A Good First Step

The tendrils of gender inequity and sexual harassment have been growing thick and strong in our industry for decades (or centuries, or millennia — depending on how you look at it), and we know full-well that one conversation does not a solution make. But, to echo Lao-Tzu, though the journey may be long, last night’s conversation was a good first step.

As highlighted in the opening remarks, the event had three core goals: elevate the conversation, educate the audience, and motivate the community. As far as those modest goals are concerned: mission accomplished.

In assembling ~200 New England venture and startup community leaders, the issue was raised — directly and undeniably — in front of an influencer-packed audience; with help from two savvy facilitators, ambiguity was cut and definitions clearly outlined; by highlighting real stories from within this community, participants were brought face to face with the reality that ours is not a bubble and sexual harassment does happen in Boston.

This conversation was the first step — what’s next? To help figure that out, we surveyed the audience — on paper, immediately upon conclusion of the conversation.

From those surveys, we learned a few things, confirmed a few suspicions, found a few reasons to be optimistic going forward, and gathered a few ideas on how to shape the next stage of the process. In no particular order, here are some key takeaways:

  • Respondents were 36% investors, 25% entrepreneurs, and 39% startup community members
  • Anger comes out more in anonymous surveys than in a public forum
  • Of the 111 respondents, 43 were male, 67 were female, and one identified as “other”
  • Many folks are hungry for “action,” but, like us, haven’t mapped out what the concrete steps should look like
  • People want to get involved in the process
  • A “central” HR function, ombudsperson, or safe space to address incidents in the VC/startup community is a popular aspiration
  • 93% of respondents felt the forum was helpful
  • VC involvement in the conversation is considered paramount
  • 32% of respondents have experienced sexual harassment in the past 5 years
  • More discussions like this one are needed

So where do we go from here? Well first of all, we don’t stop; this conversation alone was a great first step, but only a first step. From the surveys — and countless conversations leading up to the event — we know that more conversations are needed; people need to remain engaged; need to increase their understanding of the issue.

The format in which we convene isn’t yet clear, but we have a veritable army of volunteers — about 20% of attendees signed up to join upcoming working groups — to help us craft the next gathering. And that buy-in is critical.

Ours is an innovation community, and “solving” sexual harassment is a tall, complex order. It will require innovation applied to the same degree as our community applies it to machine learning, oncology, robotics, blockchain, or the microbiome. The impact of the next treatment, platform, or app pales in comparison to that of a safe, supportive, and supported workforce.

New England Venture Capital Association (NEVCA) members support entrepreneurs winning. Great VCs depend on great entrepreneurs.

New England Venture Capital Association (NEVCA) members support entrepreneurs winning. Great VCs depend on great entrepreneurs.