Like most of you, we have been following the ongoing barrage of breaking stories about sexual harassment and mistreatment of women coming out of Silicon Valley over the past two weeks with a combination of disgust (that this is the world we’re living in in 2017), relief (that we are finally at a place where more women feel safe enough to share their stories), and bewilderment (where do we go from here? Here being: moving from Medium posts to lasting change).
Sadly, we also don’t feel surprised — most women, ourselves included, have experienced the “bro” culture that is prevalent not just in Silicon Valley but in the broader world of venture and investing. Felt the casual, everyday misogyny. Been blatantly propositioned. Been interrupted or talked over. Had men take credit for our ideas. Worked with partners who insisted on only speaking to our male peers, incorrectly believing that they held the power. Been told what to wear to a meeting based not on a dress code, but on the preferences of the person we were meeting. Received inappropriate invitations or suggestions.
When experiences like those shared in the New York Times and other media outlets come to light, we at Village Capital feel compelled to respond. More than half of our senior leadership team is female. Nearly half of our full team is female. 35% of our portfolio is invested in female-founded or female co-founded ventures. We stand in solidarity with the women who have been hurt by sexism and harassment, risked their careers in speaking out about it, and had their lives upended by these situations.
We also know how hard it is to confront people for inappropriate comments, invitations, or suggestions. We know how many times we ourselves have not spoken up to save the offensive party embarrassment or awkwardness. The last two weeks have cemented that if we are to be part of the solution, we’ve got to call out the many forms that harassment can take in order to stop it.
We are grateful to those who have spoken out already, echoing many of the sentiments we share. We’re eager to work on constructive solutions: adopting more comprehensive harassment policies — internally at Village Capital, and externally with our investors and founders; advocating for more responsible due diligence in our community of investors, and most of all, continuing to back the women we are lucky to get to work with — our team members, founders, and investors.
It’s more than just harassment that holds back female founders; it’s also all kinds of conscious and unconscious bias. Our investment process — which gives entrepreneurs a voice in how early-stage capital is allocated — was designed to address some of the explicit and implicit unequal power dynamics in early-stage entrepreneurship. But we know that changing the process or the decision makers alone is not enough, and we have been actively working on how to challenge these biases towards female founders as well as founders of color, or other underrepresented backgrounds. We commit to regularly sharing what we learn, and to continue being as transparent as we can about how we’re measuring up against our own goals.
We also know that we’re nowhere near having all of the answers, and that progress will come from our actions more than our posts or pledges. Our actions will be focused on moving forward as inclusively as we can — we have no interest in taking steps backward by creating rules that make it harder for women to compete on an equal footing. We need everyone at the table; we need to listen, learn, and speak up.
We’d love to hear thoughts from our network about what you’re seeing, what you’re doing and the best proactive ideas to change the investment climate to work better for everyone. And reach out to either of us directly at [email protected] or [email protected] if you’d like to chat.
Allie Burns is Managing Director of Village Capital. Victoria Fram is Managing Director of VilCap Investments, LLC and co-founder of Village Capital.