Sexism and Startups: What’s Up With The Apology Stuff? Find A Fix says Shaili Chopra

STP Team
New Update


Just as much as survivors, whistleblowers have embraced open public platforms to share their stories of sexual harassment, the perpetrators of it have capitalised on these forums too. Blogs and open letters have become the ‘medium’ for revelations. While it’s good to have agency in digital platforms, I remain shocked about how easily a public apology seems enough repentance. They screw up. They manipulate, exploit and thrive. And then they simply apologise? What’s up with that?

Startuposphere doesn’t need more apologies, it needs a fix.

"I made advances toward multiple women in work-related situations, where it was clearly inappropriate," Dave McClure, the cofounder of accelerator and investment firm 500 Startups, wrote in a post he titled "I'm a creep. I'm sorry."

Sexism, Startups and Silicon Valley go back to the time startups were conceived. Founders, VCs, investors, board members don’t seem to get it though. Why is it that over the last few years, cases of harassment have emerged at some of the biggest corporations? If these apologies were making an impact, and the public shame associated with them acted as deterrents we would have had a drop in the cases? And just what happens after these apologies anyway?

Let there be no blinkers on. Sexism still flourishes and patriarchy still calls the shots.

“The scale is sort of breathtaking,” The Guardian quoted a lawyer named Kelly Dermody who annually assists hundreds of women in tech and represents thousands across class-action lawsuits. “Most of the women I’ve worked with in startups have had stories where they have been physically touched, if not worse, without their consent.”


Let there be no blinkers on. Sexism still flourishes and patriarchy still calls the shots. Time to change the habit. Who will start this conversation? That issues of sexism and sexual harassment are now rampant is well established. Finally press across the world has put the spotlight on the dirty underbelly. We can truly thank Susan Fowler, Indian Fowler, Rashmi Bansal, Wamika Iyer and many such women for speaking up. For being fearless.

What’s the plan ahead? That’s the question to be asked. Who wants the apologies, let’s get a plan in place.

We know the problem, let’s find the fix. Has it dawned on the startup community that new rules need to be put in place? Laws, committees and practises that will take on the issue of sexism head on. And to ensure that these don’t remain plans on paper but are implemented. One can no longer depend on boards since we have seen in the case of Uber’s Travis Kalanik, they almost always supported him which is probably why Uber has such a spate of culture issues that led to sexism being practised. Time for a new paradigm?


Get more women in the organisation. Let them show you, how its done. Balance the board. Fund more women.


Say no to sexual harassment, take it up seriously within organisations and empower the companies to ‘sort’ out the mess


While sexual harassment is among individuals, it’s important for the institution to step up and take charge. Take a stand. Seek an investigation.



Stop looking at sexual harassment issues as a responsibility of the HR department. Take it on. Corner-offices can transform the way women are treated in their organizations.


Having committes, organisations, third party ‘watch dogs’ are important. Not because they will put an end to all harassment, not because they can be a deterrent but because we need fair processes to assess complaints.


There is a likelihood that both men and women don’t even know that a situation may be alive to harassment. It’s important to train them. To know how to behave, what to do, not to do and what not to say.


Don’t let the law and rules fall through the cracks. Put it up front on the wall. Plaster it everywhere. Let people get informed every single day about the rules. And why they matter.

In the 21st century, in a world where entrepreneurship and startups are considered hallmarks of liberation and rise, we find women still vulnerable to abuse, sexual harassment, exploitation to groping to assault. It’s time. Let’s show some respect.

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