Mar 9, 2017 · 13 minutes

I spent a lot of yesterday’s International Women’s Day feeling depressed. This was very different than the hopeful elation I felt at the Women’s March.

We closed Pando for the day, and I did limited work. My daughter and I dressed in red. I spent money with women-owned companies.

But, at least in San Francisco, I didn’t feel like part of a movement. Perhaps it was a West Coast/East Coast divide, but I saw fewer people than I expected in red and none of the women I normally interact with were off work, either because they were confused by the mixed messages of the day (Don’t work... unless you are a woman-owned business so people can pay you on Wednesday! Don’t spend money! Do spend money if it’s a woman owned business!)  or they simply didn’t have the luxury to strike.

The women who work at my kids’ schools felt somehow it was less supportive of women to strike, because of all the working moms who rely on them.

It was a let down after how cohesive and powerful it felt participating in the Women’s March in January.

But the messiness of activism aside, I was depressed because of what’s hanging over our industry right now. Private conversations I’ve had with people close to Uber have painted a culture internally that’s even worse than what’s been reported, and yet women are terrified to come forward. Not because people won’t believe them-- Uber whistleblower Susan Fowler has loudly been supported by the public, and nearly everyone has given her story the benefit of the doubt, given all we know about Uber.

Rather, these women are terrified, because they will be branded as troublemakers. Long after everyone applauds their courage on social media, they fear, they simply won’t be able to find a job and their already challenged career ambitions will become that much more fraught.

And honestly, I have no evidence to prove that isn’t true.

The recent flare up of scandals around Uber seem to be already calming down with absolutely no substantive action having been taken. None of Uber’s “untouchable” A-team has been fired, no one responsible for the sexism Susan Fowler faced has been fired. The “fearless” tech press who was so new to Uber outrage a few weeks ago, has accepted the idea that CEO Travis Kalanick hire a COO to help him “grow up” as a reasonable “concession.” Nearly everyone has admitted this culture is “toxic”-- even Uber’s apologists. And yet, the tech press is pretending you solve a “toxic” culture by not removing anyone responsible and just adding in another person who isn’t in charge.

Uhhh…?

On top of that, there’s the research I reported a few weeks ago that show that white men in Silicon Valley mostly don’t care about diversity. Across several studies, only 5% of companies said it was a “top concern” and a full 75% don’t even care enough to have a formal program in place aimed at increasing diversity. 40% are sick of hearing about it.

In the last week we’ve seen dozens of top Valley personalities who love to talk about how much they care about women in the industry either stay absolutely silent or actually argue that Travis Kalanick -- a man who has apologized about the ethics and culture of his company for nearly two years straight-- get another “second chance” at fixing things. Jason Calacanis even took the solo stance of praising Kalanick.

The lone Kapors are the only investors who would even speak out about Uber’s systemic ethics and sexism problems-- even though those problems are well documented and are undisputed even by the company!

This is your “pipeline problem,” Silicon Valley: When women bravely report blatant sexism to HR, nothing happens. When they bravely come forward and expose a powerful, retaliatory company at risk to their own reputation and safety, again nothing happens.

Silicon Valley has sat in a mixture of “Tsk-ing” and silence and absolute inaction.

The check-list:

A company that has spied on female users’ whereabouts multiple times? No prob!

A company that allegedly has private chat rooms where men discuss sexual fantasies of the women they work with? No prob!

A company where female workers are propositioned? No prob!

A company that threatens female journalists by going after their families? No prob!


A company that been accused of, threatened and was found in court to have employed “possibly criminal” tactics in smearing critics? No prob!

A company that gropes women at company events? No prob!

I’m sure I’m leaving about fifteen major indignities out. Uber owns all of those horrible, disgusting actions. But let’s be clear: Silicon Valley owns the acceptance of them.

All of you cowards who will not denounce this company. All of the investors who don’t want to rock the boat. This is on you. The reason women who have endured the same or worse won’t come forward is not because of what Uber has done-- it’s because of what you are doing right now.  

What can you possibly do, you ask? Here are just a few easy ideas.

Write an open letter actually denouncing Uber. Change your company’s car account from Uber to Lyft until action to address this sexism is undertaken. If you have given this company cover in past scandals, come forward and admit you were wrong. Pledge to interview, support, and champion women who come forward from here on out.

Because right now women don’t believe a word out of your mouth when you say you care about inequality, and I don’t blame them. The macro numbers don’t show it, and your actions in this particular case don’t show it either.

I was a guest on Press:Here last week and one of the segments was about Silicon Valley’s gender problem and host Scott McGrew asked “where does this come from?”

I’ll tell you one place: Stanford.

There are stunning similarities between the Brock Turner rape trial and what we’ve seen out of Uber in the wake of Susan Fowler’s letter.

So called “perfect victims.” In the Turner case, the victim came forward, cooperated fully, there were witnesses, and yet she still didn’t get justice. In the (far less horrific) example of Fowler, she was respected in the industry, had gone through all of the proper HR channels to seek justice before leaving, had her complaints completely documented, presented her case in a respectful and restrained way, and even came forward by name.

Her reward? “Someone” is digging up dirt on her, planning a smear campaign and not a single person involved has been fired.

The message in both cases is devastating and deafening: Even if you have the courage to come forward and cooperate fully, you will not get any justice. So why bother?

Giving white bros endless “second chances.” Aaron Persky gave Turner a light sentence, because a  harsher one would have a “severe impact” on the rapist’s career. Similarly, Uber HR told Fowler they “wouldn't feel comfortable punishing [her harasser] for what was probably just an innocent mistake on his part.”

Let’s get one thing straight: Donald Trump was accused of sexual assault by a dozen or so women. He was still elected President of the United States. Gurbash Chahal was caught on tape beating his girlfriend. His board still worked to protect his upcoming IPO. He is going to jail for breaking parole and doing it again. He was still hired as an advisor to a venture firm after that.

I see little evidence that men accused of sexual assault suffer from accusations much at all.

When you insist that men who’ve been accused of these things or just “merely” operate a toxic environment deserve endless "second" chances before facing reprecussions, what you are really saying is this: The women attacked, degraded, or debased by these men do not deserve justice. When the future success of these men is paramount to their female victims getting justice, we do not have anything like equality. And the men who make that argument simply don't aspire to have equality. You may tell yourself you do, but your words defending bros and your lack of actions speak louder.

And every woman in the Valley is hearing it loud and clear right now.

Michele Dauber, who has been working tireless to raise funds to recall Judge Persky, told me in our podcast interview that she repeatedly sees young girls come to Stanford full of hope and excitement about becoming entrepreneurs. And then some 43% of them endure some kind of sexual assault or misconduct and spend their freshman year grappling with that, while the men who deserve so many second chances spend their time networking in the tech world.

That’s where it starts, Silicon Valley. At your feeder school.

Just look at this bizarre misogynistic video shot by Stanford Graduate School of Business. (Apologies if that link doesn’t work… As soon as Dauber started to Tweet about this the video started to get pulled down. Without-- yunno-- any admission of the larger problem.)  Is it any wonder it was at Stanford that Snap CEO Evan Spiegel sent these creepily misogynistic emails? (The ones excused by investors as “boys will be boys”... sound familiar?)

We can’t be horrified at Trump’s disrespect of women and not be horrified at Uber’s. And we can’t be horrified at Uber’s and not see seeds of in a video like this.

As I said when Uber threatened my family, there is a line, somewhere. There is a line that even Travis Kalanick cannot cross without reprecussions. That line isn’t allegations of intellectual property theft, sexism, creating a toxic work culture, spying on users, or threatening critics using “possibly illegal” tactics.

We should all be terrified of the moment in the future when we discover what that line is. You don’t have to be a mother of young children to know that bad behavior only escalates when it’s never corrected. And when that thing happens-- whatever it is-- it will be on Kalanick and Uber and his precious "A Team."

But Silicon Valley has enabled it. The press that is backing off now that Kalanick has “conceded” to hire a number two executive has enabled it. Certainly the billions of capital that has remained silent has enabled it. And the rest of the tech elites who nod thoughtfully about how troubled they are by Uber, but insist the man who created this is the best qualified to solve it has enabled it too.

Silicon Valley has had a mirror held up to it in recent weeks, showing one of the ugliest scandals yet of systemic sexism, sexual harassment and misogyny at a large tech company we’ve ever seen. And after a week or so of outrage porn, the most powerful people in tech have largely decided they’re fine with it, as long as Kalanick apologizes and hires another person to report to him.

I am so sick of having off the record conversations with brilliant women who tell me they are “done” with the startup world because of what they’ve endured and the lack of anyone doing anything to address it. I’m really sick of having nothing I can say to change their minds.

If that doesn’t shame you (and it likely won’t), consider this: China is kicking your ass on this. From the 2017 Silicon Valley Bank startup report, published this week:

China: A place that used to murder baby girls in large numbers. China: A place where women don’t have the same individual property rights within marriage. China: A place where single motherhood is still a stigma with very real consequences. China is doing a better job at elevating women in tech than you are, great meritocracy of Silicon Valley.

There is one tiny sliver of hope and only one: More women clawing their way into power. While the overall numbers are not changing, many of the individual women representing those percentage points are gaining influence and power. Firms like Sequoia Capital and Greylock and First Round are finally adding female investing partners, while women-founded firms like Cowboy and Forerunner are gaining prestige.

Susan Wojcicki has seemingly hacked the glass cliff by just sitting put at Google until Alphabet spun YouTube off as its own company. She is one of the most powerful people in tech and entertainment, she’s actually a CEO and isn’t running a damaged or troubled company. Yesterday, Diane Greene opened Google’s 10,000 person cloud event. She said this:

"With this industry, I've been incredibly fortunate, but it was sort of an industry where I was lucky, and I chose to be kind of oblivious to what was going on. And now we're in an environment where women are having a huge impact and adding a lot of value to our industry, and women are celebrated if they raise their hand and say, 'Hey, you are missing my value. You're not recognizing what I'm doing.' At Google, we strive at Google Cloud to have an environment where no one needs to raise their hand, but no matter what, it's completely safe to do that."

If the sheer numbers of women in tech aren’t growing, at least many of them are amassing more power within firms and organizations or starting their own. And that matters because despite the myth of the Queen Bee: Women in power enable more women. Statistics show that across the business world, but also in startups in particular.

When a venture firm has a single female investing partner they are twice as likely to back a female founded firm. And that matters because women have a harder time raising capital, and that’s not a pipeline thing.

According to Silicon Valley Bank, 27% of female-founded companies said the current fundraising climate is "extremely challenging", versus 15% of male-founded companies. Sure that stat alone could have something to do with the delta between male egos and women's confidence gap. But SVB also reported that 20% of female-founded companies were unsuccessful raising money last year versus just 13% of male-founded companies. Nevermind thousands more startups are created by men.

VCs who tell you they don't fund women because they don't come into pitch are lying. They are pitching VCs and are not getting funded at sustantially higher rates. But that changes if those firms have a single female investing partner. 

And increasingly there's data that shows women support women's career advancement at larger tech companies too.

Last year, I asked Silicon Valley Bank if they could drill more into what C-level jobs they were talking about in their annual study. In male-founded companies the most common C-level job women had was head of HR (25%), CFO (22%) or CMO (18%). At female-founded companies that C-level job was more likely to be CEO (47%), COO (26%) or CTO (9%).

Similarly, 81% of male founded companies have no women on their boards, whereas only 27% of female founded companies don't have any. 65% of male founded companies have no women in their C-suite, versus 15% of female founded companies.

It’s clear: Women help other women when they aren’t a threatened minority within a zero-sum game culture. This is why Deloitte’s Christie Smith stated the unpopular American position on Press:Here last week: That we should have gender quotas.

Each individual woman in power in tech steadily gaining more power, money, and influence, proving you can thrive even in a hostile macro ecosystem, and funding and hiring more women is the best chance we have at Silicon Valley changing. 2017 has taught us loudly that the existing gate keepers-- save the Kapors-- simply won’t.