Sexual Harassment and the lack of an inclusive culture in startups of Silicon Valley

Kalanick’s world melted with one blog post by Susan Fowler. A detailed, dispassionate 2,910-word account by an ex-Uber engineer opened a can of worms for Uber and brought forward the misogynistic culture of the $68b company.

“When I reported the situation, I was told by both HR and upper management that even though this was clearly sexual harassment and he was propositioning me, it was this man’s first offense, and that they wouldn’t feel comfortable giving him anything other than a warning and a stern talking-to. Upper management told me that he “was a high performer” (i.e. had stellar performance reviews from his superiors) and they wouldn’t feel comfortable punishing him for what was probably just an innocent mistake on his part.” – Susan J Fowler

Close on the heels of Uber, Justin Caldbeck, Partner at Binary Capital, put in his papers for sexual misconduct against female founders.

In another alley, a Silicon Valley tech worker had to undergo the horror of being groped by her CTO after an office party. You know what’s worse? The CEO refused to fire the perpetrator. Eventually, the woman had to move while the predator flourished because he was a friend of the founder and successfully defended his actions under the guise of a hug.

“I felt disgusted for months after that,” said Haana, who requested that the Guardian not include her full name or identify the small tech startup where she used to do marketing. “It affects me on a level that I wish it didn’t.”

There is something seriously wrong with the startup valley. Toxic work culture seems more of a norm, rather than an aberration. In a recent research study, more than 60% women face some form of sexual exploitation at work in the Silicon Valley.

Under the guise of innovation and disruption, the culture at startups conveniently excludes women. The not-so-subtle reminders are late night parties where booze flows and bonding happens over shaved heads.

It’s sad that sexism and discrimination haunt women even at high-profile technology companies, including Twitter, Apple, Oracle, and Google.

This much is clear that these technology giants overlooked an inclusive work culture while building their organisations.

Where did we go wrong? How can we fix it?  

Why do we forget that a culture that ignores half of the workforce is built to fail, even after being uber successful.  

Sava360 Interview with Sandeep Shroff, CEO and Co-Founder, myStartUpCFO

Who is Sandeep Shroff?

CEO and co-founder of myStartUpCFO Sandeep Shroff is making a name for himself and his startup… and, as you can see, it’s all in the name! myStartUpCFO essentially provides small businesses with on-demand full-stack CFO support. We all know that in the early stages of starting a business, there is so much focus on growth that sometimes the most critical pieces of business operations and financial controls get lost. That’s exactly why Shroff helped start myStartUpCFO – so small companies can get the much needed CFO office support without sacrificing already limited resources.

Added to its core operational mission is Shroff’s own socially conscious mission to have myStartUpCFO support and empower women and help close the gender gap in the workplace. In their 3+ years of existence, they have worked with hundreds of clients, from unfunded dreams operating out of a garage to companies that generate millions of dollars in monthly revenues. We’re especially happy to have Shroff offer his support for Sava360 and participate in our next exclusive ‘Day in the Life Of’ interview series.

[S360]: What’s your take on some of the biggest tech company PR fails in the news recently (i.e. Uber)? Is this, at least in part, a function of growing too big too fast without the necessary infrastructure in place?

[SS]: I wouldn’t call Uber a fail just yet! But yes, fast growth can kill. More than infrastructure and processes, failure is a result of founders’ / management’s mindsets and attitudes NOT changing. Do your kindergarten learning / functioning skills work in high school or college. Self-induced evolution is hard to do…but it is necessary for any successful entrepreneur.

[S360]: Take us a on quick 30 second high level journey through your career to this point, culminating in the launch of myStartupCFO.

[SS]: I have changed fields of work every ten years or so, but I’ve always included the previous experience to enrich the next. My first ten years were as a hands-on computer programing geek in Silicon Valley startups. The second ten years were analyzing tech companies on Wall Street (which I did not like much!) and working in finance roles in tech companies. The third ten years are a culmination of tech, finance, and previous 20 years of nonprofit work in the women and children’s literacy field in India. myStartUpCFO is a financial services startup providing services to other startups. All this while employing women who are working from home, which allows us to stay nimble as an organization, and also provide a stable, challenging career to women who want a healthier work-life balance.

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