A Hard Truth: Sexual Harassment in Venture

Frederick Douglas once said: If there is no struggle, there is no progress.

Sending out invitations to today’s discussion turned out to be the beginning of an emotional journey, one that crystallized a few truths for me:

  1. Sexual Harassment not only exists the “THE” innovation community, but it exists in “OUR” innovation community
  2. For some, starting to face that truth is hard; others have been facing it their entire career.
  3. We have an extremely difficult task ahead of us.

Since the topic of sexual harassment in venture began to boil over nearly a month ago, I’ve heard many different reactions. On one hand, there is surprise. There is also denial. On the other hand there is anger. There is frustration. There is even relief; a sense that “finally we’re talking about this.

So as you can see and imagine, there are a lot of people in this very room who are having very different experiences.

With so many perspectives and so much pent up emotion, many are wondering what the hell is going to happen tonight. Will this be a showdown in the startup community? Will it be a whitewashing of the issue? From where I sit, neither would be productive, and we’ve spent more hours than I care to count trying to figure out what would be. (In the spirit of transparency, we’ve pivoted our plans more than 10 times… This SHIT IS HARD!)

With a lot of help, and after conversations with almost 50 people — male and female, investors and entrepreneurs — we arrived at a three-fold goal: for this discussion: Awareness, Education, and Motivation.

It is time we stop having these discussions in our echo chambers and start having them in the open. . And as basic as it may sound, we can’t hope to do that until we become educated on what we are actually dealing with. And we certainly can’t hope to affect change without buy-in from the entire community.

It won’t be easy and it won’t be simple, but the 200 plus faces in this room tonight give me hope. It takes only a few bad actors to create a huge and pervasive problem, but it will take all of us, and more, to make incremental progress.

Today I’ve asked two experts to come and help us get started: Susanne Goldstein and Stephanie Trilling.

Thanks to The Boston Foundation — Tim Smith and Paul Grogan for hosting us. Thanks to Workbar who partnered with us and agreed to provide the physical space for tonight before we all realized how many people wanted to be here today. To Cooley for serving as legal counsel. To individuals like Smaiyra Million, Jeff Bussgang, Rudina Sessari, Maia Heymann, Kevin Bitterman, Lakshmi Balanchandra, Zoe Barry, C.A. Webb and to the Co-Founders of FLARE Jewelry, Quinn and Sarah who were not only a huge resource but drivers of this discussion as well as other discussions that are being planned to tackle this issue head on.

Like I said, if there is no struggle, there is no progress. Tonight won’t be perfect and we will get some things wrong. But what is important is that we are all here and we are focused on making progress.

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