James DeKoven
Writer & Content Strategist

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Harassment In Tech is Yet Another Reason For More Female Leadership

Here we go again. More cases of sexual harassment in the technology sector. It’s troubling that a so-called evolved industry is fraught with stone age behavior.

But with the way the recent incidents have been portrayed, and based on some of the reaction, it’s as if people are shocked that this could ever happen.

In a story about sexism allegations at Upload VR, Wired magazine writer Natasha Tiku said, "It's kind of alarming to see so much of this behavior in one specific industry or one niche in tech.” In a similar article, Shruti Merchant, founder of housing startup HubHaus said, “People are realizing that it’s not OK.”

Greedy, narcissistic, entitled, power hungry men behaving badly and believing they can do as they please? You’re kidding, right? Maybe on Wall Street or a law firm, but not Silicon Valley. No way.

There’s nothing to be surprised about. Justin Caldbeck, Dave McClure, Chris Sacca, and other male predators fall into one of the more predictable categories of human beings. Men who lack self-awareness and decency, who continually exert their power, will always do whatever they want, to whomever they want.

I know a handful of these types. One of them just got fired as an executive of a prominent Bay Area company for his involvement in a major sex-related scandal.

In the mid 1990s we were part of the same circle of friends. He was a good guy. Funny, lots of personality, friendly, kind, I’d even say sweet. Then he struck it big at one of the first mega-successful Silicon Valley start ups, and with each purchase of a car and a mansion he changed for the worse.

At some point, everything he did was to impress - with his money, connections, parties, and name-dropping while playing basketball. He developed that extra tight grip, look-you-deep-in-the-eyes handshake. He seemed a little too excited when meeting new people or running into those he hadn’t seen for a while. He became part game show host, part politician.

I’m sure people who know Justin Caldbeck and Dave McClure might have similar stories. Nice men with good hearts who got a taste of power and couldn’t help themselves to more and more.

To a degree, we’re all complicit with these incidents. For starters, there’s the blind worship of technology leaders, with the obvious example being Steve Jobs. Because he was a visionary, because he could singlehandedly create new markets and bring wealth to those around him, Jobs could get away with treating people like dirt.

But he also got away with it because others saw him as a conveyor belt to feed their own greed and hunger for power. People used him as much as he used them, a dynamic that allows the immoral to gain influence.

Here in the Bay Area, many have bought into the false correlation that “innovative” companies inherently have evolved leaders, that an entrepreneurial spirit equals a decent human being.

I mean, if employees can wear shorts to work, if they can choose between eight varieties of free breakfast cereal, if conference rooms are named after cartoon characters, if companies will pay for your massage therapist training, then the founders, executives, and investors must be wonderful people, right?

Let me be clear: I’m not absolving anyone of their full responsibility. And like you, I don’t buy their “apologies.” When they said they were sorry, it was only because the past caught up with them. If there were genuine contrition, they would’ve proactively apologized the day after the harassment rather than have their hands forced by media pressure. They would’ve done the right thing.

But that’s what we expect of adults. Those men are children disguised as adults.

That’s why I question the viability of the supposed solutions to this problem. Apparently, LinkedIn founder Reid Hoffman thinks venture capital firms should sign a “decency pledge”. Meanwhile, a group of venture capitalists created a template that companies can use to develop sound sexual harassment policies.

This isn’t the boy scouts. Anyone can recite a pledge. Policies state what’s forbidden, they don’t encourage civilized behavior. Besides, men who create their own rules aren’t going to magically become angels when handed a beautifully designed employee handbook.

I don’t have the definitive answer to this issue. How could I? It’s something that’s plagued humanity since the beginning of time. However, it seems we have to look at the root cause of the problem. Experts in sexual harassment point out that it’s almost never about the act itself; it’s about the power. This is yet another reason why we need more women in leadership roles.

Gender equality, in itself, is the basis to have more female leaders. At venture capital firms in the U.S, only 7% of the decision makers are women. And women account foronly 6% of CEOs and 20% of board seats.

But if we have more women in power, we’ll also have fewer men who abuse their own power.

Christopher Hitchens often said that the solution to poverty is the empowerment of women. Maybe the solution to sexual harassment is the same.