Bill Aims To Combat Sexual Harassment In The Tech Workforce

By Tyler Hersko
Ventura County Star, Calif.

WWR Article Summary (tl;dr) While there are laws on the books which establish liability for sexual harassment in a variety of professions ranging from attorneys, social workers to doctor-patient relationships, there is no law specifically prohibiting sexual harassment in investor-entrepreneur relationships. That soon many change.

Ventura County Star, Calif.

State Sen. Hannah-Beth Jackson introduced legislation recently that intends to curtail ongoing harassment women face in the technology industry.

The legislation, which would amend the Unruh Civil Rights Act, would specifically prohibit sexual harassment in the venture capital industry and aims to provide clear legal protection to women in investor-entrepreneur relationships.

Though existing law, such as the Unruh Civil Rights Act, establishes liability for sexual harassment in a variety of professions ranging from attorneys, social workers, real estate agents, and doctor-patient relationships, there was no law specifically prohibiting sexual harassment in investor-entrepreneur relationships, according to Jackson, D-Santa Barbara.

Jackson was inspired to create the legislation after noticing an increased number of news reports about sexual harassment in the technology industry, particularly in Silicon Valley. She noted that the technology industry is rapidly expanding and receives significant attention from venture capitalists, which made the lack of legal protection especially troublesome.

“We are seeing now a number of articles in the media of women who are coming forward to say that they were sexually harassed, propositioned or threatened,” Jackson said. “We heard from a woman who was threatened by an investor, who then went to his board and tried to get her fired. This is degrading, embarrassing and humiliating to the industry, these big companies and certainly the women that have been victimized (but) by calling out this behavior we are starting to see companies reject that behavior and this bill will put some teeth into that process.”

Current California law does not clarify an individual’s recourses in an investor-entrepreneur relationship, which has discouraged some women from addressing harassment, according to Jackson. She stressed that recent sexual harassment allegations directed at prominent venture capitalists such as 500 Startups founder Dave McClure, Binary Capital’s Justin Caldbeck and the Uber rideshare company have demonstrated a dire need for clearer legal protection.

Though the legislation was introduced last week, Jackson does not plan on moving the bill forward until January. As the current legislative session effectively ends on Sept. 15, it will be important to take the time to discuss the bill with various interest groups and consider all unintended consequences to make sure the legislation will be effective, Jackson said.

Regardless, Jackson noted she has already received positive input from several technology companies and is hopeful that the bill will get bipartisan support.

Local entrepreneurs such as Renee Rock, a professor of entrepreneurship at California Lutheran University with extensive experience in technology industries, considered Jackson’s bill to be a clear step in the right direction toward combating sexual harassment in the workforce.

Without clear legal protection, technology hubs such as Silicon Valley fostered a code of silence against women trying to speak out, Rock said.

“The legislation will do good because this kind of change has to come from a policy level,” Rock said. “Once these policies are in place, women will feel much more emboldened to step forward and talk about what’s going on. In the past, these women were labeled as problems and their careers would be put in jeopardy.”

The bill’s full text is available here:

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