ASPEN, Colorado — Niniane Wang, the CEO of Evertoon, has become the willing and very deliberate face of one of the several sexual harassment scandals that have been rocking Silicon Valley.
And now she’s calling on men, not just women, to speak up and make it known that sexual harassment will not be tolerated and that sexual predators will be held accountable. Preferably publicly.
Wang told the audience at the Fortune Brainstorm tech conference here on Wednesday that she spent months working with Information reporter Reed Albergotti on a story about her experiences with Binary Capital partner Justin Caldbeck. Before the story even published, they faced down threats of litigation and she helped find and convince two other women to step forward and accuse Caldbeck of sexual harassment.
But eight hours after the story published, it seemed as if no had one noticed. There was no buzz on social media, no phone ringing off the hook.
“I felt like I jumped off cliff and took two people with me,” she said. The worst thing was to come forward and not have any impact.
But then Ellen Pao reached out to her. Pao, who is known for suing Kleiner Perkins, her former employer, for sex discrimination, is a friend and investor, Wang told the audience. Although Pao lost her suit against the famous venture capital firm, she remains an outspoken advocate for women in tech. Soon after, Pao started tweeting the story about Caldbeck. Other news outlets noticed and wrote about it.
At first Caldbeck and Binary Capital denied the accusations. But then they did a U-turn. Caldbeck stepped down from the firm and issued an apology. Pressure began to build on the VC’s limited partner investors, Wang said. A few days later, the firm announced it was pausing its effort to raise money for one of its investment funds.
More women have since stepped forward with accusations about other VCs. Such accusations led to the resignation of 500 Startups’ Dave McClure. A third VC, Ignition Partners Frank Artale, soon resigned, too, after he was accused of “misconduct.”
The series of scandals has shocked the Valley. We’ve talked to a number of male startup CEOs who told us they have gone to their VC investors and asked the VCs to verify that they are not protecting any investors accused of similar misdeeds.
Many in the Valley are cautiously hopeful that this latest round of exposés will help end the tech industry’s frat house-like culture.
But Wang said there’s more work to be done. First and foremost, the Valley has to stop thinking about sexual harassment and gender discrimination as issues that just concern women, she said.
“I think men should speak out,” she said.
Men might worry they’ll say the wrong things and get jumped on despite their good intentions. But what’s would be far worse for the situation is “deafening silence, particularly from men,” she said.
Wang also offered this advice on how to stop sexual harassment for good:
- When women and men come forward, they need to be clear about the course of action they want — they should clearly demand the resignation of the perpetrator. “Predators preying on people should be removed from positions of power,” she said.
- The laws forbidding workplace discrimination, such as those underlying the US Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, need to be changed so that they clearly cover sexual harassment by investors in the same way they cover harassment by managers and bosses.
- Women who sue should be supported by their colleagues in the industry, because such suits represent the one proven way to change the law. Although Wang didn’t sue, she’s aware that many women risk damage to their careers if they do.
- Companies need to stop giving cover to people who were fired for harassment. Instead, the fact that they were fired and the reasons why ought to be made public, she said.
- Companies should stop forcing women who blow the whistle on sexual harrassment and related issues to sign non-disparagement agreements. If that doesn’t happen, the law needs to be changed so that disclosing sexual harassment is not considered a violation of those deals.
Many women fear speaking out about sexual harassment. But Wang hasn’t really suffered any of the repercussions she feared.
Quite the opposite, in fact. Instead of reprisals, she’s received many emails of support. One VC even told her, “A check is waiting for you,” she told the crowd here.
“I thought I was jumping off the cliff, and I would be somewhat damaged,” she said. “But I feel that halfway off the cliff, the community caught me.”