Can we all help change the ecosystem so men can’t abuse their power and privilege?

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A pustulent boil finally burst in the software industry.

Two very high-profile investors, and a few other wannabe high profile investors, have been accused of multiple instances of sexual assault and inappropriate behavior with potential and current employees and investees.

The investors are male. The investees all female. No surprises there. There were a few surprises to come…

Chris Sacca.

Chris Sacca leapt to his keyboard to produce a blog post, “I have more work to do“, posted last Thursday, you would have read his piece that started:

“This week saw deserved outrage over the treatment of female entrepreneurs. The examples that the many brave women in tech have finally brought to light are objectively awful. Venture capitalists benefit from an imbalance of power when working with founders, so investors exploiting the vulnerability of women seeking funding is simply abusive.”

Go Chris! That’s Chris Sacca, the Shark Tank shark, seed investor in Twitter, Uber, Instagram and others. Great to see someone in a high profile leadership position taking a stand, I thought.

He went on to say he had always seen himself as one of the good guys but had come to realize that whilst he had personally invested millions of $ into female focused funds, supported female entrepreneurs, and insisted that if he appeared on Shark Tank he would like to see more female and minority entrepreneurs to pitch…. he also mentioned in passing that he felt he had played a part in some non-specific way of being part of the problem.

He was widely praised when the blog came out.

The New York Times broke the news next day that Chris had been accused of touching a potential investee inappropriately. he first apologized for this then denied it.

Mmmmmm.

Dave McClure.

Dave McClure, founder of 500 Startups and sweary conference speaker, was removed from his position as founder of the company following investigations of his inappropriate behavior towards people in his company; potential investees; and others, who weren’t in a position to fend of his creepy advances consequence-free.

The removal of Dave, founder of 500 Startups, from his position within that same company was kept quiet for around 6 months. But then the news broke.

People defended him, claiming he’s done so much good for the startup ecosystem – as if that offset the harm he’d done to individuals working within it. Or shrugged it off: it’s just Dave being Dave. You know what he’s like… Boys will be boys… He doesn’t mean anything by it…

“I’m a creep. I’m sorry.”

In a blog post remarkable as much for the fact that he only swore once, perhaps an indication that there might just have been a few lawyers and PR people involved in crafting it, he writes:

“While I’d like to believe that I’m not a bad or evil person, regardless it’s clear that some of my past actions have hurt or offended several women.”

What did he do?

“I made advances towards multiple women in work-related situations, where it was clearly inappropriate. I put people in compromising and inappropriate situations, and I selfishly took advantage of those situations where I should have known better. My behavior was inexcusable and wrong.”

I should have known better”.

But Dave, it was “clearly inappropriate”. Are you saying you didn’t know it was “inexcusable and wrong” at the time? Sure you did. You just didn’t care and did it anyway.

It’s easy to say sorry when you’ve been caught, Dave.

Turns out there was a lot more than that going on, but it seems that Dave’s organization chose to hide it away, out of sight. Until they couldn’t hide it any more.  Colluding with such abuse of position does not create an environment in which things will change.

Then more and more people came forward.

That’s what is going to effect change.

People standing up to say “this happened to me”, being believed, not dismissed. Hearing that they are not alone, it was not their fault.

These men chose to do what they did. They are intelligent humans who have successfully built businesses, and can articulate their thoughts in blogs. They know what’s right and wrong.  And what they did was wrong. If they can now, having been caught, acknowledge it was wrong – that doesn’t make it right. It doesn’t help that they have been forced into an increasing level of exposure as more information emerges.

No more excuses.

What did you expect? You know what he’s like.”

“What did you expect? You’re an attractive girl”

“What did you expect? Working late together.”

What did you expect? That people old enough, intelligent enough, and powerful enough to know better, behave appropriately. Professionally. That they behave in a way deserving of respect not because of who they are, but because of how they conduct themselves.  Not an unreasonable expectation?

This piece sums up the situation I see:

Jay-Z, Chris Sacca, Dave McClure: Powerful men admit hurting women, are congratulated for personal growth

There are a lot of people out there in positions of power, (or who lay claim to power), to harass, abuse, sexually assault, to rape people. That includes Angels, VCs, entrepreneurs and others in our ecosystem.

We should be actively pushing these kind of people out of the industry. It is unacceptable behavior that should not be tolerated, colluded with, or downplayed.

The behavior, attitudes and systematic abuse dished by people like this cannot be undone.

Creepy behavior is something that scales across ecosystems as the language, attitudes and behavior of role models becomes both normalized and emulated.

VCs love scalability but not everything that scales has positive effects.

What can we do to help?

Some of the people abused and targeted have spoken out. Some will never speak out. But a number of people affected will have left the industry, never to return.

They have effectively been banned from participating in our industry for life.

Forever.

If we want our industry to change, we all have to call out bad actors and push them out of our industry. For good. Zero tolerance. The behavior of these and other people in power has been a huge factor in pushing far more, better people, out of the industry for ever.

Business of Software Conference Position

As a minimum. We will have to use the fact that someone has left an organization, whether allegations are proven or otherwise, as a good proxy for identifying bad actors.

  • We want to make it very clear that anyone who leaves a position of power in an organization because of accusations of improper behavior is banned from Business of Software Conferences.
  • For life.
  • No second chance.

This probably won’t affect Chris Sacca or Dave McClure at all. They are the kind of characters that only attend conferences on one-way broadcast. That’s not what BoS is about. We wouldn’t have had either to speak before this news broke in any case.

We’re all human beings. We all deserve – and should expect – to work in an environment where personal boundaries are expected, and colleagues are treated with mutual respect regardless of how “senior”, “important”, or “rich” they are. We deserve to work with colleagues we can trust and who recognize that if something is “clearly inappropriate” it should not be happening. And if it’s happening to you, someone from your team, or a guest visiting your office – it gets called out.

Company culture has a lot to do with this.

500 Startups consciously chose to cover for Dave. That led to people ultimately resigning from the company.

That’s not okay. That’s not a good environment to work in, and it’s not good for the industry.

We can’t control the whole ecosystem but we want to build an inclusive, open, friendly community and will do all we can to keep our space safe.

We’re still thinking about how we can do that best, it’s the sort of thing that will never be finished. Our conference has always been focused on growing sustainable businesses, and believe sustainable businesses are ones that treat their employees well. Anecdotally, most of the people who treat their employees well are pretty decent human beings themselves.

While we think we have tried to nurture a friendly community of people that can help each other. I also know we have a huge amount to do and have a responsibility to play a part in making changes.

How Dave and co behaved is Not Okay.

Saying sorry is Not Enough. Go crawl into a hole and don;t come back. Please, for the good of the ecosystem.

No more good people gone because of bad behavior.

While I wrote this, I want to thank my colleague Amy Firth for making it less ranty, angry, incoherent and hopefully more useful.

Please connect if you have any thoughts on how we can play a part in changing this: Mark@ Amy@

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