Sexism and Misogyny in Tech: How Investors Can Help Drive Change

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do more than just satisfy the law. “Investors and the board, in general, should step up if a problem occurs at the company, regardless of what that problem is,” Teten says. That can include strategic issues as well as personal problems within the executive ranks. The remedy for these problems might be recruiting new leadership for the company, he says.

Founders should take note that bad behavior may also cost them a shot at funding. When investors first get to know the leadership at startups, Teten says, they look for someone with the maturity to properly manage the money they get from backers. If there are issues such as sexism, that is a problem for investors, he says. “But there are lots of other ways they can be immature,” says Teten. “Investors should be looking out for all of this before they sign what is effectively a 10-year contract with the company.”

Recent press coverage of accusations of misogyny, he says, has made the venture capital world a bit more mindful to watch for these issues. And Teten has outlined some steps to prevent workplace problems from occurring, articulate the kind of culture a company wants to have, and drive towards more diversity in the startup community.

Being more mindful of the culture of the startups they back is in the best interests of investors, says Zimmerman. Investors who are on the board of directors may have personal liability, he says, if a sexual harassment issue or a hostile work environment problem arises at a startup they back. If they were aware of (or should have known there was) such an issue, yet failed to ensure appropriate action took place, they may be culpable, he adds.

Even if an investor is not on the board, and does not have responsibility in the eyes of the law, Zimmerman says, he or she may still face some fallout. “You’re probably going to lose some money because there’s a really negative set of things that will happen at that company,” he says. That could include costly litigation, fines, and loss of business or deals that sour the market value of the company.

He says even when board members do step in when issues arise, it still points to an underlying problem. “If board members are called up to do the right thing, it’s because some senior executive [at a startup] has behaved like a jackass,” he says.

Part of the problem, says Julie Levinson Werner, a Lowenstein Sandler attorney who specializes in employment law, may stem from startups’ natural growing pains. Companies often begin with a small group of friends who perhaps went to school together but do not realize their culture must evolve, she says.

“As they grow, they don’t appreciate it’s different than something that started in their basement or dorm room,” says Werner. New levels of accountability pile on, especially after taking funding and hiring employees, she says. “This isn’t just about hanging out and having fun.”

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2 responses to “Sexism and Misogyny in Tech: How Investors Can Help Drive Change”

  1. typ says:

    “If there are issues such as sexism, that is a problem for investors, he says.”

    Not a very convincing statement, given that misogynists seem to find it much, much easier to get venture capital backers than women do. I see zero data in this article about how women fare in fundraising compared to men; the lack of any hard math seems like a willful aversion to the same realities that you’re discussing. It would be nice if any of this guff about investors saving the day was true, but where’s your evidence?

    And if you want to start close to home, how about not giving a platform to things like Steve Blank’s recent piece that declares that “Barriers of race, gender and location” are no longer a problem in tech.

  2. Jessica Stensrud says:

    I have been working in Medical IT since the 1980’s and it has never been anything close to “welcoming.” I have had to fight, tooth and nail for the privilege of just being accepted as an employee, then being “allowed” to do certain things besides “get the coffee.” I had to get into the system at Metropolitan Pathological in Hackensack, NJ and literally make it crash and start back up before I was shown anything close to what was expected of me. The manager expected to have an affair with me, the list goes on and on. As I went to work at other companies, the same behavior ensued. At the same time, important information and inclusion was withheld while I had to endure not being allowed into the “boy’s club.” That led to the fact that now, at 66, I am missing tons of experience and training I SHOULD HAVE HAD, STRUGGLED TO OBTAIN ON MY OWN and am now blamed for not knowing PLUS suddenly any competence I showed in my extremely but hardly atypical career is now said to have gone because of my age. I and many others have been bullied harassed and laid off multiple times. An older male employee is a mentor, an older female employee is “kicked to the curb.” Truth. SO WHAT DO WE DO TO END THIS???