After a hectic few weeks of travel, this morning I finally got a chance to get back into the routine of reading and replying to emails, tuning into the ether to get the latest updates on technology news, and most importantly, opening my writing app to jot down a few thoughts. And before I could get too far, I saw the story in The Information about an investor who was using his position of privilege to cross the line and harass female founders.
The story, after a few hours actually roared into the social consciousness, becoming a much tweeted topic, though initially amongst female founders and investors. A few hours later predictably, we started to see comments, hot takes and the ensuing talk of diversity emerge from the VC community. There was even a Decency Pledge created. Many signed up – and while it seems like a great idea that as investors (and I am part of that demographic) should treat entrepreneurs, especially female founders with the same standards of ethics and decency as we expect from our founders when it comes to female employees.
It made me wonder and tweet: “Fellow VCs, if you have to take a #DecencyPledge to begin with, you are doing it all wrong. Don’t need a pledge to behave properly/ethically.” The more I thought about it, the more I realized why this whole thing wasn’t sitting well with me.
As I wrote on Facebook, my biggest issue with Silicon Valley is that when it comes to culture, ethics and morality, it is so damn reactive. I mean if you hate the sexism in the industry, why wait till a publication prints a piece. You mean to say that not a single male VC knew about the bad behavior of Justin Caldbeck?
Why come up with a long list of recommendations as a blog post the day after? Why not ostracize the culprits before this even became news? And it is not just this specific event. Why criticize and comment on a company culture gone wrong when the board hasn’t done shit for a long time and let the crap happen?
I could go on and on, but the fact is that doing the right thing isn’t reactive, but proactive and an ongoing thing.
Seriously, if we want to make a difference, then do so by doing the right thing and speaking up. I know it is hard to lose out on connections, but seriously we need to not think of ethical, moral and cultural challenges as marketing opportunities and work for an overhaul from within — by saying no to bad behaviors and bad culture.
From the earliest days, I have always imagined the technology industry to be a cool, quiet, future-forward, egalitarian and as an inclusive community. It is far from it. We aren’t going to get there with what my friend Susan Wu calls “diversity theater.” Every part of the ecosystem has to work hard to root out bad behaviors – from limited partners to venture capitalists to startup founders and their teams. It is about doing the right thing when no one is looking.
What is more ironic is that Caldeck issued an apology, which is nothing more than attempt to put lipstick on a pig, spin to distract and negate the impact of his actions. In other words, pure and utter bullshit! You don’t threaten people for years and then have a change of heart overnight.
Or as one of his victims, Niniane Wang wrote in her blog post, “I do not believe that someone can harass women for 10 years, tell the people who exposed him to go f**k themselves, and then 24 hours later, thank them for bringing him self-awareness.” If his partners have any sense of morality — they would re-evaluate their relationships with someone who clearly has predatory tendencies. Such behaviors don’t change with a blog post or an indefinite leave.
And for future Caldbecks, It is smart to not combine your personal peccadilloes and professional life. Or as an old saying goes: don’t shit where you eat.
June 24, 2017. San Francisco