M-Theory: The lessons from the Valley’s harassment crisis Melanie Baker July 6, 2017 Communitech, Featured, M-Theory Silicon Valley is reeling, people. Reeling. It’s been a rough few weeks. Powerful men are dropping like flies. Having read the coverage of this phenomenon and its preceding events, I, personally, am not reeling. But hey, I’ve only spent a small amount of time in the Valley, so what do I know? I suspect that some other folks aren’t reeling, either. Like … about half the population. So what’s been going on? Well, it more or less started with Uber’s CEO Travis Kalanick stepping down last month due to investor pressure. Apparently Uber’s entire board and cadre of investors have been in a collective coma until a couple of weeks ago, because Kalanick has unapologetically flaunted bad behaviour and toxic arrogance for years. Oh, right, the company has a $70 billion valuation. Never mind. Now, this didn’t all happen in June. Former Uber engineer Susan Fowler has been given significant credit for dragging Uber’s toxic bro culture into the light last February with an illuminating blog post. Perhaps a woman’s pen really can be mightier than a CEO’s … sword. Of course, Kalanick doesn’t get all the notoriety to himself. Amit Singhal, Uber’s former SVP of Engineering, was fired from the company in February. Apparently when he came aboard at Uber he neglected to mention that he left his previous role at Google over allegations of sexual harassment. Well, he’d have fit right in then. There’s a silver lining to the company shedding executives like rats from a sinking ship. So many men have resigned or been fired that they’ve more or less achieved gender parity in management. When does that ever happen at Silicon Valley tech firms? Now, lest these changes excite us overmuch, keep in mind that Kalanick is still on Uber’s board, has voting rights, is a major shareholder, and has influence over who is chosen to succeed him. Yes, Newsweek, it’s the very definition of a “smackdown”… More recently, venture capital firm Binary Capital has seen a sudden and significant exodus, again thanks to investor pressure. Partners Justin Caldbeck, Matt Mazzeo, and Jonathan Teo all stepped down and a number of investors withdrew investments in their funds after allegations of sexual harassment became public. Let’s play a game called “spot the moment a PR crisis management team came on board.” Caldbeck’s initial response to the allegations: “I strongly deny The Information’s attacks on my character. The fact is, I have always enjoyed respectful relationships with female founders, business partners, and investors”. Caldbeck’s statement a few hours later: “The past 24 hours have been the darkest of my life. I have made many mistakes over the course of my career, some of which were brought to light this week. To say I’m sorry about my behavior is a categorical understatement…” As is common in such situations, once there was a crack in the dam and accusations started leaking through, more and more women started to come forward with their own stories of dealing with these (and other) powerful men. High profile investors Chris Sacca and Dave McClure were also accused. They, of course, issued apologetic articles over the weekend. (Sacca: I Have More Work To Do; McClure: I’m a Creep. I’m Sorry.) On July 3rd McClure announced his resignation from 500 Startups. Sacca was already apparently planning retirement before this blew up. Both of them were, naturally, so very sorry. Of course, like every other abuser of power, they were only sorry after they were caught/outed and facing External Pressures. But as sure as the sun rises, a cavalry of the passionately deluded and virulently misogynist will also come charging in on their white keyboards to defend those accused. Seriously, not a single one of these guys ever noticed that something they said didn’t land well, or they were getting a look from people, or a woman looked or seemed uncomfortable in their presence? I thought I was capable of fairly high-test arrogance, but I wasn’t aware of a variant so potent it could literally blind you. Not to mention that none of these offences were one-time or isolated. The Valley has just had a culture of pretending they didn’t happen or making them go away. How bad can it be when it disappears so easily? Worked for the Catholic Church, after all … I’m pretty sure this culture wasn’t the “having it all” that Facebook Chief Operating Officer Sheryl Sandberg was referring to. That female techies and entrepreneurs should prepare to be the only woman in the room. Like, always. (Even more so if you’re a woman of colour.) Or to have their intellect and expertise regularly dismissed or their ideas hijacked and repackaged with a Y chromosome. Or receive invitations to “meetings” and “networking” that are thinly veiled attempts at dates. Or to be bullied or bribed if they complain about this treatment. Or to expect the assumption that your body is part of the deal, to be regularly subjected to displays of verbal, physical, and financial dominance. So, techies, let’s go over this one more time: Aside from an introductory handshake, don’t touch women in professional situations. Women in tech are there to make cool stuff and build businesses. That’s what they’re passionate about. Only that. Women in business (well, everywhere) are really, really tired of pretending to ignore all of the above. Just because a woman is being polite doesn’t mean you’re not being offensive. If you don’t expect men to be nice, don’t expect it from women. Women who actually want to date you (for whatever reason) are not representative of women who want to do business. Do not assume these worlds collide or try to make them do so. (If no one wants to date you, it’s you.) Success distorts reality. (You’re almost certainly less smart, good looking, and charming than you think. And sometimes you’re wrong.) If you mess up, apologize immediately, to the person you offended, and Don’t Do It Again. Don’t put up with bad behaviour from others around you, either. Who are your heroes and mentors? Take a good hard look. Just because you can doesn’t mean you should. M-Theory is an opinion column by Melanie Baker. Opinions expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Communitech. Melle can be reached @melle or email@example.com.