'Once, a client asked me to sit on his lap': Powerful women tell stories of men misbehaving in Silicon Valley

The “Elephant in Silicon Valley” is the place of women in tech.

In a new survey, more than 200 women in positions of power (top execs, founders, and VCs) detailed the sexism they have experienced being a part of Silicon Valley. Some of the signs of sexism were egregious and overt:

  • “Once a client asked me to sit on his lap if he wanted to buy my products. My company didn’t do anything about it when I told my boss so unfortunately I asked to be taken off that client but it’s not like they can fire the client.”
  • “Recently, I attended a VC firm’s conference where they required one group of people to strip to their underwear and swim in a lake. The men all got naked and jumped right in. But the women? So devastating.”
  • “I had a fellow VC sending me flowers, gifts, even a mix-tape, over the course of several months. Another portfolio CEO asked me to go through a door first so he could ‘watch me walk’ and my superiors at the firm told me to laugh it off. I also had another VC tell me likes married women and put his hand on mine. (I’m married).”

Of the 200, 60 per cent reported unwanted sexual advances while one in the three felt afraid of their personal safety because of work-related circumstances.

Often, the moves may not be as obviously sexist.

Many women spoke up that it was the subtle things, like off-sites to male-dominated activities or being left out of the golfing dates or ski weekends. Other times it’s everyday conversation. 87 per cent received demeaning comments from male colleagues, while 88 per cent said that clients or coworkers address questions to their male peers instead of them.

Family is another touchy subject. Some women felt that they couldn’t talk about their families as much to appear professional, one going so far as to remove photos of their kids from the desk.

Business Insider has talked to other women in tech who have been singled out by venture capitalists for being “too old” and “too female” to get funding. And that was from so-called “female-friendly” VCs, Business Insider’s Julie Bort reported.

While the survey does have a small sample size, its creators want more stories and to continue the dialogue about sexism in Silicon valley.

“The inspiration for this survey came out of the incredible conversation from the Ellen Pao & KPCB trial,”

wrote the survey’s creators: Trae Vassallo, Ellen Levy, Michele Madansky, Hillary Mickell, Bennett Porter, Monica Leas, and Julie Oberweis. “What we realised is that while many women shared similar workplace stories, most men were simply shocked and unaware of the issues facing women in the workplace.”

Women can share their stories here.

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