How “big chill” of harassment scandals hurts women entrepreneurs

Loretta McCarthy

October 27, 2017

Much has been written over the last few days and weeks about the stories of men behaving badly with female colleagues, staff and junior associates. From Hollywood to Silicon Valley to TV networks and beyond, the common theme is that women have much at stake in getting along with powerful men, and therefore stay quiet about this behavior — until a high-profile case spurs a social media outpouring that illuminates the breadth of the problem.

But another alarming problem that has emerged amid these scandals is that men are increasingly hesitant to meet alone with women. Recently, Claire Cain Miller wrote in the New York Times that, “Men describe a heightened caution because of recent sexual harassment cases, and they worry that one accusation, or misunderstood comment, could end their careers.”

What a sad state of affairs, no pun intended.

Mentorship key to success for startup founders

Most of us, men and women both, can recount a meal or meeting with a colleague or boss that was game-changing for our career.

For much of our careers, women have been in such a minority, that these mentors were likely to be men — men who saw potential and nurtured our talents. It was only natural that we met with male colleagues, shared travel, had meals and bonded as teams. As we became more senior, we women had the similar opportunity to mentor men — all a natural and productive development.

At Golden Seeds, we focus on women-led companies and have invested more than $100 million in nearly 150 companies over the past 12 years. Along the way, we have evaluated more than 3,000 businesses founded by women entrepreneurs. These founders benefit mightily from the close relationships they forge with their advisors, board members and investors. These are people who have much to offer entrepreneurs — their business acumen, financial expertise and professional experiences.

And many of these trusted mentors are men.

The growth of women entrepreneurs in the U.S. (and elsewhere) is a great story of the past decade — women now represent 38 percent of all business owners in this country. Many of them have the vision, grit and talents to grow substantial companies, often because they attract the capital they need and surround themselves with the people who can provide guidance as they grow. This guidance is often provided in informal settings, spontaneously as needs arise and build on mutual trust.

In defense of the one-on-one mentoring meeting

In a world where McKinsey tells us it will take 100 years to get to gender parity in corporations, the last thing we can afford is for women to be even more distanced from the critical bonding that executives must form as leaders.

And yet, it appears that is what could happen in response to recent news.

That New York Times story quotes an anonymous tech investor, who reportedly said, “A big chill came across Silicon Valley in the wake of all these stories, and people are hyperaware and scared of behaving wrongly, so I think they’re drawing all kinds of parameters.”

The writer notes, “Some [investors] are avoiding solo meetings with female entrepreneurs, potential recruits and those who ask for an informational or networking meeting.” And she quotes her unnamed source as saying, “Before, you might have said, ‘Of course I would do that, and I will especially do it for minorities, including women in Silicon Valley…‘Now you cancel it because you have huge risk of reputation all of a sudden.’”

As we learn of some men sidestepping meetings with women entrepreneurs to avoid the appearance of impropriety, we must note that this creates a new problem, rather than solving an existing one.

We hope the spate of recent high-profile stories will not discourage the very productive relationships that must exist for startups to succeed. If you are a mentor or advisor to a woman entrepreneur, remember how crucial you are in the ultimate success of her company, and don’t let any “big chill” stop you from playing your role.

Learn more about Golden Seeds companies and how women entrepreneurs are achieving success with Golden Seeds.