The notion that the startup world has a sexism problem is not a new one. But a recent string of controversies has rocked the tech industry, including news of sexual misconduct against Justin Caldbeck, the co-founder of Binary Capital, a prominent VC firm, and allegations that Uber is internally awash with unchecked sexual harassment and gender inequality. These stories shed light on unacceptable behavior by powerful people in tech, and a generally sexist, macho culture.
For an industry that prides itself on risk taking, problem solving, and disruption, Silicon Valley and the tech world at large have done surprisingly very little about their sexism problem. Yet a lot of these internal issues are, quite simply, rooted in personnel. Working with competent people who have no demonstrable history of sexism or problematic behavior should be a priority, whether you're hiring them, collaborating with them, or funding them. That’s why 60% of US companies are now turning to social media screening as a way to identify these potential issues. But often, these characteristics can be difficult to identify in people until it's too late. So many companies, even those as big and as successful as Uber, are susceptible in sexism in the workplace at the highest levels, a toxicity which recently contributed to the ouster of CEO Travis Kalanick. Uber's future is certainly unknown.
In some cases, like Binary Capital, sexual misconduct was thoroughly crippling. The allegations against Caldbeck led to investors suspending funds for the firm, effectively ruining the company's image.
Evolution within the tech industry starts with creating a more equal and safe environment at every company, with accountability at every level. The sexism problem can also be countered by hiring more women; TechWorld reports that only 7% of VC partners are female. That's a stark figure which exemplifies how a sexist culture develops. Furthermore, it's important for companies to take advantage of screening or background checks so they can know if a potential employee or executive has a history of problematic behavior. It can be difficult to pinpoint these characteristics in people, but in the interest of protecting companies and most importantly, people, it is necessary.