When the #MeToo hashtag broke wide, one of the consistent remarks from men was “wow, feels like every woman I know has been harassed in some form.” And the consistent reaction from women was, “well, duh. Did you not know that?”
My own journey from the Land of Naive Male occurred earlier this decade, and it came from backing enough female founders to see a trend emerge. Homebrew will be five years old in April but we seem to fund companies with a female founder ~5x more frequently than our industry as a whole (26% vs ~5%).
Here’s what Hunter thought on Day One of Homebrew: “All female founders know of a female founder who has experienced some form of harassment.”
Here’s what Hunter realized after funding a number of female founders and being trusted enough to hear their stories: “All female founders have experienced some form of harassment, continue to experience harassment, and expect to experience harassment in the future.”
I was shocked (remember, I was still in the Land of Naive Male) and saddened by this. Saddened not on the “people should treat each other with respect and feel safe” or “I have a daughter!” tip, but because it’s so friggin’ hard to start and grow a company. Can you imagine having to do so with the practical and emotional load of ongoing harassment, sexism and consistently being underestimated? To murder a famous quote, these women do everything Jack Dorsey does, except backwards and in heels!
And we’re so thankful these women soldier on because they’re building amazing companies that are going to be tremendous investments for us. As an industry it’s “easy” to decry the most egregious repeat abusers once brave women out them – see Scoble this week – but harder for us to look at our own individual practices and ensure we’re creating a supportive and safe environment. Difficult to look in the mirror when we can instead rage tweet at someone worse. Challenging to realize that we’re part of a system that has systematically held women back. And that I, as a man, have benefitted from this status quo. So to any man reading this, our choice (but really our responsibility) is to ask, “what do I do – or permit – that leaves women feeling unsafe, belittled or minimized?” Because I believe solving this problem involves admitting there’s always an answer to that question, even for the best-intended of us.