Y Combinator Mulls New Startup App—Rating VCs on Sexual Harassment

Y Combinator, a Silicon Valley hub that incubates and funds scores of tech startups every year, is entering the fray over sexual harassment in the venture capital industry.

YC has opened an online reporting mechanism that women can use to identify venture capital firm partners or executives who have pressured them for sex or groped them while they were seeking financing for their companies, the Washington Post reported Monday. VCs could be barred from YC events based on reports of unethical conduct, the Post story says.

The Mountain View, CA-based incubator and investor may also fund an app that would publish reviews of VC firms with an eye on their behavior toward women founders, according to the Post story.

One such app is already in the works, as Xconomy reported last week. A group of 10 women coders and founders have set up a website called FairFunders as a sort of Yelp for female entrepreneurs. The rating site, set to go live July 27, would allow women to report both good and bad interactions with investors.

It remains to be seen whether such reports on an app open to the public could lead to court battles or other consequences, if those accused dispute their accuracy.

Attention to the problem of sexual harassment in Silicon Valley and other technology clusters has snowballed since Feb. 19, when former Uber engineer Susan Fowler posted a detailed account accusing her manager of propositioning her, and recounting a lack of action by the ride-hailing company’s human resources department after she and other women reported similar harassment. Fowler’s blogpost went viral, drawing intense media scrutiny not only to the treatment of women and minority members at Uber, but also to the health of the business itself.

Uber founder Travis Kalanick was forced out as CEO June 20 after a company-ordered investigation of Uber’s business culture ended with recommendations for sweeping change.

Then more than a dozen women came forward with accounts of harassment by VCs, reported in stories by The Information and the New York Times in late June. Two VCs, Justin Caldbeck of Binary Capital, and Dave McClure of 500 Startups, left their jobs.

Last week brought another casualty, when Frank Artale, managing partner Bellevue, WA-based venture capital firm Ignition Partners, resigned shortly after the firm received a report of misconduct July 5, as Xconomy’s Seattle editor Ben Romano reported.

These signs that VCs and tech businesses are starting to take gender discrimination and harassment seriously—as well as the intensified activism of women’s networks—may be loosening the bonds of secrecy that kept women from speaking out for fear of retaliation.

On July 16, on the new NBC network news magazine, “Sunday Night with Megyn Kelly,” six women entrepreneurs told their stories of harassment and forced physical contact by potential financial backers. None of them named names on the air.

One female-led venture capital firm has actually started to advertise freedom from sexual harassment as a selling point to encourage women entrepreneurs to come to them for financing.

Rethink Impact, a network based in Washington, DC, New York, and San Francisco, already seeks actively to invest in young companies that include women on their leadership teams. It has now posted a message on its home page, addressed “Hey Female Founders.”

“Worried we are going to hit on you? Don’t. We’ve both been in your shoes. We know,” the open letter reads. “Your job is hard enough already, and we want to help. Our diverse community of committed investors from across the country stands with you.”

Bernadette Tansey is Xconomy's San Francisco Editor. You can reach her at btansey@xconomy.com. Follow @Tansey_Xconomy

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