Our Zero Tolerance Policy On Sexual Harassment

by Brad Feld

Last week, yet another instance of sexual harassment and mistreatment of women in our industry became public via an article published by The Information concerning sexual harassment allegations against venture capitalist Justin Caldbeck of Binary Capital. As the news unfolded, we felt profound sadness for the women involved and disgust for the behavior they were subjected to.

A number of leaders in the VC community immediately responded thoughtfully, and articles like Reid Hoffman’s The Human Rights of Women Entrepreneurs appeared. Women we have immense respect for, such as Joanne Wilson, wrote powerful articles like The Gig Is Up. Twitter lit up with commentary which we hope will continue for a while, instead of just being a short news cycle.

While we acknowledge that we are a partnership of six middle-aged white men, we have tried to be a positive force in support of women as entrepreneurs and venture capitalists. We have been advocates for women in many ways and have always tried to conduct ourselves in a way that is professionally respectful, regardless of the context.

This weekend, as we talked about this issue, each of us felt that we hadn’t done nearly enough. We realize that it’s not enough to not be a part of the problem – we need to take a more active role in being part of the solution. Over the years we’ve been made aware of instances of sexual harassment and while we’ve always tried to be helpful, our actions often haven’t been strong enough. As a result, we haven’t been forceful enough advocates for those who endured this harassment. That’s not ok with us.

That ends today. We vow to be both more forceful and aggressive in our actions to stand up for the workplace ethics we believe in and have advocated for throughout our entire careers. Foundry Group has a zero tolerance policy towards harassment of any kind. Treating any other person in the VC and entrepreneurial ecosystem without professional respect, regardless of gender, is unacceptable to us.

From this point forward, when we encounter something unacceptable, it’s our responsibility to confront it. The offending party has the opportunity to apologize, own their behavior, and change it going forward. If they don’t, then we are no longer interested in having a relationship with that person.

When we were VCs investing in startups, this wasn’t very complicated for us. Each of us has had to deal with companies that had inappropriate sexual conduct between employees, sexual harassment, and other dynamics often referred to as “HR issues.” But, after spending a weekend contemplating where our industry is at, we no longer feel these are HR issues. Instead, we have concluded they are fundamental human rights issues.

Now that we are LPs in other VC funds, we have decided to extend our view to the entire ecosystem. So, our zero tolerance policy applies as follows:

  • Any allegation of sexual harassment within a company we are investors in will result in an immediate investigation, with a goal of having it resolved as promptly as possible. If found to be valid, we will request an immediate termination of the harasser, regardless of job position. We will work with all of our companies to put this policy in place.
  • Any allegation of sexual harassment by an employee of a fund we are an LP in will result in an immediate investigation, with a goal of having it resolved as promptly as possible. If found to be valid, we will request the immediate resignation of the harasser, regardless of job position. If the harasser is a GP, we will ask for the immediate resignation of the harasser and, if refused, we will engage with other LPs to explore legal removal of the harasser. We will work with all of the funds that we are investors in to put this policy in place, recognizing that we have much less power and influence as an LP than we do as a direct investor and board member of a company.

We believe that all LPs have a duty to confront this issue and we welcome them joining us. Only by working together across our industry can we truly make a difference.

We recognize that this only addresses sexual harassment. Through our involvement in the National Center for Women & Information Technology, we understand that sexual harassment is the visible version of discrimination against women. The less visible, but in many cases even more prevalent issue, is that of unconscious bias against women. We are committed to addressing this as well, but feel we need a little more time to figure out how to best attack this formally.

We deeply appreciate the bravery of the women who have publicly come forward and disclosed their specific issues of sexual harassment. The behavior they experienced is not ok, has never been ok, and will simply not be tolerated by us in any way.