Why now?

Comment

Image Credits: Barbara Alper / Contributor under a license.

Sexism in tech has always been an open secret but it seems we’ve hit an inflection point in the past year… More women are now willing to expose the secret.

Most recently, six women came forward to talk about unwanted sexual advances from venture capitalist Justin Caldbeck. Three of the women chose to remain anonymous for fear of retaliation, but, in what seems to be an increasing trend, three went on the record.

The inappropriate advances, say these women, included grabbing a woman’s thigh under the table, asking one founder who’d been pitching Caldbeck to take the meeting back to a hotel room, and sending explicit text messages. And Caldbeck’s history of inappropriate behavior allegedly pre-dated his time at Binary Capital (a founding managing partner at the firm, Caldbeck has been given an “indefinite leave of absence“).

One of the women who went on the record, Niniane Wang, wrote in a Medium post she’d been “trying to expose Justin for 7 years” but said Caldbeck had repeatedly threatened reporters, making it difficult for the story to be told.

So, what has gotten us to a place where women are beginning to feel more confident about talking openly about sexual harassment?

Why now?

Susan Fowler arguably changed Uber’s entire culture. Before her, Ellen Pao fought and lost her gender discrimination case against Kleiner Perkins, but ignited the conversation within tech. Then there are the women who came forward about Trump and Bill Cosby. Five million women and allies of women showed up for the Women’s March on Washington and across the globe, making it the largest political demonstration since Vietnam. The march, which was meant to send the message that “women’s rights are human rights” showed how much support we really had and emboldened more of us to speak out.

Take all these recent incidents and combine it with a generation of women fed up with the status quo of enabling powerful men to hide the way they treat women. It’s clear we’ve hit a moment in time where women not only feel safer about speaking out, they feel it is their imperative to do so.

And when you’re a star, they let you do it, you can do anything…

The end of that famous sentence is “grab ’em by the pussy” and its source was then presidential candidate Donald Trump. The revelation of that quote, as part of a private conversation with Billy Bush from 2005, sent shockwaves through both political parties during Trump’s presidential campaign after its release. Some dismissed it as locker room talk, while others still find those words, and others, from a president of the United States appalling.

The internet can be a tool used to expose men who prey on women and the article about Caldbeck is the latest example. Before it, there was Fowler’s explosive blog post into the misogyny and bro culture within Uber. Inarguably, Uber has had many problems — an array of lawsuits, faltering economics, and international issues — but Fowler’s mid-February post, “Reflecting On One Very, Very Strange Year at Uber” was the bomb that set off a major overhaul and ousting of key executives, including, eventually, CEO Travis Kalanick.

However, it still takes a lot of guts for any woman to come forward. The internet can just as easily punish those who dare to speak out. By adding her name and face to allegations of sexual harassment a woman is likely to face more harassment and questioned about the validity of her statements (“What were you wearing?” “You shouldn’t have been out so late and alone with him, anyway,” etc).

Cases of sexual harassment and assault can also be hard to prove. Just look at the case of Bill Cosby, when 30 women accused him of the same thing, and it was, again, an open secret that Cosby had an alleged history of assault. Still, a jury could not reach a verdict in the case.

It can be terrifying just to come forward and talk about your experiences. Half the women accusing Caldbeck didn’t want to be identified. It’s hard enough for a woman to be taken seriously and then to be propositioned like that by someone who has the power to fund you, hire you, fire you, or control your life in some way, only serves to reinforce that you, as a woman, really don’t matter.

But there’s hope for tech. Note that both Cosby and Trump have not felt the effects of their actions, whereas it’s a different story in Silicon Valley (at least in recent months).

We still have such a long way to go

I was recently at a VC event where I asked one of the firm’s newest partners how many people he’d heard a formal pitch from in the last few months. “About 50,” he said. “How many women have you heard a pitch from?” another person in our group asked. He paused for a while and then told us just one. One!

It’s not because women are less entrepreneurial or don’t have brilliant ideas. By shutting women up or treating women like dates instead of founders, our whole society suffers. It’s sad to think of all the great businesses that might have been if we weren’t repeatedly intimidated.

Thankfully, women are breaking their silence to talk about the industry’s “open secrets”. But just because more women are saying something doesn’t mean our work here is done.

Acknowledging the problem is the first step to recovery. We see that with the Uber board’s whole-hearted admission the culture needs to change. But talking about it means nothing if we don’t see action. Will Uber truly change? We’re still waiting to see but it looks like it’s made the first steps toward that end. However, Uber and one guy at Binary Capital are not the only bad seeds. They just got caught. Silicon Valley, as a whole, needs a good scrub.

So, why now? Because we need to keep saying something — and loudly — and with the support of male allies. And just maybe these predatory monsters will get the message their actions are wrong and they will be exposed for treating women so horribly.

*If you’ve been sexually harassed by a VC or someone else in a position of power in the tech industry, I’m here for you! Contact me with your story either by email at sarah dot buhr at techcrunch dot com or on Signal. 

More TechCrunch

Companies are always looking for an edge, and searching for ways to encourage their employees to innovate. One way to do that is by running an internal hackathon around a…

Why companies are turning to internal hackathons

Featured Article

I’m rooting for Melinda French Gates to fix tech’s broken ‘brilliant jerk’ culture

Women in tech still face a shocking level of mistreatment at work. Melinda French Gates is one of the few working to change that.

5 hours ago
I’m rooting for Melinda French Gates to fix tech’s  broken ‘brilliant jerk’ culture

Blue Origin has successfully completed its NS-25 mission, resuming crewed flights for the first time in nearly two years. The mission brought six tourist crew members to the edge of…

Blue Origin successfully launches its first crewed mission since 2022

Creative Artists Agency (CAA), one of the top entertainment and sports talent agencies, is hoping to be at the forefront of AI protection services for celebrities in Hollywood. With many…

Hollywood agency CAA aims to help stars manage their own AI likenesses

Expedia says Rathi Murthy and Sreenivas Rachamadugu, respectively its CTO and senior vice president of core services product & engineering, are no longer employed at the travel booking company. In…

Expedia says two execs dismissed after ‘violation of company policy’

Welcome back to TechCrunch’s Week in Review. This week had two major events from OpenAI and Google. OpenAI’s spring update event saw the reveal of its new model, GPT-4o, which…

OpenAI and Google lay out their competing AI visions

When Jeffrey Wang posted to X asking if anyone wanted to go in on an order of fancy-but-affordable office nap pods, he didn’t expect the post to go viral.

With AI startups booming, nap pods and Silicon Valley hustle culture are back

OpenAI’s Superalignment team, responsible for developing ways to govern and steer “superintelligent” AI systems, was promised 20% of the company’s compute resources, according to a person from that team. But…

OpenAI created a team to control ‘superintelligent’ AI — then let it wither, source says

A new crop of early-stage startups — along with some recent VC investments — illustrates a niche emerging in the autonomous vehicle technology sector. Unlike the companies bringing robotaxis to…

VCs and the military are fueling self-driving startups that don’t need roads

When the founders of Sagetap, Sahil Khanna and Kevin Hughes, started working at early-stage enterprise software startups, they were surprised to find that the companies they worked at were trying…

Deal Dive: Sagetap looks to bring enterprise software sales into the 21st century

Keeping up with an industry as fast-moving as AI is a tall order. So until an AI can do it for you, here’s a handy roundup of recent stories in the world…

This Week in AI: OpenAI moves away from safety

After Apple loosened its App Store guidelines to permit game emulators, the retro game emulator Delta — an app 10 years in the making — hit the top of the…

Adobe comes after indie game emulator Delta for copying its logo

Meta is once again taking on its competitors by developing a feature that borrows concepts from others — in this case, BeReal and Snapchat. The company is developing a feature…

Meta’s latest experiment borrows from BeReal’s and Snapchat’s core ideas

Welcome to Startups Weekly! We’ve been drowning in AI news this week, with Google’s I/O setting the pace. And Elon Musk rages against the machine.

Startups Weekly: It’s the dawning of the age of AI — plus,  Musk is raging against the machine

IndieBio’s Bay Area incubator is about to debut its 15th cohort of biotech startups. We took special note of a few, which were making some major, bordering on ludicrous, claims…

IndieBio’s SF incubator lineup is making some wild biotech promises

YouTube TV has announced that its multiview feature for watching four streams at once is now available on Android phones and tablets. The Android launch comes two months after YouTube…

YouTube TV’s ‘multiview’ feature is now available on Android phones and tablets

Featured Article

Two Santa Cruz students uncover security bug that could let millions do their laundry for free

CSC ServiceWorks provides laundry machines to thousands of residential homes and universities, but the company ignored requests to fix a security bug.

2 days ago
Two Santa Cruz students uncover security bug that could let millions do their laundry for free

TechCrunch Disrupt 2024 is just around the corner, and the buzz is palpable. But what if we told you there’s a chance for you to not just attend, but also…

Harness the TechCrunch Effect: Host a Side Event at Disrupt 2024

Decks are all about telling a compelling story and Goodcarbon does a good job on that front. But there’s important information missing too.

Pitch Deck Teardown: Goodcarbon’s $5.5M seed deck

Slack is making it difficult for its customers if they want the company to stop using its data for model training.

Slack under attack over sneaky AI training policy

A Texas-based company that provides health insurance and benefit plans disclosed a data breach affecting almost 2.5 million people, some of whom had their Social Security number stolen. WebTPA said…

Healthcare company WebTPA discloses breach affecting 2.5 million people

Featured Article

Microsoft dodges UK antitrust scrutiny over its Mistral AI stake

Microsoft won’t be facing antitrust scrutiny in the U.K. over its recent investment into French AI startup Mistral AI.

2 days ago
Microsoft dodges UK antitrust scrutiny over its Mistral AI stake

Ember has partnered with HSBC in the U.K. so that the bank’s business customers can access Ember’s services from their online accounts.

Embedded finance is still trendy as accounting automation startup Ember partners with HSBC UK

Kudos uses AI to figure out consumer spending habits so it can then provide more personalized financial advice, like maximizing rewards and utilizing credit effectively.

Kudos lands $10M for an AI smart wallet that picks the best credit card for purchases

The EU’s warning comes after Microsoft failed to respond to a legally binding request for information that focused on its generative AI tools.

EU warns Microsoft it could be fined billions over missing GenAI risk info

The prospects for troubled banking-as-a-service startup Synapse have gone from bad to worse this week after a United States Trustee filed an emergency motion on Wednesday.  The trustee is asking…

A US Trustee wants troubled fintech Synapse to be liquidated via Chapter 7 bankruptcy, cites ‘gross mismanagement’

U.K.-based Seraphim Space is spinning up its 13th accelerator program, with nine participating companies working on a range of tech from propulsion to in-space manufacturing and space situational awareness. The…

Seraphim’s latest space accelerator welcomes nine companies

OpenAI has reached a deal with Reddit to use the social news site’s data for training AI models. In a blog post on OpenAI’s press relations site, the company said…

OpenAI inks deal to train AI on Reddit data

X users will now be able to discover posts from new Communities that are trending directly from an Explore tab within the section.

X pushes more users to Communities

For Mark Zuckerberg’s 40th birthday, his wife got him a photoshoot. Zuckerberg gives the camera a sly smile as he sits amid a carefully crafted re-creation of his childhood bedroom.…

Mark Zuckerberg’s makeover: Midlife crisis or carefully crafted rebrand?