Let’s talk about an uncomfortable truth, sexual harassment and assault is common in the tech industry. The only reason we don’t hear more about it is because the men who perpetrate it the most are also the ones who hold the “keys to the kingdom”- as investors or powerful industry figures, women don’t want to ruin their careers by speaking out.
So I have come to a conclusion. I am adding a “sexual misconduct clause” into all of my investment agreements. If an investor or employee of the investor/accelerator/incubator makes a sexual advance towards me or anyone in my company, then they are stripped of all of their shares in my company (even the ones that have vested) and there will be a public notice to shareholders as to the reason why.
There are plenty of “bad actor” clauses that already exist. It is time to add a new one that protects women.
Let me walk you through my process:
Yesterday I read Lena Dunham’s Linkedin post “Sorry, Not Sorry: My Apology Addiction” and I thought, WOW- Dunham is so fierce, and Bey is too.
Her article lit a spark which fired up some self-awareness, because I heard myself apologizing for the rest of the day. I apologized for having an opinion, I apologized for bumping into someone who actually walked into me. I even said “I am sorry but I think you are wrong” (to someone who totally had their facts wrong) So, what is up with that?
I am part of the apology plague. I caught it or maybe always had it. I keep saying it, and just like Lena said, it is just a thin veil over my rage.
The reason I am so angry is because I was sexually assaulted at an afterparty during a tech conference. It was the last straw after years of putting up with all kinds of sexism and as a result, I closed my company.
I tell people it was “founder burnout”, but it wasn’t. It was a trauma which I couldn’t shake or face and the tech events went from fun parties to threatening crowds.
I am always outnumbered (by a lot) and there is a frat boy mentality by some of even the most respected investors. I didn’t let it stop me, and I launched Civilize because I am on a fucking mission. I believe in what we are doing. (helping people end harassment from debt collectors)
Plus, I already built the tech and I couldn’t just walk away and let it sit on a server somewhere collecting dust because I was feeling scared or hurt.
I pushed forward but the feelings didn’t go away. I just suppressed them and they find their way to the surface.
As Lena said in her post:
“… the fact is, a lot of the time when I say sorry it’s because I’m mad. Really mad. So mad that I’m afraid anything but sorry will cause me to explode and drip my hideous rage juice all over someone I’m simultaneously pissed at and trying to please. And so saying sorry serves as a sort of cork, making sure my emotions are contained and packaged neatly. Sorry is the wrapping paper AND the bow.”
I am having a great time as part of Barclays/Techstars accelerator. I love the people, the other companies and my team. In terms of my company, I am “crushing it” but demo day is coming. While other CEOs are worried about getting funded, I am shit scared that one of them will invest.
Every time I get up to pitch, instead of sharing my vision I am exploding with rage. And then I apologize and promise to do better, and change my pitch to one that is even more antagonizing then the last.
I was literally told that I need to work harder on hiding my thinly veiled contempt for the investors.
And I am so sorry that I am angry, and I am so sorry that I can’t get over it, and I am so sorry that I hate them as a whole instead of being able to remember that there a a few bad actors but most are not like that. And I know that the future of my company depends on me being able to get past this.
Because here is my deepest fear- I am afraid that one of these men, these bad actors will end up investing in Civilize. He will have a board seat, he will own part of my life’s work. One day, he will offer to take me out to dinner and I will think it is professional but he will have another agenda (because in his mind lunch is for business and dinner is for lovers but I didn’t get the memo), he will make an advance, I won’t know what to do, everything will get awkward and I will be afraid of making an enemy of him because he will have the power to oust me from my company.
This is my imagination, but these aren’t imaginary fears. This happens. I need to make sure that it doesn’t happen to me again, or to any members of my team.
I think that I felt more alone in these fears before Ellen Pao spoke up. She spoke for more women than anyone realizes and she didn’t apologize. Then more women spoke without apologizing. And with every voice that we add, we get collectively stronger.
But we need more than to speak out, we need to do something actionable to make a change and hold men accountable.
As women in a male dominated, we deserve to be protected from unwanted sexual advances, and a clause in investment contracts that will give them serious consequences to their behavior seems like a good place to start.