LinkedIn co-founder and venture capitalist (VC) Reid Hoffman has spoken out against Silicon Valley’s apathy towards Sexual Harassment allegations – most recently levelled at Binary Capital’s Justin Caldbeck – blaming both the VC system’s lack of HR functions and its tendency to look away from such claims.
In a post (naturally) on LinkedIn, Hoffman called on the industry to "work on building a kind of industry-wide HR function". This, he argued, would make sure VCs who engage in predatory behaviour "face the same sort of consequences that they would if their overtures were directed at an employee".
He also laid out a set of guidelines for Silicon Valley to adhere to when navigating the venture capitalist/startup relationship, which he hopes will stimulate further conversation via the hashtag #DecencyPledge.
Hoffman’s public comments were sparked from an article by Reed Albergotti in The Information, which documented six women’s accounts of sexual harassment at the hands of Justin Caldbeck – a VC who, until he took ‘an indefinite leave of absence’ following the allegations yesterday, was placed at Binary Capital.
Three of the women interviewed by Albergotti spoke on the record: Susan Ho said Caldbeck ‘sent her text messages in the middle of the night suggesting they meet up’ while midway through agreeing an investment deal; her Journy co-founder Leiti Hsu explained how he ‘groped her under a table at a Manhattan hotel bar’.
Hoffman cited Pando’s Sarah Lacy in demanding to know “Where’s the outrage?” when it comes to reacting to such behaviour – or stories of such behavior – in the VC world. He hypothesised that the apathy comes from a fear of “stepping into the he-said/she-said dispute where [onlookers] have no information” and a propensity to think: "Well, that’s bad behaviour but not my problem".
Hoffman has thus suggested the following #DecencyPledge promises:
“1. VCs should understand that they have the same moral position to the entrepreneurs they interact with that a manager has to an employee, or a college professor to a student.
“2. If anyone sees a VC behaving differently from this standard, they should disclose this information to their colleagues as appropriate – just as one would if one saw a manager interacting inappropriately with an employee, or a college professor with a student.
"3. Any VC who agrees that this is a serious issue that deserves zero tolerance – and I certainly hope most do think this way – should stop doing business with VCs who engage in this behavior. LPs should stop investing. Entrepreneurs of all genders should stop considering those VCs. This behaviour occurs in our industry not just because some believe it's no big deal, but also because those who do find it unacceptable don't do enough to actively discourage it."
#DecencyPledge has since seen overnight support from the likes of Melinda Gates, LinkedIn chief executive Jeff Weiner and Cindy Gallop, who has also called for a #FundingPledge to guarantee equal investment in both male and female led businesses.