In this opinion piece, Cathy White, founder of CEW Communications, discusses why sexual harassment is not just a problem in Hollywood.
Like me, you’ve probably seen your social media feeds filled with the #MeToo hashtag this week. The tag, created in response to the Harvey Weinstein sexual harassment and assault allegations, was triggered by actress Alyssa Milano to highlight the magnitude of the problem women from all walks of life and careers face. Taking emphasis away from just one predator.
Since the tag started quickly gaining speed on Sunday, it has shown little sign of slowing down. The number of people, not just women, I know personally who have added their voice to the masses is shocking. I added my own.
Some of my horrible experiences pre-date my work in the tech world. Some of them don’t.
While #MeToo is clearly showing just how terrible this problem is, we now need to act on this movement and start working to change things for the better for all people in the generations to come.
In the past 12 months, we’ve seen countless allegations against influential men in the tech world. Including 500 Startups founder Dave McClure, Chris Sacca of Lowercase Capital and Justin Caldbeck of Binary Capital. Funnily enough, these guys are mostly US-based. But we know there is a problem here in the UK tech world as well.
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The reason we don’t talk about this more or even share the names publicly is for the exact same reason all those actresses couldn’t out Weinstein until now. Women in the tech world find themselves in sexual harassment and assault situations that they cannot address because of the power of the man, and the impact this could potentially have on their career.
Our ecosystem is smaller than we think, we’re only really one person removed from knowing everyone. People talk. For women trying to grow in this industry, we are generally put into situations where we can risk everything if we actively speak out. I’ve heard everything from “I wear a fake engagement ring” to “I purposefully chose a male co-founder” so that women, typically founders, feel more protected and empowered, and less likely to be hit on by a VC forgetting there is a line of professionalism to uphold.
You’ll notice, again, that the emphasis here is how the woman can protect herself or be taken seriously. Not on how the men around that woman need to change.
But this problem isn’t just about female founders and investors. Tech, like Hollywood’s studios, has a serious image problem.
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If we want to build the greatest and most diverse workforce, attracting more people from all walks of life, not just white, male and privileged, we need everybody to make a serious effort to improve themselves, their teams, their culture and to be more acutely aware of calling out the behaviour we know is wrong.
How do we do this? We listen. We really listen. Then we change.
When someone starts talking about #MeToo, when someone seems uncomfortable, when someone asks for help, when someone has to talk about an assault or a harassment – we won’t talk over them, we won’t challenge them, we won’t brush it off as not important. We will listen, we will be there and we will help bring around the change that is needed.
We can all lead by example. We can all call out behaviour that we don’t want to see in the industry we work in. We can all correct someone when they do something that they may not be aware as intimidating, predatory or uncomfortable.
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We will have a line.
This is about more than just signing pledges, writing apology blogs, and applauding the bravery of the #MeToo victims who have spoken out. This is about reflection, to truly ask ourselves have I ever done anything that could have made a person I know incredibly uncomfortable. Have I ever knowingly looked the other way.
It’s time to ask ourselves the hard questions. It’s time to change.
#WeToo can make it better.