On this episode of Recode Decode, hosted by Kara Swisher, entrepreneurs Erica Baker and Sarah Kunst join Kara in the studio for a hard-hitting conversation about sexual harassment and bro culture in Silicon Valley. Both Baker and Kunst have spoken publicly about experiencing harassment and discrimination; in this interview, they tell their own stories and provide concrete suggestions for how the Valley can grow up and improve its behavior.
You can read some of the highlights from the interview at that link, or listen to it in the audio player below. We’ve also provided a lightly edited complete transcript of their conversation.
Kara Swisher: Recode Radio presents Recode Decode, coming to you from the Vox Media Podcast Network. Hi, I’m Kara Swisher, executive editor at Recode. You may know me as the star of the new TV show “Law and Order: Creepy VCs on Sand Hill Road,” but in my spare time I talk tech. You’re listening to Recode Decode, a podcast about tech and media’s key players, big ideas, and how they’re changing the world we live in. You can find more episodes of Recode Decode anywhere you listen to podcasts. We’re on Apple Podcasts, Google Play Music, TuneIn, Stitcher, SoundCloud, and more, or just visit recode.net/podcasts for more.
Today in the red chairs we have two fantastic guests, Erica Baker and Sarah Kunst. Erica has been on the show before. She’s an engineer and a diversity advocate who spent nine years at Google and two at Slack, and recently joined Kickstarter as its director of engineering. Sarah is the founder and CEO of fitness startup Proday, as well as a board member at Venture for America. For the next hour or so, we’re going to focus on the recent explosion in the stories of sexual harassment and other issues around diversity in Silicon Valley, the publicity around which has led many investors and others to step down. Erica and Sarah, welcome to Recode Decode.
Erica Baker: Thanks, Kara.
Sarah Kunst: Thank you.
EB: Glad to be here.
I’m glad you’re here too. Now, Erica, I’m going to start with you. You have been on the show before, and we talked about a wide range of things when you were here. A lot of what you talked about ... I listened to it two nights ago ... has sort of come to pass. Talk a little bit about ... Our discussion was about diversity, lack of diversity, the ecosystem being sort of damaged here in the Valley. Given all this stuff that’s happened since then ... largely around gender, but it’s the same thing as far as I can tell ... talk a little bit about how you look at the ecosystem now and what’s happening.
EB: Well, I feel like our ecosystem right now is built on the idea of brilliant jerks. We have this idea in the Valley that money is over everything, so as long as you’re making money, you can behave however you want to behave. We see that in the VCs harassing women. We see that in industry leaders just being cruel and bullies to people in their organizations. We see Travis and the different people at Uber behaving poorly and treating their staff poorly because as long as they are viewed to be making money, anything goes. I feel like that idea has permeated the Valley. I’m not sure if it started with VCs or started with founders and VCs just kind of went along with it.
EB: Yeah, enabling, essentially. I think that we need to get rid of that idea if we’re going to see any real change.
At the time we talked, you’ve been someone who’s been ... I wouldn’t say cynical. That’s not the right word. It’s just you’re like ...
EB: Yeah, realistic.
Realistic about it. When we were talking last time, you talked about this issue and how it was met by a lot of hostility, what you were trying to do, which is trying to show transparency and clarity to a situation.
Do you feel like the recent series of events has changed that, or is it just nobody’s shutting up now? How do you look at it?
EB: I think it’s a combination of both. I think that because people are speaking out, people like Sarah, people like Susan Fowler, all the people who are speaking up against the VCs right now, I think that it’s hard to ignore. When there’s just me, or there’s just Tracy, or there’s just Tracy Chou or Julie Horvath ... just telling our stories, people are able to say, “Oh, well, that’s just a one-off. She’s just an exception. That’s not the rule.”
As we see this wave, or this avalanche really, of people coming forward and saying, “No, that happened to me too,” it’s hard for people to ignore. Now people are starting to pay attention, like, “Oh, maybe there is a problem here.” This problem that we’ve all been talking about for years, people are now starting to pay attention to.
Right. All right, Sarah, you ... Actually, we’re going to back up a little bit. I want to talk about your background. You are an entrepreneur. Can you give me your history of your entrepreneurship?
SK: Yeah. I started my career in New York and I spent about a year in the corporate world, and ran away from that and went to the digital media side, and have always been at really small startups, venture-backed. Went into venture capital myself, was a venture capital sort of junior investor, and have done a ton of philanthropy and activism around getting more diversity into tech. I’ve worked closely with Jesse Jackson on his efforts in Silicon Valley. Then, about a year and a half ago, I started Proday, which is my sports media company, and it’s venture-capital-backed, as well.
Can you tell what Proday does?
SK: Yeah. Proday is a sports media company. We focus on what athletes do sort of off the field, so fitness, nutrition, style, culture, politics, everything from Colin Kaepernick’s hair to Tom Brady’s meal plans, what these guys are doing off the field, and women are doing off the field.
You’re trying to show this is what works successfully.
SK: Exactly. It’s celebrity news coverage for athletes, the same way that we see so much of it for celebrities.
Right. Okay. All right, so go ahead.
SK: Yeah, so now I run that. I’m the founder and CEO. We’re very early stage. We’ve raised a little bit of money from some great people, including the LA Dodgers. Then, on the extreme other end of it, I actually just was named ... We just announced I was named to Michigan State University, where I went to college, to their foundation board, which sits alongside their endowment board, so we make limited partner, LP, investments into venture capital funds. As all this other stuff is going on, it’s interesting to ...
Now you’ve got the purse strings, or some of them.
SK: Yes. I now have some control. Some.
SK: Some of them.
Some of the purse strings. When you start off as an entrepreneur — you were in corporate America and you wanted to be an entrepreneur. How did you think about that when you were doing it? Because the photos of entrepreneurs don’t look like you.
SK: You know what’s so funny, I actually started just reading. I was working at Chanel. I was working in marketing, in fragrance marketing, sort of the top thing you can dream of if you want to work in luxury or fashion. I realized really quickly that when you’re just calling customs to get perfume off a boat, it doesn’t matter if it’s perfume or what it is, although the discounts were great because it was 2008 and the economy was crashing.
What I really found was that I was drawn to innovation. I’d worked for Apple in college as a campus representative, and I’d seen some of my friends that I had worked for go on to Silicon Valley. I’d worked under Dave Morin, who did Slow Ventures and rebooted Facebook, and knew Brit Morin, who does Brit + Co. I’d seen those trajectories, and I found them really fascinating. It never really occurred to me that somebody should look like me because nobody really looked like me in fashion or anywhere else that I had been. I’m adopted. My parents are white. I was sort of used to being the only, which might’ve given me a lack of awareness of, “Wait, on some of the other situations you’ve been in, they don’t really want you here.” I just sort of dove in.
Right. Erica, talk a little bit about ... You’ve talked about it on the show, but give a brief bio of Erica.
EB: Let’s see if I can make this short. I sort of got into tech when I was into computers when I was a little kid. My mom would plop me in front of her computer when she was working at her job. She was in the Air Force, and I would get to play with ... This was back when computers were just the black-and-green screens. I’d get to play with that. Then we got a computer at home, and I played more, Oregon Trail, Carmen Sandiego, the same stuff. Learned about HyperCard in fifth grade. Kind of got addicted at that point, and I was like, “Oh, I like this.” Then I just continued messing with computers.
Can I ask what you liked about it? I ask everybody. What was it?
EB: I don’t know. It was just like ... I’m a very logical and analytical person, and the way computers worked then and now is very logic and analysis based, I guess. It was very fun for me. I’d do a thing, and a thing would happen, and it was repeatable. It felt good, I guess. Also, it was a fun game to play. I like Carmen Sandiego because I was a nerd and I liked to play education games. Still am. In high school, I started messing around with the computers in my computer lab. My teacher, Miss Londo, knew that I kind of knew all the stuff they were teaching kids already, so she would just make me her assistant in the class.
That’s a big deal.
EB: Yeah. I helped people, and then when people were doing the basic assignments, I’d be poking around doing stuff I probably shouldn’t have been doing and got into Rainbow books. I don’t know if you remember those back in the days of phreaking and hacking, the early days. It was phone phreaking, essentially.
EB: I could have gone down a path towards that. Yeah. I got in trouble because I had all that stuff on my computer, and they thought I’d hacked the principal’s computer.
EB: Yeah, so I did not go that path. I instead went the right path.
I saw that movie “War Games.” Go ahead.
EB: Yeah, and I went the white-hat path and just continued from there. I was a CS major for a little bit in college and then switched to IT administration. Then got hired at the University of Alaska doing systems administration when I was 21, and that has been my career. That was the beginning. I went from there to Home Depot’s network operations, to a company called Scientific Games, then to Google for nine years, and Slack, and just been all over tech doing anything from support to engineering.
What was your goal when you were doing it? You just wanted to be working in the IT space?
EB: I just wanted to work on computers. I remember very vividly there was a point when I was a kid where I was like, “I’m going to be a lawyer,” because, again, the logic part of my brain.
Yeah, I can see that.
EB: Yeah. I’m going to be a lawyer. Then I got to computers. I was like, “Oh, I’ve got to do something with computers. I don’t know what it’s going to be.” I didn’t know what CS was at that time, but I was like, “I’m going to work on computers.” About high school senior year when I started taking pre-school programming class — programming calculators, of all things — I was like, “Okay, this is what I’m going to do. I’m going to be a programmer.”
Did anything hold you back? Did you feel that there was, again, with the visuals? I made a joke about “War Games,” but that was the visual of an entrepreneur or a hacker or computer person.
EB: You know what, I didn’t feel held back in any way until I got to college, until my freshman year of college at University of Miami. I will not forget. My professor was just not having it. He was just very much like, “What are you doing here?”
Not having it.
EB: Yeah, just like, “Why are you here?” and just kind of ignored me, pushed me off to the side. I was one of two black people in this giant CS class. The other person was a guy, and he was on the football team. UM football, you can kind of do whatever you want in class, and you’re going to pass anyway. That’s not to say he wasn’t dedicated, because he was, but we were kind of the outcasts. I had never felt othered or any more different until that point, and I was like, “Oh, crap. This doesn’t look good.”
EB: Yeah. I don’t want to feel like this, so I just was like, “Yeah, this is not for me.” I went back to Alaska, and I switched back to doing information technology stuff. I did that and got a job.
Right. When you joke about the other, I want to talk about that. Sarah, you then shifted to become an entrepreneur and you were looking for investments, but you were an investor first, right? Why did you do that?
SK: Completely random. I was at a startup and we were running out of money, so I started talking ...
What startup was that?
SK: I was at a startup called Inporia. I was not one of the founders. The founders were three Russian and Australian guys with masters in computer science from Stanford. They raised a bunch of money to fix fashion.
SK: They got a year down the road, and they’re like, “We haven’t really built anything.”
Why would they even think about this? Go ahead.
SK: Great way to meet models.
SK: They got kind of a year in, and they burnt through half the $1.2 million they’d raised from all the people you raise money from when you have that profile and had done YC. Then they met me at a Halloween party, of all things, that I was throwing, and we started talking.
You had the background in fashion.
SK: Yeah, I knew. I also just understood tech and I understood product. I was just kind of talking, talking, talking to them about all these things that I’d been reading about from your old articles and all these old VC posts that I would constantly read. I just sort of already had that knowledge base, so they said, “Hey, why don’t you try a two-week kind of consult for us?” Then that turned into a full-time job.
Then when that company was running out of money and winding down, I started talking to some venture capital investors that I had met or was getting introductions to, to say, “Hey, what should we do?” One of them finally said, “Look, your company, it’s going to run out of money. It’s going to fail. The founders seem like they want to move on, and there’s just not the fundamentals here to keep it going. Maybe you can be helpful to us. Here, what do you think about these deals?” and just started sending me kind of companies and decks, and I would send back pages-long emails about my thoughts.
What I didn’t realize is they were seeing, “Can this girl do diligence?” Because I was in New York still at the time and I was talking to Silicon Sand Hill Road funds, they didn’t have that access. They didn’t have the relationships and the network and the deal flow. They were interested in finding somebody in New York who could do retail and media investing, and that happened to be what I knew how to do.
Right. Then you shifted yourself into an entrepreneur status.
SK: Yeah. I was there and then they were kind of raising more money. They were struggling to raise more money, the fund was, so they sort of shifted things around in terms of their head count. A lot of the junior people, including myself, left. I was looking for a new venture capital job, which is when I encountered 500 Startups. After all of that, I got to this point where a fund in New York gave me an offer. I was 27. They gave me an offer to be a general partner. It wasn’t the most high-profile fund, but it was a $50 million fund, they would let me be a general partner, nice guys, and I just wasn’t excited about it.
I knew that that is the job that you’re trying to get as a venture capitalist, and I knew by that point how hard it was for women, how hard it was for minorities, in a way, once I was out in Silicon Valley, that I’d never realized in New York. New York I do find to be more female and minority friendly. Once I realized all of that, and I was looking at this offer and I still wasn’t excited, I was like, “You know what, it’s because my heart’s not quite in being an investor full-time yet. I love helping founders, but what I really want to do right now is be a founder.”
Right. Absolutely, when you see that. All right. I want to get into individual stories of what happened to each of you, but first I want to talk a little bit about, as we said, what’s happening right now. When you first talk about the other and you talked about being friendly, when you decided to be an entrepreneur ... Both of you have — I hate to even say this — legitimate backgrounds to be able to do this. It makes sense. If you changed out your sex or your race, it would be, “Of course, you can do it.”
Talk about why that is. Then I want to get into the individual stories in the next section. What do you perceive has happened here, Sarah, first, in terms of why that is the case?
SK: Kara, did you just ask me to explain all of America and the entire world’s history of racism and sexism?
No. I just want to know the Silicon Valley point of view.
SK: Well, there were slave traders.
Yes, I read about that. What I mean is, what do you think is the problem here? One of the things that Silicon Valley is supposed to be about is this idea of innovation and openness and tolerance. These are the things they say they’re like. Erica just gave the biggest face I’ve ever seen, the biggest “yeah, right, Kara” face. I want an overall thing, and I want to get into the specifics of what happened, because I think some of them sort of get to the answer of what happens in these cases.
SK: I mean, tech has never been something that ... The current age we live in, if you start with kind of the literal silicon factories, it’s never been something that people sought out women or minorities to be a part of. Maybe at the beginning it happened sort of organically, who’s in your dorm room, but there’s a huge amount of comfort with that. There’s a huge amount ... There’s almost a — pious isn’t the right word — but there’s almost a self-righteousness to it because they’re nerds. They’re not mean jocks like in banking or law. They’re nerds, so they can’t be leaving people out, because they were bullied once when they were 10.
Right. That’s a really good point.
SK: I think there’s just a comfort level. California’s comfortable, right? People out here are pretty cool with being comfortable. There’s not this drive ... There’s a drive for greatness to a certain point. There’s not a lot of introspection, necessarily, or “What am I doing wrong? How am I part of the problem?” There are a lot of guys who think, “Well, all I care about is building the best company, so I need the smartest people. I’m not going to stop and self-examine why it is that all the smartest people look just like me.”
I use the term it’s a mirror-tocracy, not a meritocracy.
EB: Right. Yep.
Getting to the overall ... When you were talking about that point, one is they don’t think of themselves that way. Erica, you and I have talked about this a lot, is that they don’t ... Wall Street people kind of know what they’re like.
They kind of are self-aware. What happens in the lack of self-awareness? One of the things you ran up against is, “We’re nice people.”
What are you talking about?
EB: Yeah. To Sarah’s point, nerds can’t be mean, right? I was a nerd, and we were not included, so we know how that feels.
Last picked at basketball, didn’t go to the prom, that kind of stuff.
That’s a Janis Ian song, but go ahead.
EB: Yeah. People come here and they think, “Oh, well, I’m going to be different,” or they think, “I get to be the big dog now, and I get to be the one doing the excluding. I get to feel special.” People in the tech industry have this idea that being able to write code is some magical thing; you’re really special if you can write code. It’s just a skill, right?
It’s like carpentry to me.
EB: Right. We just happen to be really in demand because it’s a fairly new skill. A couple decades down the road, it’s going to be just like carpentry, but right now there’s some idea that we’re special and different. People have kind of latched onto that and used that to kind of exclude people. I think it’s like when you grow up and did not feel special at all, having this thing that says you are special; you are valuable.
And you’re rich.
EB: Yeah, and you’re rich and you’re worthy, you take that as part of your persona, like this is who I am; I am special now because of this thing that I can do. You want to make sure that people are excluded because if everybody can do it, you’re no longer special. That’s just a theory I have about the way people in Silicon Valley think. I think everybody should be in therapy, especially everybody here, to kind of deal with that.
I think that what happened is that Silicon Valley happened to explode in a sort of counterculture place in California, so it sort of got, by default, the whole “we’re liberal, and we think different; we don’t act like the way the rest of the world acts.” In reality, it’s just the same. As Sarah said, it’s just like we’d be explaining the history of the United States. Everybody here ...
Well, it’s almost worse because it’s self-denying about what’s occurring.
EB: Yeah. Totally.
That’s what I was talking about, what has happened here that’s different. I think it is ... it’s people who don’t think they’re like this behave exactly that way, which is harder to fight them.
EB: Right. Oh, totally.
You get someone like Trump, and he is what he is, kind of thing. Other people here are like, “I’m not like that,” and I’m like, “Your behaviors are strikingly similar in many ways.”
EB: Right. They find a way to rationalize it away.
Exactly, the rational part of it. When we get back, I want to talk about your individual ideas on what happened here, and a little bit about what’s happening now, because it seems like something has occurred. Although, I’m cynical like you, Erica. I think it’s going to go right back.
EB: I’m a realist.
You’re a realist. I’m sorry. Okay. I’m real cynical. When we get back, we’ll talk more. We’re here with Erica Baker and Sarah Kunst talking about all kinds of issues in Silicon Valley, diversity, sexual harassment, and what has happened to this ecosystem that’s created such problems.
We’re here with entrepreneurs — I don’t know how you describe yourselves, but I describe you as entrepreneurs — Erica Baker and Sarah Kunst. We’re talking about a range of issues, and we just talked a little bit about how they got to where they got. Now we’re going to talk about what has happened recently. Why don’t we start with you, Sarah? You talked openly, using your name, about an issue around sexual harassment. Can you talk about what happened?
SK: Yeah. A few years ago, I was looking for jobs in venture capital and approached Dave McClure at 500 Startups, who I had known for a few years, and had always heard from everybody, “He’s a great guy. He cares about women, diversity, minorities,” whatever. Started talking to him and said, “Hey, look, I’m looking for a new job,” and he said, “That’s awesome. We want to hire more women. We want to hire more ...” I think at the time they didn’t have any black employees. They had women, but no black women, obviously.
They had, more than others, been attempting and been very vocal about it.
SK: Yeah. They’d been funding black people, so they said, “This is great. This makes a lot of sense.” He said, “You’d be a great fit. You come highly recommended.” We were both going to be at a conference, so he said, “Let’s talk more there.” We were at the conference, spending a lot of time together at the conference talking about my investment philosophies, the deals I was seeing, what I thought about the ecosystem, just an interview, right? Venture capital often takes months and months and months, and many long interviews ...
Yeah, it’s a relationship thing.
You get social. A lot of people came up to me like, “Well, they socialized.” I’m like, “It’s a social business.”
You know what I mean? That’s what you do. You get to know each other as people.
SK: Yeah, at a huge tech conference with 50 other venture capital investors. Dinner at the conference, drinks after the conference, at the conference official after-party, having a great conversation between he and I and other investor friends of ours. I go back to my hotel, and I wake up at 4:00 a.m. to messages from him saying that he can’t control himself around me; he doesn’t know if he wants to hire me or hit on me.
That was an astonishing text.
SK: Oh, you should see the rest. He doesn’t know if he wants to hire me or hit on me. When I confronted him and I said, “Dude, you’re married. You’re old. You’re disgusting. Just hire me,” he kind of apologized a little bit. Then I asked him flat out, “Well, have you said this to other founders or women that work for you or with you?” and he said, “Yeah, you know, probably, but I try not to.” The whole thing is mind-blowing, but at the same time ...
The "try not to" thing is fascinating, as if they need to be controlled. You know what I mean?
They can’t control themselves.
SK: Yeah, most people just don’t do that.
You said this. You were pretty clear right away, from the beginning. Many women don’t. Many women just sort of let it slide, essentially.
What prompted you to say that? Again, I know you don’t think that’s unusual, but it is.
SK: I mean, it was almost just reflexive because it was so ... I think I was almost ... I don’t know. I mean, it was just reflexive. “What?” is literally just kind of the gut reaction, and I just typed it. I’m not always the most thoughtful before I speak, so it was really just sort of the gut reaction was like, “Absolutely not. You’re gross and old.” Part of the relationship that we had been building and cultivating was that he liked that I was direct and straight to the point, so it was like, “Okay, I’m going to give it to you straight. This is insane, and obviously I don’t want you to hit on me because I’m trying to get you to hire me.” He clearly saw it.
The interesting thing is I had spent plenty of time with him before this, but I was always ... At one point, I was working for a company that he’d invested in. At another point, I was at a venture capital fund, and he was friends with the GP that I worked under. There was never any targeting of me until I was in a vulnerable situation.
Or something you wanted. You wanted a job.
SK: Exactly. I wanted a job. There wasn’t a super-wealthy white dude that I was associated with who was going to come down on him if he tried to hit on me, so all of a sudden I was vulnerable. That’s when he kind of attacked and pounced. Now that I know from a lot of other women about their experiences, that’s his MO.
When this happened, did you worry at all about retaliation?
SK: No, because I was super naïve and I thought he’d still hire me.
Nothing happened to you before this, had not occurred.
SK: No. I mean, of course, there are guys who are sexist. I would say that there had been guys in tech who were sexist, who would say stupid things, be like, “Why aren’t you the secretary?” whatever it is.
Right. There’s a continuum.
Then it moves to the right.
SK: Then there are guys who are ... there’s these guys. Then, of course, as a woman, you’ve been sexually harassed before, but I’d never been sexually harassed in a work context. It’s like you’re at some random bar, and some guy brushes up against you, whatever.
Right. That’s unwelcome sexual advances.
SK: Exactly, yeah. I’d never had somebody in a work setting sexually harass me before, so it was confusing.
You immediately did something about it, which was ... but it didn’t help that you did something about it. Correct?
SK: No. In fact, I ...
Which is what they tell you to do.
SK: Exactly, yeah.
Speak out. Say something.
SK: I said something, and he kind of walked it back a little bit and apologized a little bit. We continued to talk about the job interview stuff. The next day, I saw him again because this conference was still going on, and he said, “Oh, you’re a great fit. We need to find the LP money so we can pay you, but we definitely want to hire you. Go meet with these other people, kind of a formality. We’re going to hire you,” and then introduced me to the other people, and the interview process sort of slowly stalled out. Again, the interview process is slow, so it’s hard to tell. Then, after a few months, he called me one day and he said, “Hey, Sarah, we can’t hire you. You’re too aggressive. You wouldn’t be a fit for the fund.”
When did you become aggressive?
SK: I guess when I wasn’t into him being aggressive.
Right. Yeah. Yeah.
SK: Funny how that works.
You hadn’t had any other encounters that would be ...
Not at all?
SK: Yeah. That’s not the way it works.
Were you surprised by this? I know it sounds like a stupid question.
SK: Oh yeah, I was completely shocked. I was completely shocked. I think in a way you think when people do something ... You know how when you’re in school, in high school or something, and you band together with a couple other kids and you skip school together, and it’s sort of like you’re rebelling but it’s a bonding experience?
SK: I kind of felt like, okay, maybe Dave hitting on me was obviously inappropriate and wrong, but maybe it’s just something that he does to test people on their first hire. I don’t know.
That’s a terrible test. It’s not a test, just so you know.
SK: It is a terrible test, but I don’t know. You try to think about ... because there aren’t a lot of venture capital funds. It’s also there’s a lot of pressure in the Valley, and we’re seeing this play out now. There’s a huge amount of ... Whatever fund it is, whether it’s 500 or Kapor or whichever one that’s ... or Forerunner, whatever, the woman fund or the minority fund, go there, go there, go there. There’s a huge amount of kind of funneling into. Whenever I go talk to an investor to this day and say, “Hey, I’m raising money,” the first thing they say is “Have you talked to this female investor? Have you talked to this black investor?”
Right, as if you couldn’t get money.
SK: Yeah. People always push you in that direction. That was the other thing with 500. Everyone was telling me, “Oh, you should go work there. That’d be so great. You’d be a perfect fit,” so you’re like ...
They didn’t say go to Sequoia or go to Excel.
SK: Nobody suggested I go to Sequoia or Excel or Kleiner or Andreessen or anything else.
In a second, we’re going to get to what happened later and why you decided to speak out. Erica, now you have had all kinds of issues around Silicon Valley, but one of the things you did was, again, speaking out. You had issues around salary discrepancies, which are clear. Google is right now engaged in another lawsuit with the federal government. I think it’s a lawsuit. Talk a little about that, what prompted you, and basically tell what happened there. Then you went to Slack, and I want to hear about that experience.
EB: When I started speaking out about what was going on with me at Google, honestly it was really the beginning of a therapy experience for me. I had just started going to therapy, and it was like I had to write everything that I was feeling because that’s how I processed what I was feeling. At some point in therapy, I realized that I was holding a lot inside about my experience at Google. I was like, okay ...
Nine years. You were there a very long time.
EB: Yeah, it was a long time. Long time.
EB: Forever in tech.
EB: I just started writing everything that I was feeling because I had to get it out, and I decided I’m going to put this on Medium. I can’t put this on my regular website because I know that there are people out there who are sort of the Google stalkers who are like, “Anything to do with Google, we got to jump on it and publish it.” I was like, “I’ll put this on Medium because I don’t want my site to go down, because I don’t have the bandwidth for it on my shared hosting plan.”
You’re so logical.
EB: It’s the way my brain works. I put it on Medium, and I was just like, “Okay, here it is.” I sent it to my friend Louis Gray. I was like, “Louis, I wrote this thing,” and Louis decided he was going to tweet it. Then Louis has a pretty big following.
EB: Yeah. It kind of got a lot of attention. It was just me writing about ... I describe this to people this way. It is like I cut myself open and was bleeding all my feelings onto the page. That’s all it was. It wasn’t intended to be me being this super outspoken advocate or whatever, but after I wrote that, I got so many responses from people, and it was heartbreaking just to hear from everybody. It was like, “Yeah, I experienced that too.” I had this ... Women of color, men of color, just so many, any way they could get to me, they would get to me. I had messages on Facebook, messages in my email, comments on Medium, on my blog, my regular blog. Any way people could get to me, they just wanted to tell me that they had felt this, too, and they were grateful that I spoke up about it.
At that point, I was like, “I can’t not keep talking about what’s going on, because somebody has to be the one to speak up.” I had no idea. I knew that people were experiencing harassment in the tech industry, and exclusion, but I had no idea how widespread it was. It was just like it was the norm instead of the exception, and that was heartbreaking. I was like, “I’ve got to keep talking about this because this is not okay.”
Talk about that idea of trying to make you the exception rather than the norm, because I think that’s true. It’s like, “That Erica Baker, that troublemaker.” You know what I mean?
I think every woman I talk to that has spoken out, they get the “troublemaker.” They don’t want it on them. They don’t want that ... it’s like a stink almost, like, “Oh, the troublemaker.”
EB: Yeah. Oh, I am definitely labeled the troublemaker. I know that my continued speaking out is considered to be a career-limiting move, but it’s something I feel like I have to do because a lot of people don’t have the ... they don’t have the following for their voices to be heard. I can amplify for them if they choose to speak out, but mostly they’re just like, “I can’t tell my story, but this is my story,” and they want me to tell it for them. Yeah, I definitely get the troublemaker label. I kept speaking out at Slack, and I still had the troublemaker label there. I’ll probably end up with it if I keep talking at Kickstarter, which I will.
Right, which you will. Get ready, Kickstarter. What does that do when you’re in that, when you’re speaking out? What is your goal? Do you have a goal, or do you just feel like it needs to be transparent?
EB: No. 1 is transparency. No. 2 is accountability. We have so many issues in the tech industry, and right now diversity and inclusion is sort of in. Everybody’s trying to talk about it like, “Look how much we care about it,” but they’re not doing things that hold themselves accountable for any of the things that are going on.
Why is that?
EB: Because accountability would force them to change. Right now, just like saying, “Oh, we gave some money to whatever group, and we put out these numbers, and we maybe went to a couple HBCUs,” it’s like they have their PR story, but they don’t have any real demonstrable, measurable change happening within their organizations. You see companies bringing in many, many people from different backgrounds, but ...
They try to get to diversity, but then they don’t ...
EB: Diversity, but they forget inclusion. They forget the inclusion part completely. They don’t do things to make sure that people feel accepted, valued, supported.
Once they get there.
EB: They don’t grow the people. It’s just like, “Oh, you’re here now. Our numbers went up, and now we’re done.”
Yep. We talked about that a little bit, and I absolutely agree. I think one of the things is they get people there now, but they don’t keep them there, which is really interesting. I mean, it’s interesting that both of you are leaving Silicon Valley. We’ll talk about that in a minute, but the idea of inclusion once it happens means they don’t mean it in the first place. That, to me, is the real thing.
EB: Right. It’s a PR thing for many companies. It’s like, “Let’s see if we can move our numbers for our next diversity report.”
What happens when you spoke up at both Slack and Google? What occurs for you?
EB: At Google, not much happened that was good. I mean, it was sort of like, “Okay, well, you spoke up.” HR people decided they were going to investigate all my claims, and that was the most miserable process I’ve ever experienced in my life.
Yeah, now they’re paying attention to you, right?
EB: Yeah, they’re paying attention, and also they’re like, “Well, we couldn’t substantiate your claim.” No, I did not write it down when my manager told me that I had to move to New York or I would continue to face the harassment I experienced in Atlanta. I did not write it down when a certain senior executive came and assumed I was the admin assistant to my teammate. I did not write all these things down, but they happened. Having that experience with HR was just like ... I don’t know why anybody would ever speak up because nobody thinks to write this stuff down, which is why I constantly tell people now ...
Write it down.
EB: “If something happens, write it down. If someone says something off to you, follow up with an email like, ‘Oh, I’m just checking to make sure I understood what you said correctly,’ and when they respond and say, ‘Yeah, that’s what I said,’ you have it documented.”
SK: As Whitney Houston said, show me the receipts.
EB: Yeah, you’ve got to keep those receipts. I wish I had me to tell me that a long time ago.
Sarah, you kept those receipts.
SK: I keep impeccable receipts.
Okay, good. When this happened, did you think about doing anything with it at the time, or what was your ...
SK: No. I mean, I was looking for a job.
There was nothing you could do.
SK: Yeah. You’re looking for a job, and you know that the industry ... It’s also hard when the same people who are harassing you are held up in the entire industry as so great. There’s this dichotomy there where ...
“He’s a nice guy, he’s a good guy.”
SK: It makes it even harder. Yes.
“Don’t hurt him.”
SK: Not even “Don’t hurt him,” but like, “Oh, you must’ve misunderstood; that’s just how he is.” No. There’s that piece of it that is sort of an accidental community gaslighting.
That’s a really good way of putting it.
EB: I like that.
SK: Yeah, and I think we’ve learned a little bit from the stuff that went down with the Catholic Church when you look at the pedophile who’s also the Boy Scout leader. You have to accept the sort of doomsday scenario where the reason ... Most people — 90 percent of people — are doing the right thing because it’s the right thing to do. Ten percent of people are doing the right thing because it gives them great cover when they really do the wrong thing.
Right. 100 percent. People do compare it to pedophile priests. I think I did in an interview. It was like, “Oh, pedophile priests are much more serious.” I said, “I’m not doing it on a sliding ...” Of course it is, but at the same time, it’s the same thing. It’s the same kind of thing.
SK: It’s the same behavior. It’s the same gaslighting. It’s the same abuse of power. It’s different victims. Yeah, it’s maybe a slightly less vulnerable victim in terms of life trajectory and whatever, but it’s a lot of the same predatorial behavior.
Right. You held onto this information, and you didn’t expect to do anything with it. What prompted you to talk about it?
SK: Initially, it happened, and it sort of slowly ... For me, it was never super traumatic sexually because it was just messages.
SK: “You’re so gross,” and like, “Ugh, whatever,” but over time it had a huge impact on me professionally because I started to think, “Wow, if this guy that everybody says is the guy to help women and minorities and take them seriously, won’t take me seriously, is anybody else taking me seriously?”
It was hard for me professionally. Started my company, time went on, and then last November in a Facebook group for female founders, a young Asian woman asked if she should pitch Dave McClure. I commented, and I said, “I would pitch maybe other people at 500. I wouldn’t pitch Dave. He sexually harassed me.” Then Christine Tsai, his co-founder at 500 Startups, kind of heard about the message and came onto this message board and commented and said, “Well, I’ve never heard anything like this. I don’t think Dave ...”
Wow. That’s astonishing, because I had.
SK: “I don’t think Dave has ever had ...” blah blah blah. Well, and according to people at 500 who have publicly said on Twitter that they had alerted her ... whatever. She claimed she didn’t know. I said, “Okay, Christine ...” Christine has my email.
Now you know.
SK: I said, “Message me. I’m happy to tell you about it.” No message. Then I finally messaged her. We talked about it. She told me, “I talked to Dave. He doesn’t know what you’re talking about. This doesn’t sound like him,” pretty strongly implying, “Sarah, I know this didn’t happen.”
Yeah. It’s the way to get you to go away.
SK: Then I responded back. Ten days go by, no response, so I messaged her again in this Facebook group. I was like, “Hey, Christine. Is there a reason you’re not responding to me?” Then, of course, she responds again because when people are publicly called out, they tend to do that.
SK: She messaged me again, and I showed her the screenshots. Literally, I have not heard ... I showed her the screenshots. It showed the little check mark that she’d seen it. I have not heard from her since then.
Since then. What happened then?
SK: Then that was it. Then the Justin Caldbeck stuff happened. The Uber stuff started happening. All this stuff started happening. Every reporter is digging. A friend, Tracy Chou, actually said, “Hey, you should talk to Katie Benner at the New York Times.” I thought she just wanted general background, whatever, information about the stuff going on in tech. She and I met up just a few weeks ago, and she said, “Hey, I heard that you have this story about Dave McClure.” I told her, and she said, “Okay, I’m writing this larger piece. Will you go on the record? We have other people who have stories about him, but don’t want to go on the record.” I said, “Okay, sure,” completely just sort of probably underthinking it, but it felt good in the moment.
Good. I love that.
SK: I was like, “It’s a reporter. Let’s do it. Let’s do it.” She reached out to 500, and they kind of gave her the runaround and finally got back to her with a statement. I gave her a statement, as well. Then the piece went to print, and I kind of thought it would just be a random anecdote that would get sort of recorded in the annals of time. Instead, it turns out that not only had he been doing this to other women, he’d been doing far worse. Just like Erica said, I started to get the phone calls of women hysterically crying, telling me about how he assaulted them, the text messages, Facebook messages, Twitter messages, everything all of a sudden.
A lot of use of social media.
SK: A lot of use of social media, everybody coming to me saying, “He harassed me. He assaulted me. He pressured me. He called me a stupid Jew. He called me a dirty Italian.”
SK: Just this insanity. I was like, “Okay, wow.” That’s when I said, look ... I tweeted. I said I think he needs to resign. Cheryl Yeoh was very brave, and she came forward about Dave assaulting her. He decided to resign, not before he posted an incredibly snarky, gaslighty fake apology to me, which has not stood up well under the test of time. Cheryl said it’s actually what encouraged her to come forward. Just a note out there for anybody who’s going to have to be issuing these apologies.
SK: They don’t always work the way you think they will. Everybody started to come forward. He had to resign. There have been ramifications for 500, as well, because it’s pretty clear that a lot of people there — Elizabeth Yin’s story — were aware of these behaviors. They were aware that he was sexually assaulting employees, that he was sexually harassing people like me, and they didn’t do anything about it.
Talk about that idea, Erica, because it is true; it’s the people that know that don’t do anything, too. It’s the enabling, which we talked about earlier.
EB: Definitely. I feel like there’s a lot of that in Silicon Valley, where people know that one of their employees is the jerk or has harassed people, but because that person is good at their job, executes well, writes good code, makes good deals, brings in a lot of money in some way, shape or form, everything they do is kind of pushed aside, like, “Oh, that’s just him. We’ll just move him to a different team. We’ll just make sure that he doesn’t have contact with women.” I think I remember at some point some VC just was not allowed to have contact with Asian women because his co-founder knew that he was harassing them.
He couldn’t control himself?
SK: I think that was Caldbeck.
SK: He just couldn’t meet with Asian women alone.
EB: Yeah. He was not allowed to meet with Asian women alone. It’s just like, “Oh, we’ll just move you away, but we won’t do anything that harms you.” There is no ...
Repercussions or consequences.
EB: There are no repercussions, no serious consequences. Nothing has teeth. I think we’re continuing to see that with the decency pledge; sign this thing to say you’ll behave decently. That has no teeth. There are no repercussions there, no accountability.
YC with their “Oh, we’ll do this blacklist of people who can’t come to Demo Day.” I get that YC Demo Day is a big deal, but it’s not that big a deal. Saying people can’t come to Demo Day, it’s not harming anybody. There’s no consequence there.
I want to be clear that I don’t mean harm. I mean taking them away from this. There are no consequences to their behavior, so they continue to do it. We see that not only with the sexual harassment. We see that with people being racist in the industry, being ageist, transphobic, just all kinds of terrible things.
It’s the same.
EB: Yeah. The people in power who continue to have power and continue to do these things without any consequence or repercussion will continue to do it over and over again. There are people in the industry now who have the reputation of being huge jerks still running tech companies.
Right. So many of them.
EB: So many.
So many of them. We’re going to talk about repercussions next because I think it’s really important to think about what are the solutions. I agree with you on the ... We’ll talk about the decency pledge and the list and everything else in a second, but right now we’re talking to Sarah Kunst and Erica Baker about issues in the Silicon Valley ecosystem and its massive dysfunction.
We’re here with Erica and Sarah, Erica Baker and Sarah Kunst, both entrepreneurs, talking about what’s been going on in the Silicon Valley ecosystem and some of the stuff that has been unveiled. I don’t think it’s what’s been going on recently; it seems to me at the dead heart of it. One of the things that I’ve experienced is we wrote, for example, about one of the executives at Uber carrying around the medical file of a rape victim. Many people knew about this. When I found out, I was absolutely horrified.
I remember saying to several people who knew about it, “You knew about it and you didn’t do anything?” “Well, I thought it was okay at the time, but now I see it’s not.” I was like, “What happened to you that you didn’t see it at the time?” It was interesting. Some people were like, “How did you get so much information?” I said, “I think people were guilty that they did nothing at the time.” To me, the idea that you think that’s even slightly okay ... First of all, the person carrying it has to get very serious psychological help, but the people around and heard about it and did nothing about it, to me, is interesting.
The same thing around ... We published a memo by Travis Kalanick around a work event. I think there were nine HR violations in the first 10 words. Something like that. Again, “Oh, it was funny,” “Oh, it was this,” and trying to make me feel like I was a martinet for being like, “Whoa, that’s really inappropriate.” I mean, it’s fine if you’re a frat brother, I suppose, but a CEO of a company shouldn’t be speaking this way to his employees.
It’s an interesting pushback. You were talking about gaslighting that you get. I think even today when we start ... I’m getting pushback now as, “Don’t make this a witch hunt, Kara. Don’t make this a shamefest.” I’m like, “What’s wrong?” By the way, it’s interesting they use the words “witch hunt” because witches were the women who were persecuted for being interesting.
SK: It’s not a witch hunt if they’re really witches.
Right. Exactly. Also, these are not witches. It’s really interesting that there is that pushback of, “Don’t go after too many people. You should stop.” I get it every day now. I’m like, “No, I’m not going to stop.”
Talk a little bit about the repercussions. The decency pledge. What do both of you think about that?
SK: It boggles my mind that it doesn’t directly call for hiring and funding more women. I think, without that, the rest of it, I don’t know, maybe it’s nice, maybe it’s not. I honestly can’t really be bothered to put a lot of emotional energy into something that doesn’t think that I deserve money or a job.
Right. That wouldn’t do a thing, Erica, obviously.
EB: I just don’t think that anything that doesn’t have some measure of accountability attached to it is going to be meaningful in any sort of way. You can pledge all you want, but you’re still going to continue to ... People are going to continue to do the behaviors if there’s no consequence for it.
The YC blacklist?
SK: I don’t think it’s bad. I mean, obviously, you shouldn’t be putting ... One, a lot of this stuff is just flat-out illegal, and there is a question of culpability, either legal or civil or moral or whatever. Or even just the ability to raise more money, because if YC knows that this person is assaulting or sexually harassing women and then keeps allowing or encouraging women to go to them, there’s a culpability question there. CYA, right? Cover your ass. It’s not a bad idea.
Does it go far enough? Maybe for YC it does, but a lot more of it is hey, YC, maybe hire more women; maybe fund more women; maybe aggressively seek to root out the CEOs in your portfolio companies who are doing this and take a stronger stance. I certainly don’t think it’s ... I don’t think any of these things are inherently bad. I just think that if the people on Sand Hill Road are really sort of the new masters of the universe, the new kingmakers and queenmakers, and this is all they’ve got, that’s pretty lame.
What about you on the blacklist?
EB: I think that the YC blacklist, I feel like they’re trying to do their best. We see Sam ...
“What do we do?”
EB: Yeah. Sam is like, “Okay, we’re going to do something.” Here’s the thing. They took away the ability for people to report anonymously for the blacklist. They’re asking people — and it’s not just women, because men have experienced sexual harassment also, people of all genders — and they’re asking them to use their name to basically have this small, tiny thing happen; this person can’t go to Demo Day. That’s just it.
Meanwhile, they have risked the chance that someone in YC will go back and tell whatever VC, “Hey, that person put you on the blacklist,” and then that person gets blackballed, or there’s a bigger consequence for them than there is for the person who they reported. I just don’t think that not having access to Demo Day is a big-enough deal for people to take that risk. They’re risking their livelihoods to speak up.
SK: And their reputation, right?
SK: At this point, I publicly was a whistleblower with Dave, so ...
You had proof. You had physical ... so it was hard for someone to look away.
That would’ve been very different if you didn’t.
SK: I don’t know if the Times would’ve wanted to publish the allegations as is.
They wouldn’t have.
SK: Because I did that publicly ... and I think that this is why so many women are using the press on this, and why I think people should consider using the press on this.
I was going to get to the press, but go ahead. Go right ahead.
SK: Now if you get a call from 500 that says, “Oh, I don’t know, Sarah Kunst, I just don’t really trust her,” you kind of know what the deal is, whereas before when I quietly went to Christine, if she had reached out to you and said that, you wouldn’t have really had context. It might’ve made you think, “Oh, that’s weird.”
SK: I personally believe, as Rev. Run says, secrets make you sick, and that the more that you just expose it, sunlight is the best disinfectant. The more that you expose these things in black and white when you can, it takes away the opportunity for retaliation. There might be some behind-the-scenes retaliation, but it makes it a lot harder than when you have this whisper economy.
We’ve had this whisper economy in Silicon Valley for basically the whole time it’s been around, and it has not helped us. It hasn’t helped you. It hasn’t helped me. It hasn’t helped Erica. At this point, I don’t think that it’s a bad idea to try turning the lights on full blast, and if all the cockroaches have to run back under the fridge, good.
Erica, you talk about it. You were very vocal. It got in the press.
EB: Yeah, I was very vocal, and it did get in the press, but because there wasn’t the wave of people after me, people were just like, “Oh, it’s just the one-off. She’s just an exception,” or “She’s just a whiner. That’s just normal. That’s a thing everybody deals with.” Being vocal comes with a cost, but I think that eventually if more people keep speaking up and using their voices and turning the lights on, as Sarah said, I feel like we will maybe see some change. Like she said, not speaking up publicly hasn’t been helping us. The back channels we have right now are helpful in us knowing where not to go and who not to trust.
Being in a Facebook group that talks about that. One of the people that was named as being a possible harasser called me and said, “Am I on this Facebook group?” I’m not telling you, for one. For two, they were doing a lot more investigating about what was going on in the groups than actually changing their ... I said, “Why don’t you change your behavior? How about that? That might be good.” I think what’s interesting is a lot of the people who are being accused or have actual issues are spending an enormous amount of time, one, trying to negate them and, two, trying to apologize in a very strange away.
Talk a little bit about those apologies. I mean, a lot of people are like, “Well, they apologized,” and that’s the first step to forgiving them, to letting it go away. You know what I mean?
EB: I think the apologies are PR moves. I don’t think that ... Having the connections I have with people and hearing what happens in the back channel around those apologies, I don’t really believe in them. I think they’re just PR moves. The best apology, as that cliché says, is change behavior. Change your behavior and stop writing about it.
In the black community, we have a saying: Don’t talk about it; be about it. Be about it. Change it. Instead of just saying, “Oh, I’m so sorry,” apologize and then encourage your peers to stop behaving that way.
I think that one of the big problems in the VC industry, especially, is that it’s sort of an old boys network because there are so few women and people of color. We see this sort of enabling of the bad behavior or looking away, like, “Ah, ha, ha, that’s just him. He’s a bad boy,” that sort of stuff. There is a piece recently written in the New York Times about will you stand up for me. It’s like, will you be one of the guys to stand up for women and people of color when we’re not in the room? Be that guy instead of writing an apology.
Right. Absolutely. How did you feel about the apology? It was to you. It was directed at you. Did he ever call you personally?
That’s astonishing that he didn’t call you himself.
SK: I think it makes sense if you are approaching the world from the framework that you don’t respect the people you’re treating like this, then why would you respect them enough to call them and apologize? I mean, Dave’s apology to me, if it could be called that ... You read it, and it’s just dripping with “Well, she was asking for it.” I wasn’t, and we saw how that shook out. It is what it is. I think, in general, write an apology, don’t write an apology; I don’t really care. I think that we need to move past taking it kind of full circle to this idea that Silicon Valley is a meritocracy. When you do these things, you lose the “merit,” either because people believe it’s morally wrong or because you’re such a pain in the butt for your LPs and your portfolio companies.
Can you imagine some poor startup founder who’s been running around so excited that they have one of these funds on their cap table and that’s been their calling card, and now they try to do that and everybody’s like ... If it’s a meritocracy, sorry, guys, you proved your merit that you don’t deserve to be here. It doesn’t mean that you get thrown in prison for the rest of your lives, but it does mean that maybe you have to go take a job that’s not paying you six or seven figures a year to work 40 weeks a year and go on permanent vacation. Life, liberty, and the pursuit of a venture capital 2-and-20 fee structure is not inscribed on the Statue of Liberty.
I don’t care if they apologize. I think a lot of them ... When you’re not sorry until you get caught, you’re not really sorry. If they decide to change their lives from this, good. They should. Hopefully, this is a low point for all of these guys, even though they’re lucky that the lowest point is that they get to take their millions and go lick their wounds.
Yep. That’s ironic, as they say.
SK: Exactly. Yeah. You hear very little about the fundamental economics of their funds shifting against them even after they’ve left. I don’t care if they ... I don’t really read the apologies. They’re gross, I think.
They’re fascinating, I think. I find them fascinating. I find them appalling.
SK: I also don’t watch profiles of serial killers.
What’s interesting about them ... I think probably the Marc Canter one was the strangest, but that’s not a surprise.
EB: His was clearly not written by his crisis comms team.
No, no, but still. What’s interesting about them is they have to be the public beating of the chest. You know what I mean? It’s really interesting that he didn’t call you personally to make ...
SK: Yeah. The other interesting thing about some of these is these guys are married. I don’t care how sort of polyamorous, whatever, that we say that Silicon Valley is. They act like this is just normal flirting that crossed a line. It’s like, no, you are a married dude with kids who pursued women who were only approaching you in a business context, and you harassed or assaulted them. None of that has anything in common with ...
With fun lifestyle.
SK: No. No.
When I was talking to people about some Uber stuff, I don’t believe I said this, but I’m like, “Can’t they just go in Nevada and hire some prostitutes? Couldn’t they just leave women to work alone?” or something, or whatever, or create their own personal world if they want to do that personally. But of course it’s about power.
EB: Yeah, it’s definitely about power. Also, I was talking with someone recently about how Silicon Valley companies, especially, have become very insular, and they make it so people don’t leave. Where is the social network for the people who spend all their time at work?
Exactly. Why was there so much drinking at Uber or whatever? It’s because this is where they make their friends. This is where they have their social.
EB: It’s what’s encouraged. They have to unwind some of that and stop making people make their lives about work. That scares VCs probably more than anything.
Yeah, because they want them there. They want to keep them captives of their environments.
Let’s finish up by talking about what can work. I’d love to hear from both of you about what you think would be effective, besides more press stories. After a while, people get tired of the press stories. You know what I mean? They don’t hear them. Sort of like Donald Trump says another outrageous thing every day and after a while you’re fatigued, although I do think press does work. I think you’re absolutely right. It tends to make changes happen more, or people tend to have to leave the companies. Talk about, each of you, what you think may be three or four concrete things that could happen and have to happen, or have you given up? You’re moving to Los Angeles, and you look relieved. You’re moving to New York to work for Kickstarter. Though you don’t like New York.
EB: I do not like New York.
I’m guessing you’re relieved to leave this scene. Maybe perhaps you’re not.
EB: Not relieved to leave Oakland, but relieved to sort of be in a place where I feel like I can grow.
Absolutely. Talk about what needs to happen, each of you, one or two concrete things. Why don’t you start, Sarah?
SK: To me, it’s hiring and funding more women and minorities. It’s also accepting that the law of averages indicates that people that you funded or hired are bad actors, and you need to be really receptive to hearing that and then you need to get rid of them.
EB: I agree with hiring and promoting all underrepresented minorities. I feel like the tech industry has sort of stopped at the hiring part.
Yeah. You talked about that with me. You and I talked about that, that there’s no development of you as Erica Baker.
EB: Right. I was recently talking about how if you had a white guy come in who had nine years at Google and then built a critical part of your infrastructure, and was the mentor to many people at work and also the person they trusted, if they came to you and said, “I’m leaving,” you’d be like, “No. How do we get you to stay?” I think that things might need a little bit more focus on the inclusion part, for sure.
And that people communicate differently, too, or a tolerance of speaking out. In some industries, speaking out is a great thing, like mine.
EB: Yeah, definitely. I know that it is difficult for many people to speak up because they have to keep those jobs. It is difficult for many of the female founders who have been harassed to speak out because they literally have put everything that they have into their companies, and taking that risk is too much.
The “suck it up” excuse.
EB: They got to deal with it because they can’t risk losing everything. Like you said, having more tolerance of speaking out, more support for those people, less of the community gaslighting, like, “Oh, that person is such a great guy.”
Or, “Is that really the way it happened?” Or, “Do they have an anger thing?”
EB: Or, “Do they have anything to substantiate their claim? Is there any proof? Is there any evidence? I don’t believe them without the proof,” that whole thing. We just need to do less of that and just believe people when they speak up.
It reminds me a lot of the thing that men say about rape, like, “Oh, so many women, when they talk about rape, they’re just lying.” The data shows that very few people who are reporting rape are lying. It is a very minute percentage. We have the same sort of idea like, “Oh, people speaking up without proof, they must be lying.” It’s just like, “Stop being that person and just believe the people who are trying to tell you their truth and trying to make the world and the industry that they work in a little better.”
Yeah, I think that’s critical. I think that part is really quite critical. What happens is everyone starts to question the stories. What I found interesting is … I’m just curious what you all thought: The Susan Fowler stuff was believed, but Ellen’s wasn’t necessarily by some. I did. They were definitely able in court to make her look questionable. You know what I mean? They definitely used all their skills and all their expensive lawyer techniques to make her look like, well, maybe the story is a little more complex. The minute you move down that road, it’s over. I remember the moment. I was like, “Oh no,” because they created enough confusion around her.
To me, one of the things that the people there ... On the Kleiner side, they were like, “Well, it’s complex.” I said, “Yes, it is complex. It doesn’t mean it didn’t happen to her.” You know what I mean? They used the complexity to hurt her. With Susan, that didn’t happen right away, although recently I’ve been getting some, “Oh, everything she said in the piece wasn’t true.” I just hang up the phone with them. If 87 percent of it was true, I’m down with what she said, kind of thing. Around that believability, you had proof.
SK: I had proof. Before other people came forward, there was still sort of a ... What Dave said to me was beautiful in the simplicity of being textbook sexual harassment.
Yeah, it really was. It was like, “Whoa.”
SK: You can’t say those two things together.
“I don’t know whether to invest in you or hit on you.”
SK: “Hire you or hit on you.” Well, if you’re saying one and the other together in the same sentence, you’re sexually harassing people. Even then, there was sort of a, “Why is she waiting until now? Maybe she wanted it.” Honestly, Susan Fowler — and I joke about this, but I mean it — she’s kind of the Nancy Grace victim. You have this beautiful white woman who has done everything right, who’s married, who’s the peak of respectability, who comes forward. She’s believable and she’s cute, but she’s not sexy, and all this stuff.
She’s not emotional.
SK: Exactly. She did everything right and, quite frankly, people don’t like Uber. People don’t like Uber either because they think they’re evil or because they are so jealous, and they’re also so angry because they could’ve worked there or invested or whatever years ago.
It’s kind of an asshole company.
SK: That’s what I mean. People don’t like them. When you have the perfect victim and the perfect villain come together in one explosive blog post on a slow news day, it works. It works.
Yeah, that’s a really good point. It did set off other people feeling that they could ... Do you have to be the perfect victim or have a text that is so fantastically awful?
EB: Absolutely, I think you do.
SK: I think it depends. One thing I would say, and one thing I’ve seen — and I’m sure you’re a part of this, as well, Kara — is that reporters, the people breaking these stories — and I do think media is such an important part of this — are getting very good at collecting stories because there is such an influx of stories. If someone reaches out to you and says, “Look, I don’t have the perfect text, I’m not the perfect victim, but here’s what happened to me about XYZ,” odds are you’re going to tell that person, “I don’t even need your name because I have 10 other stories about this person.”
I have to say, from a reporting point of view, several of them that we’ve done, I’ve used a lot of pressure to get people to ... They think I know more than they do. I know it sounds crazy, but a lot of problems I have is with women not going on the record. Going on the record creates a really great situation because they’re telling their story, and they’re telling it with their name. I know that sounds awful, but when they don’t, it ...
The one we did around the guy at Google who had some issues around sexual harassment, people didn’t want to go on the record. Google didn’t want to go ... Nobody wanted to go on the record, even though it seemed ... Anyway, it was a really interesting problem because we moved ahead anyway. We just decided to move it because we felt very good in our reporting, but it took a while to think about that, for sure. It was met by the difficulty of not having proof.
EB: Right. Then with reporters who have more of a corporate overhead who have to report to more people ...
Yeah, I don’t have to listen to anybody.
EB: They have to prove to the lawyers that what they’re about to say is true and all that stuff. They are much more cautious. I have an inbox, or whatever you call it on Twitter, full of DMs from people about all the stuff they went through, and I’m like, “Are you okay talking to a reporter?” They say, “Yeah.” I pass it on to a reporter, and they’re like, “Well, do they have proof?” If they don’t have proof, then they say, “We can’t do anything,” because they have to have that evidence.
Also, I think one of the big challenges right now ... I love that people are speaking up to reporters, but there are so many different reporters working on this that I’m worried. People came to you, Sarah, but if there’s a different VC out there who’s done this to five different women, and those five different women go to five different reporters, they don’t feel comfortable speaking out because they don’t know that anybody else is out there on the record about this.
EB: I would love to see some sort of ProPublica-style investigation happen where reporters team up on this because having the group around you, not being the only voice to speak up and be on the record, is empowering.
SK: I think there’s something to be said for empowering women or empowering the victims to speak up to somebody, whether it’s somebody like Erica and I, who are kind of getting unsolicited ... a flood of these things, or somebody like you, Kara, or a different reporter, because once you speak up and as soon as you say the words “off the record,” any reporter that you’re talking to who writes for a major publication, they’re going to respect that. You tell them your story; it becomes a data point. I mean, my story happened in 2014. Cheryl’s happened in 2014. I also know women who within the past three, six months have been sexually assaulted by Dave. Once you start laying that groundwork of data points, it might not happen as quickly as you want, but without those data points it can’t happen.
I agree. All right, final question. Do you feel good now about what’s happening, or are you still a realist, Erica?
EB: I’m still a realist, but I also still have hope. If I didn’t have hope for this industry, I would’ve left a long time ago. I still have some hope, and I have a little bit more hope right now than I did before. Having all these voices, having all the people speaking up, is good in the way Sarah said.
You’re not out there alone.
EB: Yeah. Sunlight is the best disinfectant. If we have the light shining down, we can maybe get some of these bad actors out of the industry.
Then others feel repercussions for certain behaviors, which is interesting. One thing that I think was notable for me is that ... I think I said this recently on something. Every woman has a story. A lot of the good men didn’t know anything about it. The good men don’t know. There are a lot of ... You know what I mean? There are a lot of very decent, hardworking men, and I got so many, “I’m so surprised. I’m so, so shocked.”
EB: Yeah. “I’m so shocked. He’s such a good guy.”
I know. You’re sort of like ... On some level, it’s like, well, whose fault is that? Yours? The person who’s not telling the story? Where is the fault? There is no fault.
EB: People don’t feel safe talking to those good guys, which means question how good you actually are. Have you proven that you’re a good guy?
EB: Yeah, have you stood up and said something without being prompted, without someone saying, “Hey, please speak up for me”? Have you just done that on your own? I think that there are a number of people out there who have made themselves appear to be safe to be spoken to. Marc Hedlund is a major one. I’d tell Marc anything. He knows all the stuff that goes on in my life. There are a few out there who are just safe to talk to in that way because they stand up and they ...
EB: They do say things. Yeah. Just be that person who doesn’t need to be prompted to speak up and to advocate for women and people of color, to hire women and people of color, to promote us, to fund us.
Absolutely. Final word.
SK: Fund women and minorities. If you’re not, no matter how well-seeming you are, no matter how great you think you are as an ally, you’re not doing the work, and if you’re not doing the work, it’s not going to get better.
Excellent. Well, let’s hope it does.
SK: It’ll get better.
I know everyone likes to end on a feeling of hope. I’m not very hopeful. It feels better than before. I’ll definitely say that. At the same time, I feel like they’ll go right back to their ...
SK: I don’t think it’s going to get worse. I think that we’re removing a layer of plausible deniability, and I hope it gets better.
Yeah. Well, on that note, Sarah, thank you so much for coming.
SK: Thank you.
By the way, what you did was very brave, even though you don’t think so.
SK: Thank you.
You know what I think of you.
EB: Thanks, Kara.
Pain in the ass. You’re a troublemaker.
I like your trouble. I think that’s a compliment.
EB: It’s good trouble.
It’s good trouble.
EB: Good trouble.
Anyway, thank you very much for coming in. It was great talking to you both.
EB: Thank you.
SK: Thank you.
This article originally appeared on Recode.net.