Hi, fellas.

I read about your situation in The New York Times the other day, and it left me with some questions I'm hoping you can clear up.

According to that story by Claire Cain Miller, a number of venture capitalists have quietly begun canceling or declining to schedule meetings with women entrepreneurs seeking funding because they're worried taking one-on-ones could give rise to allegations of sexual harassment or other improper behavior. 

"Before, you might have said, 'Of course, I would do that, and I will especially do it for minorities, including women in Silicon Valley,'" one of you (anonymously) told the Times. "Now you cancel it, because you have huge reputational risk all of a sudden."

I can't say this is wholly surprising. There's clearly a new atmosphere of accountability and whistleblowing around sexual harassment that's bringing down powerful men all over. In Hollywood, it has put an end to the depredations of Harvey Weinstein. In media, Mark Halperin and Leon Wieseltier have come a cropper. In the tech industry, it has already claimed the jobs of 500 Startups co-founder Dave McClure, Binary Capital investor Justin Caldbeck, and writer/"evangelist"/whatever-the-hell-he-does Robert Scoble.

All men are on notice, and all men are replaying our past professional interactions with members of the opposite sex in our minds to figure out if we ever said or did anything that could have been misconstrued. Or what might have seemed OK to us at the time but really wasn't.  

But for VCs to respond to the advent of this new era by avoiding one-on-one situations with women entrepreneurs--that's just weird. It doesn't add up.

Take this business about "reputational risk." Since when is risk something VCs run away from? If anything, they--you--talk about it almost as a moral imperative. It's a tolerance for risk and failure, supposedly, that allows VCs to build the companies of the future and separates them from ordinary investors. How many times have tech folk heard some venture capitalist bragging about how he urged a founder to take more capital, move faster, dare bigger? 

So let me get this straight. 

You'll bet tens of millions of dollars on companies that are gushing oceans of red ink, are operating outside the law, or haven't even figured out what their product is yet--but letting a woman walk you through her startup's pitch deck over cappuccinos is a bigger throw of the dice than you can stomach? 

How, exactly, do you explain that to your limited partners? Presumably, they gave you their money trusting you'd invest it in the most promising startups. Wouldn't they be a little annoyed to find out you're missing out on the next Stitch Fix because you can't be sure the woman behind it won't find you creepy?

I mean: What about the "greed case for diversity"?

And if you're really so worried, why don't you do something about it? As in, learn how to sit down with a woman without acting creepy. Get a tutor, if you need to. VCs love learning, right? It's the core skill set of venture capital: The ability to rapidly become conversant on a wide variety of topics is what allows you to make intelligent bets on emerging technologies like A.I., virtual reality, and cryptocurrency.

I feel like I'm always reading braggy Medium posts from VCs who taught themselves how to code or read biochemistry textbooks or took Chinese lessons to be better at their jobs. Is learning how to have a conversation that doesn't result in an HR complaint that much harder?

The idea of playing it safe by avoiding meetings with women doesn't square very well with the qualities VCs themselves say makes somebody a good VC. And that points to two possible conclusions: First, the real reason you're doing this is not because you're scared but because you're mad. You're so used to being able to treat women however you want with zero consequences, all you can do upon being told that's not how it's going to be anymore is threaten to take your ball and go home.

Or maybe you're just really bad at your jobs.

So, which is it?  

.

Published on: Oct 30, 2017