Individual Courage and Lasting Change in Tech

Individual Courage and Lasting Change in Tech


The women who have come forward in tech in the last few weeks, including Susan Fowler, Niniane Wang and Sarah Kunst have shown great courage. Their courage will be the catalyst for lasting change, provided all of us turn this into a sustained effort.

Having been in tech for over two decades as an entrepreneur and investor, I have sadly looked into allegations of sexual harassment on more than one occasion. The majority of these cases turned out to frustratingly go nowhere, as initial allegations were not subsequently confirmed. Women were scared to follow through. Scared that they would be known for their complaint, instead of their accomplishments. Scared that their careers would be blocked, their fundraising stalled. Those fears were real and justified and it is clear that for every complaint there were many, many more incidents that went unreported.

Change starts with courageous individuals. To get systematic change though will take time and broad engagement. I hope that more women will find inspiration by those who have been leading to follow through on the record. And to start speaking out in the moment, to push back and call men out on the spot, knowing full well that doing so will, at times, come at a personal cost. There will, however, also be investors and employers who will be supportive and I want USV to be among those.

None of this should be required of women in the first place. We men should behave professionally. There should be more women making investment decisions (including at USV). There should be more diversity of all kinds and at all levels of tech, period.

Getting there will take a long time though, especially in Venture Capital. Change in our industry is slow, as fund cycles are long. At USV we last added a new General Partner in 2012 with Andy. Change in the diversity of GPs at existing firms will proceed one retirement / new partner at a time (in a variant on Planck’s quote that “science progresses one funeral at a time”).

There is, however, a potential accelerant for change due to the VC industry itself being disrupted. The balance of power has been shifting from investors to entrepreneurs for some time now, as starting a company has become cheaper, services such as Mattermark have provided more visibility and networks such as AngelList have broadened who can invest. Finally, with crypto currencies and token offerings, a whole new funding mechanism that doesn’t rely on gatekeepers has become available.

So now is the time to double down in order to achieve lasting change. We all need to seize this moment. Here are actions we can take as investors:

Make sure to have a sexual harassment policy that explicitly covers external relationships. Here is a template for a policy for VC firms to include in employee handbooks. Jacqueline provided input to this and we will adopt a version for USV.

Become a limited partner in some of the women and minority led early stage funds. As Shai Goldman points out, for the earliest investments there is nothing to go on other than the entrepreneur. Susan and I are LPs in Female Founders Fund and Lattice Ventures and will be LPs in 645  Ventures next fund.

Learn about unconscious bias. We all love to think of ourselves as being immune to it, as strictly applying objective criteria, but there is ample research to the contrary. I recommend “What Works” by Iris Bohnet.

And of course most of all: fund more women and minority entrepreneurs!