Some investors and CEOs are choosing to fight a powerful target in their quest to make Silicon Valley more friendly to women: The Young Presidents’ Organization.
As the tech industry grapples with a spate of sexual harassment allegations, prominent voices are quietly organizing behind a new rival to YPO, a networking league of executives that is largely male, Recode has learned.
The YPO rival — called Leaders in Tech — has in recent weeks been pitching top venture capitalists on its effort, and the organization is a topic at a Thursday evening dinner of female general partners at VC firms.
The new organization shifts the broader battle over gender discrimination to untrodden turf: While firms have been evaluating their own culpability after women entrepreneurs emerged this year to name their accusers, the conversation has largely avoided the heavily male social networks that can route deals and connections to other men.
YPO admits members who are CEOs under the age of 45 that have met certain thresholds, such as having 50 full-time employees or lead companies valued at over $20 million. While YPO is more prominent on the East Coast than on the West Coast, these networking organizations can make it difficult for women to find deals.
The push at LIT, described by sources familiar with its behind-the-scenes moves, has not yet been publicly announced. The leader of the organization, Sue Khim, the co-founder of the startup Brilliant, declined to comment.
But the nonprofit has been gauging the temperature of Silicon Valley heavyweights, and its central ideas are spelled out on its once-public website, which was taken down after contact from Recode. (The website is a few months old, according to a person with knowledge of the effort.) Backers include Chamath Palihapitiya of Social Capital and David Hornik of August Capital.
“In tech and venture capital, the preponderance of gatekeepers and people in power are men, who preferentially socialize with, recruit, promote, fund, and make introductions for other men. Male voices are powerfully amplified in such an ecosystem,” the organization writes.
“The current environment offers only self-perpetuating men’s clubs, in which existing male members refer and vet prospective new members, or women’s clubs, through which the female members are unable to forge relationships with the large number of men in their industry. It is time for these networks to start to merge.”
“LIT draws many lessons from existing social and professional leagues such as Young Presidents’ Organization (YPO), which are incredibly valuable for members, empowering them to connect with talent, funding, and customers. But such organizations typically have an overwhelmingly male membership, and are only open to the CEOs of large companies — a position that few women ever attain.”
YPO said it had more than 2,000 female CEOs as members across the world and that the organization tries to "seek and embrace diversity among our member leaders, including women and different cultures, races, religions, industries, business-types and experiences."
YPO spokeswoman Linda Fisk said they had not had any recent conversations with LIT, though she said YPO would be open to a dialogue.
The goals of LIT include providing “a safe community to come forward with stories of harassment without fear of negative repercussions from a tightly networked male establishment.”
LIT will have similar membership requirements to YPO; it will admit people who are senior executives at startups and perhaps those leading a company with at least $2 million in annual revenue. Candidates must be signed off on by LIT’s “vetting committee.”
LIT invites startup CEOs to peer group meetings and dinners and gives them access to “luminary tech entrepreneurs and top venture capitalists,” according to the website. The “initiation fee” for the organization is $3,375, along with annual dues of the same amount. Fees are waived for the first year, and membership fees could still change, according to the person with knowledge.
Sponsors who give money to LIT will earn “early access to deals” and board observer seats, the website says.
This article originally appeared on Recode.net.