Buzz, Opinion, Sexual Harassment, Southeast Asia

Opinion: The best way to stamp out sexual harassment is to get more women into tech


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A familiar name surfaced in recent tech industry headlines. Dave McClure, co-founder of 500 Startups, had been a regular on the Southeast Asian startup circuit, at least five years before Silicon Valley paid any interest to this region.

McClure suffered an ignoble demotion for inappropriate interactions with women in the tech community. No longer in charge of day-to-day operations, he is attending counseling. His fall from grace came to light when The New York Times reported that he had sexually harassed women applying for jobs or seeking to raise funds.

Sexual harassment of women appears better disguised in Asia than in the West, but remains ever present despite being infrequently discussed in public. So it was good that Tech in Asia’s story on sexual harassment in Southeast Asia’s tech sector featured women openly relating how they had suffered.

“Why end up in a Google search?”

When I broached the topic to tech entrepreneurs and investors, both men and women, few would go on record. One male VC, who forwarded my email to his colleagues, said only four responded and all were women.

Three asked if it would be ok if they did not reply. “Why end up in a Google search on this topic?” was the attitude.

But this is the issue. If everyone thinks along these lines, the problem will persist. Fortunately, one person did remark that there was a need to speak up.

The women entrepreneurs and investors who did respond took a more pragmatic approach. What really matters is that business opportunities and safe spaces be available to them, they said.

That may explain why women-in-tech groupings abound in Asia, Singapore included. Information from the startup community and a Google search reveal more than 30 such groups including Girls In Tech Singapore, Athena, Female Founders, Women in Tech, Singapore Geek Girls, Tech Ladies, SG Geek Girls, CodingGirls etc. These function more as networks to encourage information sharing and mentoring.

Recent headlines provide good teaching moments on the damage wrought by abuse of power and discrimination. Even in Asian societies that lean toward maintaining social harmony and avoiding confrontation, such abuse cannot be tolerated.

Prominent investor Ong Peng Tsin said: “It’s perpetrated by bullies who never learned to treat others with basic human kindness. And I think that, at least in the tech world, when exposed, these abuses of power will be dealt with as in the case of McClure and Binary Capital where one co-founder resigned.”

What can be done? In the short term, victims need to speak out, no matter how punishing the short-term pain. This will create greater awareness and discourage the perpetrators from harassing other women.

More women in STEM needed

In the long term, the best solution is to ensure greater gender diversity in the tech industry. This starts with having more women studying STEM: science, technology, engineering, and mathematics.

Parents, be aware that the tech industry is not just for guys. If you deny your daughters a tech career, you would not only be denying them good jobs in an economy driven by technology but also denying them opportunities to be significant players in wealth creation.

If there are more women in the tech industry, it evens out the power imbalance and inhibits men from abusing their authority. If more tech professionals and entrepreneurs are women, it will lead to more women entering the venture capital industry.

Silicon Valley leader and co-founder of LinkedIn Reid Hoffman last week spoke out against sexual harassment and provided a three-point fight for what he describes as The Human Rights of Women Entrepreneurs.

Venture capital partners must have a professional manager-employee like relationship with their entrepreneurs. There must be zero tolerance towards sexual harassment. VC partners who see this inappropriate behavior should share the information with their colleagues.

These three points ought to be adopted by venture capitalists and VC associations in Asia as part of their constitution. It will be a move in the right direction.

This post Opinion: The best way to stamp out sexual harassment is to get more women into tech appeared first on Tech in Asia.



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