By Marissa Lang San Francisco Chronicle
WWR Article Summary (tl;dr) When venture capitalist and diversity advocate Ellen Pao sued her then-employer Kleiner Perkins in 2012, she was an anomaly. But in the past year, droves of women have spoken up about alleged abuses by employers, celebrities, powerful tech executives, investors and even the president of the United States.
San Francisco Chronicle
They had the numbers: six women who would describe in disturbing detail exactly how they were harassed, assaulted or made to feel uneasy by the unwanted advances of San Francisco venture capitalist Justin Caldbeck.
Three of those women decided to identify themselves publicly -- a risky move for victims of sexual violence or harassment, who are often dismissed, threatened or discredited in efforts to poke holes in their stories.
And still, days before their accounts -- of being groped under a table, sent sexually explicit late-night messages and propositioned for sex -- were published, they wondered if it would be enough.
"No woman wants to be the sole name on the record for a story like this," Susan Ho, co-founder and CEO of travel startup Journy, wrote in a blog post on Monday. "We had to decide to speak up or essentially let this guy get away with his serial abuse of female entrepreneurs."
This scandal, which has rocked Binary Capital, the small venture firm Caldbeck co-founded three years ago, follows a major shakeup at ride-hailing juggernaut Uber. Travis Kalanick, that company's co-founder and longtime CEO, stepped down following months of investigations into the company's culture sparked, in part, by Susan Fowler, an engineer who blogged about her experiences with rampant sexism at the company.
All this may signal a critical cultural moment, experts said, making it easier for women who suffer abuses to come forward and share their stories. But, they caution, without action from companies and tech leaders, who are overwhelmingly male, it is unlikely to lead to lasting change.
When venture capitalist and diversity advocate Ellen Pao sued her then-employer Kleiner Perkins in 2012, she was an anomaly. But in the past year, droves of women have spoken up about alleged abuses by employers, celebrities, powerful tech executives, investors and even the president of the United States.
"How many women have to get out there before someone says, 'Huh, maybe we should take this seriously?'" said Kellie McElhaney, a professor at UC Berkeley's Haas School of Business. "Culturally, we're still at a place where women need to prove themselves innocent, as opposed to the man who is actually accused of harassment or assault proving himself innocent."
One in every 4 women who work in tech have been sexually harassed at work, according to a recent survey of more than 10,000 women at tech firms by Comparably, a startup that measures and tracks data on company culture and compensation.
For engineers and executives, that number creeps closer to a third.
Male executives also reported harassment, with the highest rates found in tech companies' legal departments, where 23 percent of men surveyed said they, too, had been sexually harassed at work.
Ho credited Niniane Wang, the founder of animation startup Evertoon who had helped create Google Desktop, with helping to push her and Journy co-founder Leiti Hsu to come forward.
Fowler's blog post inspired many women to speak openly on social media about their experiences with sexual discrimination, harassment or assault.
On Monday, as Caldbeck announced his resignation from Binary Capital, engineer and diversity advocate Erica Baker began urging more women to share their stories.
"If you've been sexually harassed in tech and want to go on the record, (message) me," she tweeted. "Pretty much every name is being named right now."
There is strength in numbers, experts said, and increasingly women are drawing courage from the knowledge that, when it comes to experiences of sexual harassment or assault, they are not alone.
"It may, in some cases, help those in leadership positions take notice and take action," said Camille Crittenden, deputy director of the Center for Information Technology Research in the Interest of Society at UC Berkeley. "But it's also an opportunity for women in a similar situation to understand this is not normal, and this is not OK."
Though insiders say sexism in tech can be especially pernicious, the industry is hardly unique.
Comedian Bill Cosby, now 79, is accused of sexually violating 57 women over the span of his career. All but four of them went public, using their full names.
Cosby, who has denied the accusations, will stand trial before a judge in Los Angeles in July 2018, following the likely retrial of another case against him that ended with a deadlocked jury this month.
At Fox News, Roger Ailes, the network's late chairman, and host Bill O'Reilly were pushed out amid allegations that they had sexually harassed several women at the network.
All told, 21st Century Fox paid more than $100 million: $65 million in severance for Ailes and O'Reilly and $45 million over nine months in "settlements of pending and potential litigations," according to a company financial filing.
"Companies make a calculation: If they can squelch these kinds of accusations early, they think it's going to go away, and then they can get on with their business," McElhaney said. "The problem is if it doesn't go away, then you're dealing with a much bigger explosion."
According to data from the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, charges of sex discrimination make up nearly 30 percent of the complaints it receives annually. And in 2016, the federal agency received nearly 13,000 allegations of sexual harassment from American workers, though studies have shown that far more cases go unreported.
Binary co-founder Jonathan Teo, who decried Caldbeck's "bad behavior" on Facebook and in a public statement Sunday, said, "I trusted my partner and it is clear that I shouldn't have. The predatory behavior Justin has been accused of is deplorable, and there will be zero tolerance at our firm of any conduct that is demeaning to women."
Experts cite the real problem with sexual harassment in tech -- and in other industries: Other people often know it's happening, know that a person has a history of untoward behavior and still do nothing.
"It's so easy to say, 'Boys will be boys,' or that venture capital is a wild cowboy world and if you can't hang, don't get in it," McElhaney said. "We have to stop accepting it."