In the past couple weeks both Forbes and Wired have published first-hand accounts of the perils of "fundraising while female." The anecdotes about harassment, discrimination, and the hassle of disproving an investor's assumptions about gender are familiar. But you won't find the name of single male venture capitalist who made these women feel compromised, harassed, belittled, or duped.
The reasons for this are obvious and haven't changed since the last tech blog I worked at. They're different versions of the same reasons women usually feel unsafe. You will be told calling someone out is libel, you will be told they're a nice guy, they're married, that other women experienced nothing of the kind. (Just check the Secret thread.)
Venture capitalists live in a clubhouse, and those outside the chosen cohort don't want another mark against them. They prefer to pitch their idea as a founder first, female second, and victim not at all. Forbes bent their rules about anonymity to try to make the female author feel protected and even still the investors are only identified as The Masseuse and The Bachelor, that's as far as she felt she could go without financial repercussions.
— Ben Popper (@benpopper) August 8, 2014
"As much as I love [this article], I'm not even going to share it within my social network." Wow. http://t.co/obnpv9kZvp
— Jeff Bercovici (@jeffbercovici) August 8, 2014
Between these two pieces, the quote that resonated the most came from Y Combinator alum Kathryn Minshew:
For every story you hear about investors behaving badly, there are far worse stories that many women wouldn't dare to tell. "The most common thing I hear from other women is: 'Oh the stories I'll tell once I'm far enough along that I don't have to worry about being shamed,'" says Kathryn Minshew, co-founder of the job search and career advice site The Muse.
Oh the times I have heard this same line! Over coffee, over fruit juice, over DM, you name it. In the years I've been reporting on tech, no one of them has yet felt "far enough along" to safely go on the record.
This roots of this issue are structural and I have no easy suggestion to weed it out. But one good place to start might be from those who have nothing to lose. Re/code cofounder Kara Swisher made a similar argument at a recent event advising Bay Area tech interns:
"I think all we have to do to change the industry as a whole is to just be sexless, just absolutely ignore the fact that you're a woman and compete just as hard as the men," [Michael Callahan*, the cofounder and CEO of One] said.
Swisher was quick to reply, sarcastically apologizing that women couldn't vote until a century ago, and saying it's not just "up to the women to lean in or whatever the fuck they're supposed to do," calling men to be more aware of the gender disparity.
After I wrote about Y Combinator's half-hearted blog post about diversity, Sam Altman, the president of the accelerator, reached out to me on privately on Facebook and said I could share what he wrote:
i asked several YC founders if i could share specific examples of their own experience, but they all asked me not to it's difficult to fully anonymize but i did generally talk about investors being inappropriate and also only focusing on the men in the room, which were the two most common issues [...]
yes, they dont get told. its a really hard situation, but i dont feel like its my place to push anyone more than once to tell the stories
but we do quietly just stop inviting investors to demo day, sending them referrals, etc
(and i have asked a number of times if i can make the reason public, but for super understandable reasons the women that have suffered the abuse don't want it)
If the president of Y Combinator isn't going to name the names he has on a secret list, then maybe male investors can start talking amongst themselves. The women are already are.
*Correction: An earlier version of this post misidentified Michael Callahan in the block quote above as an entrepreneur-in-residence at Greylock Partners. The quote was from a different Michael Callahan, the cofounder and CEO of One. Valleywag regrets the error.
If you want to talking about fundraising while female, please email firstname.lastname@example.org.
[Image via Shutterstock]