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GES 2017: Women Entrepreneurs in Silicon Valley Join Hands to Resist 'Big Boys Club'

By: Maha Siddiqui

Edited By: Aditya Nair


Last Updated: November 28, 2017, 09:29 IST

Image for representational purposes. (Reuters)

Image for representational purposes. (Reuters)

These female leaders have now huddled together to talk it out, look for solutions and insulate businesses from sexual predators.

Hyderabad: It is an open secret that there are Harvey Weinsteins in the Silicon Valley. Women entrepreneurs, who so far found it difficult to fight the ‘boys club’, have decided to take them on collectively.

These female leaders have now huddled together to talk it out, look for solutions and insulate businesses from sexual predators.

Ari Horie, Founder and CEO of Women’s Startup Lab, a Silicon Valley-based accelerator, told News18 that “sexual harassment still persists in Silicon Valley”. Horie, who works with a mission to empower women entrepreneurs, said that she now teaches those who join her programme to tackle tricky and difficult situations.

She says women entrepreneurs often find themselves trapped. A no to ‘compromise’ becomes a matter of survival for the business and in turn, the many employees who depend on these women bosses. Women entrepreneurs find it especially difficult to handle a situation involving the investor(s).

While explaining how women in Silicon Valley find it hard to get investment in the first place, she says, “The money and power ecosystem is mostly controlled by men in Silicon Valley. About 90% of the venture capitalists are men here. We need more women.”

“We don’t need to compromise to get our business going. Let’s build a society where we back each other to counter the boys club,” says Sunitha Kumar Girish, CEO and Co-founder of Laughing Buddha Games. Sunitha is an Indian-origin entrepreneur from Silicon Valley, who attended a programme at the Horie’s Startup Lab.

Sunita recounts her own experiences and puts it this way, “My worst experience professionally, was while I was working at a startup, staffed mostly by white men – secure in their privilege and comfortable with their views. There I was: a brand new mom, working with tech bros, who at first attempted to include me in their world but soon, our opposing cultural views and physical privileges excluded any possibility of middle ground.”

Beate Chelette, Founder and CEO of Chelette Enterprises, lays bare the power imbalance. “While at the managerial level, the men-to-women ratio is even. From the director-level, though, it becomes so men-heavy that US only has 2-3% women CEOs. Boardrooms are worse, with them claiming victory, even if there is one woman on it,” said Beate.

In 2017, Beate found mention in the ‘50 Must Follow Women Entrepreneurs’ by the Huffington Post. She rose to fame when she sold her company to Bill Gates. Nowadays, she runs online courses and one-on-one training programmes, which teach business building techniques to other women entrepreneurs.

She has written candidly about sexual harassment in her book, ‘Happy Woman, Happy World’. Here is an incident she talks about in her recent post: “Help Me Please – I Am Being Harassed at Work. I am 22 and the only woman on this team in a tech company. I am going to find another job. I dread going to work.”

This is an email she says made her furious and immediately think of her own daughter, who is around the same age. She goes on to describe the harassment her daughter went through while working at a restaurant. “She was often grabbed by guys dining there, not to mention the nonsense she had to listen to. She has heard it all – from marriage proposals to being told she would be kidnapped. All she does to incite this is to show up for work,” writes Beate.

She is quite open about her own struggles as well. Getting appointments at national and international conventions for picture professionals and stock agencies was close to impossible. "I just couldn’t get in front of the decision makers, who without exception were all men," she said.

It is then that she learned how some 'decision makers' would spend time at bars and it was possible to get them to listen to her there. What followed opened her eyes to why most women would avoid that route.

This is what she heard: “You are very beautiful. You have a nice body. You seem to take good care of yourself. Are you seeing anyone? Why is your boyfriend not here? Are you attached, married? A pretty woman like you shouldn’t be travelling by herself. You need a real man, who can take care of you. I was attracted to you the moment I saw you.”

The men would also stare at her breasts, stand too close to her and even brush up against her breast when leaning forward to grab a drink from the bar. “That’s just a given,” said Beate.

It became all too evident that her professional interest and politeness was being mistaken for her interest in the men. It is these experiences that led her to start ‘The Women's Code’ and device the 'Cinderella Rules' for women entrepreneurs. The Women’s Code is a system to help female entrepreneurs cope, collaborate and lead in a ‘highly competitive male-dominated environment’.

It is women like these who have now got together in Silicon Valley to share their experiences and figure out ways of keeping their businesses safe.

The women are also helping others like themselves to not be forced to 'compromise on their integrity to get their business going'. Silicon Valley lags far behind in women-owned and women-run businesses but this group of female entrepreneurs are determined to change things.