Sexual Harassment At Start-Ups

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Is there a culture of sexual harassment at start-ups? Why isn't is talked about?

Where does this culture of sexual harassment at start-ups come from?

How does it affect the start-up field?

Start-up companies are usually small firms with only a handful of employees. If an owner or employer harasses or discriminates against their employees, there are not many options for their employees. These employees could complain and risk their jobs and reputations, or they could leave, and hope their next job has a better working environment. Owners and CEOs of start-ups hold a disproportionate amount of power and in the small start-up environment it tends to be easier to hide abusive behavior.

The New York Times ran an article in July, called "Women in Start-Up World Speak Up About Harassment" that delves into the very scary and pervasive culture of harassment that women in start-ups are facing.

This NY Times writer, Katie Benner, contacted more than two dozen entrepreneurs working in start-ups to find out their stories, and what they learned was just how deep rooted the problems were. While some people didn't want to share their stories, many directed the writer to others within their network who would talk. What Ms. Benner discovered was very interesting. She wrote, "Patterns emerged, most glaringly the fact that many of the people who had stories to share were women of color, even though there are comparatively few female entrepreneurs who aren't white. At the same time, more of the white women I spoke with were willing to go on the record and be photographed for the story. It was a sobering reflection of how much more risk founders of color believe they take on by being public about their experiences."

Additionally, she wrote, "When I contacted the men, some of them denied the claims. Others impugned the character of their accusers, or tried cajoling, bullying and intimidation to get me to take them out of the story."

Ms. Benner points out in her article that many of these small start-up firms do not have human resources departments. Therefore, even if an employee wanted to complain, they would have to go straight to their boss. Fear of backlash, fear of a more hostile work environment or a fear of losing their job may be an incentive for many employees to stay quiet.

The writer also notes that the CEOs and owners of these small firms have a major investment in keeping their reputations and their company's reputation untarnished with claims of harassment or discrimination. These CEOs also typically have the ability to sweep complaints and allegations of harassment under the rug by using their money and power. That's why many of the women in start-ups tell their stories on the basis of anonymity.

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