Pando

Beyond #MeToo: A new initiative #MovingForward seeks to hold a newly shaken Silicon Valley accountable

By Sarah Lacy , written on March 8, 2018

From The Gender Wars Desk

One thing that has become crystal clear over the last year of reporting is just how much internal HR has the back of the companies and not employees.

But one of the big problem with the venture capital industry is most of the firms don’t even have HR functions for women to appeal to. They are just lose confederations of (more than 90%) male partners with less legal requirements than large companies to treat people with equality.

And it became apparent in the last year that investors generally won’t do anything to rein in partners, even if they know about their behavior, unless a woman risks retaliation to go on the record with evidence accusing that partner. The most extreme example was Justin Caldbeck, who cost Lightspeed money by the way he treated its founder Katrina Lake, and they still gave LPs in his new fund a glowing references nonetheless.

There’s a lot we need to do as an ecosystem to solve this. But a good first step is making venture firms have an actual policy around anti-harassment and discrimination that they can be held to, and make that information transparent and public, with clear steps for people to report abuses of those policies, and contacts to answer questions around diversity and inclusion.

You can’t hold someone accountable to a policy that doesn’t exist.

Andrea Coravos and Cheryl Sew Hoy are announcing a new open source directory of 57 venture firms’ stated policies and commitments on issues of diversity, inclusion, and anti-harassment. They are calling it #movingfoward. Each of these firms must list:

  • Statements on how they are moving forward to support a more diverse, inclusive and harassment-free workplace
  • External anti-harassment and discrimination policies
  • Points of contact for reporting harassment and discrimination
  • Points of contact for questions around diversity, inclusion and harassment.

So far 41 firms have submitted everything and 16 firms (and counting) have pledged to provide the information. You can find it all here. The site also has advice for firms who haven’t even begun to craft policies like these.

Unlike a lot of proposed solutions and next steps for the venture industry, this one was started by women and people of color for women and people of color. Beyond giving us all a starting point and place to discuss these issues without women having to go on the record or file a lawsuit, there’s another reason this initiative means a lot to me: It was started in my dining room. At a dinner of female founders and VCs someone asked “As an entrepreneur, if I experience harassment or discrimination, where do I report it and how will I be protected?” and no one had a good answer. So two of the women there decided to build it.

The beauty with #MovingForward is that the venture firms have answered these four questions in their own words. I’ll leave it to individual entrepreneurs to judge whether a firm that posts a link its policies or simply says it exists has a better commitment to solving these problems. Ditto firms who post a real contact versus a generic email as the point-of-contact. I would hope that as founders make decisions based on these type of things, VCs compete with one another to at least “look” better.

It’s hard to argue with the rational, tactical approach of the initiative and hard to turn something aimed at prevention and moving forward as an unhinged “witch hunt.”

I caught up with Sew Hoy for a quick Q&A on why this became a cause for them and what they will consider “success” of #MovingForward:

SL: What have your experiences been like being women in this field... has equality always been a cause for you? Was there something in your personal life that sparked this?

CSH: I've had my share of fundraising horror stories, such as having an angel investor tell me that he can’t invest in my startup because he’d like to date me, or having a VC proposition and physically grab me, which was awful. The cumulative impact of the minimizing, diminishing, or patronizing I've received as a woman has been just as bad, but I’ve always had to ignore it and be emotionally unaffected, so that I could continue functioning as an effective founder in tech.

While gender equality hasn’t never really been a cause for me, I’ve found that by speaking out about my experiences and offering constructive ways to improve things, movements such as #MeToo or #MovingForward can be sparked, state bills can be passed, and real impact can be made.

SL: When you looked around at the shoots of activism in the startup world... why did it make sense that something like THIS would be the next step? Why is it necessary? Just to have something to hold people accountable??

CSH: When my investor harassed me in 2014, there was no formal anti-harassment policies to protect me from retaliation or reporting lines that I could feel safe turning to. This is why most incidences never get reported and the perpetrator continues to prey on victims. Not everyone wants to or can take their stories public. Going public is also not great for the VC.

Founder-VC relationships are a particularly challenging space because they're not governed by legal requirements (as would be within a workplace). Founders have to pitch lots of VCs and it's hard to have good information about all of them or where to go if bad behavior happens.

In the wake of VC #metoo stories in 2017, a few VC firms have put good effort into creating their own anti-harassment & discrimination policies, some created policy templates for their portfolio companies, established a transparent reporting contact, made founders' commitment, and others have established ways to nurture underrepresented groups, etc. However, for most firms, there wasn't any urgency to tackle the issue with real action.

Rather than just shaming or calling out bad actors, I believe that the way forward is for all parties to present a unified front, have serious dialogues on this topic, and take actionable and transparent steps to raise the bar.

One of the most powerful outcomes of #MovingForward so far, is that clear harassment/discrimination reporting lines have been established by all firms who participated -- many did not have it before. Formal points-of-contact give founders confidence to report issues and know that it will be taken seriously.

We’ve also heard feedback that the process of submitting all the data for #MovingForward has spurred many VCs to have a serious conversation about what’s acceptable/unacceptable behavior at multiple partner meetings, set clear guidelines, and create new or make adjustments to their current anti-harassment/discrimination policies so that they apply to individuals outside the firm (this didn’t publicly exist for over half the VC firms prior to #MovingForward).

SL: What had to happen for something like this to come together?

CSH: You! Andy and I met at your dinner a few months ago and we realized that we were working on similar projects and decided to join efforts.

It often became a topical conversation at female founder dinners. People would ask: “As an entrepreneur, if I experience harassment or discrimination, where do I report it and how will I be protected?”

Over the following months, we asked our friends in VC if they had external anti-harassment/ discrimination policies and a reporting channel, and we discovered that many did not.

We decided that we wanted to create transparency around what individual VC firms are doing in the wake of #MeToo in tech and inspire systemic change around reducing harassment and discrimination. That team quickly expanded as more people supported the project.

Over the past few weeks, we had a lot of help from a wide group of collaborators, entrepreneurs and VCs who collaborated with us on the project language/copy, VC connections, logo, website, data input, and all the things we needed for launch. We’re grateful for the positive grassroots support and hustle, and what was just a seed of an idea a few months ago is now turning into a larger team effort with real commitments and impact.

SL: What do you want founders to take from this?

CSH: We created #MovingForward to set a baseline, to spark conversations within VC firms, and to learn from one another. This resource also makes it easier for founders to review policies, find supportive VC efforts and identify reporting contact(s). Firms can also learn from each other when there’s visibility around individual firm efforts, all in one place.

We would appreciate founders help in sharing this project with their VCs if they aren’t already listed. They can sign up at VentureMovingForward.org or email us at [email protected]

SL: How can we hold vcs who say they want to do better *accountable*?

CSH: By sharing information publicly. Read the policies VCs have written -- are they fair? Do they contain the right things? If the policy doesn’t have a public link, request from the firm and ask why (but really ask -- what’s happening that’s making it hard to put up the link? Legal challenges? IT constraints?).

Check out the statements -- what are they working on and are these projects active? Do you feel that the reporting lines established are clear, transparent and objective?

SL: What is success of this to you?

CSH: 57 VC firms participated in the #MovingForward kickoff on IWD, March 8: 41 full submissions, 16 pledges (and counting). While March 8 is only a "kickoff" for this project and we’re grateful that many of the top VC firms have supported us, there are hundreds of VCs in the US (and beyond) and it is our hope that every major player in the venture ecosystem will add themselves to this open-source directory.

While we believe that IWD is a good day to highlight this effort, we also want to make sure that the #MovingForward initiative isn't just a gender thing -- diversity and inclusion covers race, class, sexual orientation and other dimensions of marginalization.

We recognize that this resource is only a first step towards much more work around the larger topic of diversity and inclusion. We see #MovingForward as a living, on-going initiative to continue to improve the venture ecosystem via transparency, collaboration, positive dialogs and public, actionable commitments.

From here on, we can collectively brainstorm how to raise the bar and keep improving efforts to create a diverse, inclusive and harassment-free workplace. Some examples of this could be: creating safer (and more objective) ways of reporting, publishing more metrics on D&I, making a commitment to hire more female partners / fund female founders, and getting LPs to publish their policies. We welcome feedback from the community on how we can raise the bar for our industry.