Do Men Still Think Sexual Harassment Is a Joke?

The past year has felt like one big watershed moment for workplace harassment. The rapid frequency with which women in Silicon Valley are demanding attention to sexual harassment in the tech industry has generated two kinds of anger: The first is stoked by a growing sense of hope that people who abuse their power will be held accountable; the second is fanned by skepticism, though not full resignation, that any changes implemented now will result in long-term change.
People who act as whistleblowers on issues of harassment rarely find that their careers rebound from the upheaval. Once they are viewed as being potentially litigious employees, many employers find it easier to avoid them than to move on after a "bad seed" has been adequately reprimanded. Arguably, the stakes for people who speak up are still much higher than for those who are called out, which is why any signal that ousted executives are failing to take the issue seriously can be especially insulting.
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That issue came to the fore earlier this week: On Sunday, Backstage Capital founder and managing partner Arlan Hamilton tweeted screenshots of the LinkedIn bios of two prominent men in her industry who have been accused of inappropriate behavior, raising the important question of how sincerely they're taking their allegations of harassment.
Justin Caldbeck, the cofounder and managing partner of Binary Capital, announced that he was taking an indefinite leave of absence from his venture capital firm in June. His departure came after reports of "unwanted and inappropriate advances" by female founders, and a defamation lawsuit from former Binary employee Ann Lai, who complained about the company's alleged "sexist and sexual environment" and appeared to be threatened with blacklisting if she left.
On LinkedIn, Caldbeck's bio currently says that he is a "Head of Self-Reflection, Accountability & Change." He describes that position as, "Focused on acknowledging my mistakes, making amends, and making change."
Dave McClure, an angel investor and the founder of the 500 Startups business accelerator, resigned from his position as general partner in July, after the fund was "made aware of instances of Dave having inappropriate behavior with women in the tech community." McClure wrote a post on Medium (titled "I’m a Creep. I’m Sorry."), apologizing for his actions, but he appeared to make light of the experience on LinkedIn by describing his current position as "janitor" at DMC.
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@arlanwashere/LinkedIn
@arlanwashere/LinkedIn
McClure has since deleted the inappropriate one-liner, and declined a request for comment from Refinery29.
In a statement to Refinery29, Caldbeck said his status update wasn't in jest. "I in no way take this as a joke," he said. "It's unfortunate some people feel that way. Self-reflection, accountability, and change are all positive things and my focus right now. My goal is to be a better person every day and to channel this experience into something that will positively impact others." He added that he first changed his bio on LinkedIn in early July, after the allegations were made public and his resignation was announced.
Although some people might chalk up the incident to a misunderstanding arrived at by assuming bad intentions, it is still very difficult to assume good intentions. Earlier this year, David Bonderman, a partner at the private equity firm TPG, resigned from the Uber board after making a sexist remark during a meeting about criticisms of the company's problematic bro culture. His quip that more women joining boards leads to more women doing a lot of talking (rather than moving things forward, in essence), may have been a joke, but it was also dismissive of real concerns.
In jest or not, the overarching question here is how ousted executives should behave after they've been reprimanded or fired for harassment. For those fired or censured, having a laugh (even at their own expense) is insensitive at best. Perhaps, people will find it easier to tell a joke from an earnest comment when harassment at work is no longer a laughing matter in any industry.
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