in Silicon Valley, with Susan J. Fowler’s account of discrimination and harassment at Uber in February. Throughout the year, accounts of misconduct were revealed at startups and venture firms, causing numerous high-profile investors and CEOs to resign. The list of disgraced tech men is long: Justin Caldbeck, Dave McClure, Mike Cagney, Chris Sacca, Marc Canter, Shervin Pishevar, Andy Rubin, Amit Singhal, Steve Jurvetson.
Each revelation has prompted calls for change. Yet a new survey conducted by venture firm First Round Capital suggests that startup founders still have a long way to go when it comes to acknowledging and addressing the problem. The survey polled more than 800 startup founders, 17 percent of whom identified as female. According to the survey, more than half of startup founders have experienced or know someone who has experienced sexual harassment in the workplace. A full 78 percent of the women surveyed answered yes to the question.
Yet 19 percent of respondents said the problem of sexual harassment in tech has been overblown by the media; men were four times more likely to say this than women. More than 40 percent said the opposite—that the problem is more significant than the media is reporting. There’s an irony here: The number one thing startup founders say they look for in an investor is good character.
Regarding the lack of diversity, 42 percent blamed the oft-cited “pipeline problem,” claiming tech’s dismal diversity stats are due to a shortage of women and minorities entering the industry. Unconscious bias came in second, followed by poor college recruiting into STEM.
There’s not much agreement between the genders on what should be done. The women surveyed believed the problem can be solved with more female venture capitalists and pressure from limited partners. The men surveyed named sensitivity training and more media coverage as the best solutions. (Both sides agreed that decency pledges are useless.)
Surprisingly, only 17 percent of those surveyed said they have a formal plan or policy to promote diversity and inclusion at their companies, up only slightly from 14 percent in First Round’s survey last year. The majority of respondents said they have informal strategies, and 16 percent said they had no plans to adopt any policy to promote diversity and inclusion.
That may be why nearly a third of respondents believe it will take more than 20 years for the tech workforce to be representative of the general population when it comes to race and gender. First Round Capital said some respondents complained that the question didn’t have an option to answer “never,” from those who don’t think the industry is on a trajectory to ever achieve parity.