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Seven ways to stop sexual harassment in Silicon Valley

Joelle Emerson and Niniane Wang share their solutions on the latest Too Embarrassed to Ask.

stop sign Arielle Lilley / CC BY 2.0

Sexism and sexual harassment in the workplace are daunting problems. And the recent publicity around harassment in Silicon Valley, surfacing years of abuses that had been under the radar, has pushed the problem even more to the forefront.

But harassment is not an unsolvable problem, and on the latest episode of Too Embarrassed to Ask, Kara Swisher and Lauren Goode opened the door to start talking about solutions. They were joined on the podcast by Paradigm CEO Joelle Emerson — whose firm works with other companies in Silicon Valley to combat unconscious biases — and Evertoon CEO Niniane Wang, one of the three women who spoke out about harassment from venture capitalist Justin Caldbeck.

Below the listen link, we’ve shared seven of Emerson and Wang’s remedies. For more, you can listen to the new podcast on Apple Podcasts, Google Play Music, Spotify, TuneIn, Stitcher and SoundCloud.

  1. Put women in the room: “We set better cultural norms, better processes, better policies, better organizational structures when women are in the room,” Emerson said. “It’s not about those individual harassers, it’s about creating a culture where there’s accountability for that type of thing. When a culture is created by any homogeneous group, there’s going to be less accountability. Just as tech’s overwhelming whiteness allows for racism in the industry, I think tech’s overwhelming maleness allows for sexism.”
  2. Google first, tweet later: “[There’s an] assumption that you should be able to say whatever pops into your head without doing any research at all and not get called out for it,” Emerson said, referring to the responses to her recent Twitter critique of Ashton Kutcher. “I think men should absolutely be participating in this conversation, but they should start by learning, by doing a little bit of research on their own before putting their thoughts out there on Twitter.”
  3. Go beyond Google: “Just like when we design a product, we would first interview the user,” Wang said. “So a lot of men say they don’t know what to do because they haven’t been harassed, but they all know how a startup should design a product: They’d say, ‘Get out of the building and go talk to your user.’ They should apply the same principle; they should go talk to female founders. Sixty percent of women in tech say they have experienced unwanted sexual advances. So if they go ask five women in tech, they will probably get two of three who have personally experienced it, and they can listen first-hand to that information.”
  4. When it’s your firm, be proactive: “When people are convicted of a sexual crime, they have to register publicly,” Wang said. “Similarly, I applaud what Ignition Partners did, where they publicly described that the resignation of Frank Artale was due to multiple incidents of inappropriate conduct, and they had some details. I think that when a predator must resign due to multiple incidents of harassment, when there’s evidence and screenshots and credible accounts, that should be publicly disclosed, so that they do not just get a new job two weeks later and continue their harassment unabated.”
  5. Educate early and often: “We see sexual assault happening in high schools all across the country, so this isn’t something that magically appears later in life,” Emerson said. “Graduate schools, colleges, high schools and even earlier have an obligation to teach students in age-appropriate ways about behavior. At the business school/graduate school level, actually teaching students about how to be inclusive, what it means to create environments that are supportive for everyone, what it looks like to call out bad behavior when you see it — I think those should be core components of the curriculum.”
  6. Make a small statement: “The harassers are aware they’re doing something they shouldn’t, but often, in a group, many of the observers are too shocked to say anything in the moment,” Wang said. “I would encourage all the people who want to be supportive to make some small, negative gesture, even if it’s just frowning. When the civil rights movement started, there was the concept of ‘frown power,’ where you were not willing to say something vocally, but you’d just frown, and that alone had a chilling effect.”
  7. Look inward: “Be a vocal ally for these things,” Emerson said. “Speak up publicly in support of people that are underrepresented in tech, and use this as an opportunity to reflect on your own behavior. Even if you’re not sexually harassing someone, I guarantee you’re doing something that is creating a culture where this is allowed to happen.”

Have questions about sexual harassment that we didn’t get to in this episode? Tweet them to @Recode with the hashtag #TooEmbarrassed, or email them to

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