Business dinners that turn out to not be about business. Unwanted hands slipping under the table to land on a thigh. Trying to be taken seriously in a man’s world. While it may sounds like I’m talking about the professional climb of a 1960s, -style career woman, the situations described above come from a much more contemporary business setting: women startup founders interacting with male venture capitalists, the men who have the power to make or break their companies.
While it can be extremely hard for an individual founder to about sexual harassment, one of the most influential startup incubators in the world has decided to do it on behalf of all of its companies. Y Combinator’s Jessica Livingston a public “reminder” to investors in anticipation of their Demo Day that “Y Combinator has a zero tolerance policy for inappropriate sexual or romantic behavior from investors to founders.”
She goes on to warn them that she “will find out,” a terse statement that effectively communicates just how dead serious she (and, presumably, the incubator) is about this. She also calls up the full weight of the Y Combinator community, reminding investors that they all stand by these values and will refuse to work with anyone who treats women founders anything less than professionally. Considering the fact that Y Combinator has already funded over 700 startups – including some very well known names like Reddit and Dropbox – it’s not an idle threat. We reached out to Livingston for comment but haven't heard back as of press time.
While her move on behalf of Y Combinator is encouraging for the future of women in the startup world, the fact that this step had to be taken at all is pretty disheartening. Just today Sam Biddle at broke a story about a venture capitalist named Pavel Curda who, after meeting with entrepreneur Gesche Haas at a Berlin networking event, sent a text that said, “Hey G. I will not leave Berlin without having sex with you. Deal?”
Sigh. Seriously, Pavel?
Unfortunately, yeah, seriously. Shit like this happens all the time for women founders and it’s going to take a lot to get it to stop. Fortunately, we’ve got people like Jessica Livingston who are not only willing but excited to take a stand against exactly this kind of bullshit sexual harassment in the tech world. Here’s hoping they soon outnumber the Pavels.
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