Last week it was Travis Kalanick, today it’s Justin Caldbeck, the Binary Capital investor who resigned after six women came forward with allegations of sexual harassment–most of which occurred in the context of investment talks.
The business world has no shortage of shameful episodes involving men looking to leverage corporate power into sexual advances. Thanks to a growing roll-call of men caught in the act tech has been thrown into a sharper public spotlight. ‘Bro culture’ dominates offices and boardrooms everywhere in the industry.
The ‘Bro-CEO‘, as a recent New York Times editorial put it, “does what you’d expect an immature young man to do when you give him lots of money and surround him with fawning admirers—he creates a culture built on reckless spending and excessive partying, where bad behavior is not just tolerated but even encouraged.”
Kalanick might be the poster boy for such dubious morality, visiting escort bars with clients and even nicknaming his company ‘Boob-er’ to a reporter. It should be no surprise that Silicon Valley, which bestows great wealth and importance on young men with little experience, is a repeated gender equality offender.
Caldbeck, a 40-year-old San Francisco-based VC who has led investments in GrubHub and TaskRabbit, wrote a lengthy apology for his alleged misdemeanors, which include texting female business partners in the early hours and groping another beneath a table. “The dynamic of this industry makes it hard to speak up, but this is the type of action that leads to progress and change, starting with me,” he wrote.
But it doesn’t. When it comes to gender inequality words do little to assuage an entrenched bro culture. Boardrooms and investment headquarters are filled almost exclusively with men. This year’s Midas List, published by Forbes, counted just six female VCs among the world’s top 100. Last year TechCrunch reported that just 7% of investors at the leading 100 firms are women.
Until these shocking statistics are rebalanced little will be done to redress toxic sexism in Silicon Valley. And that starts with funding. More women must be employed in the VC industry, funding companies and making decisions at the very top of the tech tree. Only then will bro culture begin to be stamped out, bucking current trends for VCs to be hyper-masculine, former bros themselves.
Perhaps, as has been put forward at Uber, VC companies could adhere to a ‘Rooney Rule’ akin to that in the NFL, forcing firms to interview minority candidates for roles. Groups like the National Venture Capital Association (NVCA) could bring firms together to fight gender disparities in the industry. It has been proven time and time again that companies hiring more women–and people of color–perform better in business.
It was Uber’s investors who finally pulled the plug on Kalanick’s chaotic reign at Uber, and Binary Capital appears to have played a firm hand in Caldbeck’s departure. But the industry needs more than retrospective action. Until women are better represented in VC boardrooms, investment will continue to favor bros, and the actions they inevitably take.
Silicon Valley’s venture capitalists have spent decades chasing unicorns in the tech industry. Amid the chase they’ve missed the biggest unicorn of them all: equality.