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Survey of YC female founders on sexual coercion and assault by angel and VC investors3 min read

Earlier this year we funded Callisto, a non-profit dedicated to building tech to combat sexual assault and harassment. During their time at YC, we helped Callisto send a survey to 125 of the 384 female founders who have participated in YC.1 They were asked if they’d ever been assaulted or coerced by an angel or VC investor in their startup career. We also created a formal process for founders in the YC community to report bad behavior by investors.

Today, in coordination with Callisto, YC is sharing the results of this survey with the entire YC founder community and the startup community at large. Based on these results, we call upon the entire investor community to redouble its efforts to change this dynamic and abuse of power in the VC/angel investment community. YC has a zero-tolerance policy for inappropriate behavior and will ban any investor who acts inappropriately from our community.

Here are the results of the survey:

  1. 88 YC female founders completed the survey

  2. 19 founders experienced one or more inappropriate incidents by angels or VCs:

    • 18 experienced unwanted sexual overtures or sexual badgering
    • 15 experienced sexual coercion or quid-pro-quo
    • 4 experienced unwanted sexual contact
  3. When founders did report, their main reason was to protect others:

    • “I wanted to make sure that other founders funded by this VC would NOT be in contact with this person, so I shared.”
    • “I wanted other people to avoid being preyed upon by the same people.”
  4. When founders did not report, their main reason was to protect their company, or fear of retaliation:

    • “Did not want to endanger my company’s funding prospects”
    • “I was afraid of the consequences for my ability to get future funding.”
    • “VCs would penalize women for coming forward by icing them out of social and professional situations and denying them funding opportunities, meaning the bad behavior rarely got outed.”

Here’s what YC is doing to combat harassment in the investor community:

  • If you are a YC founder who wishes to report inappropriate behavior by an investor, we have reporting system inside of Bookface (our website for YC founders). You can report at any time, even years after the incident took place. The report will remain confidential. We encourage other investors to set up similar reporting systems.

  • We will also work with and support any YC founder who wants to take actions above and beyond reporting this behavior to YC.

  • We will iterate and call more attention to our reporting process in order to encourage more use of our reporting tool.

  • We will continue to fund startups/non-profits that combat the unfair treatment of women in the workplace. In addition to funding Callisto, we have also funded tEQuitable who is building a third-party, tech-enabled Ombuds platform for companies that addresses issues of bias, discrimination, and harassment in the workplace.

Here is what Callisto is doing to combat harassment in the investor community:

  • Later this fall, they are launching Callisto for founders. Callisto detects serial perpetrators of sexual coercion and assault, and connects survivors to each other and their options for taking action to protect their community.

  • Founders will be able to use Callisto to securely store the identities of perpetrators of sexual coercion and assault. These identities will be encrypted in a way that not even the Callisto team can view. If multiple founders name the same perpetrator, they will be referred to an attorney who can then decrypt the founder’s contact info and reach out to provide them with free advice on their options for coming forward, including the option to share information with other victims of the same perpetrator.

0% of female founders should be ever be harassed, coerced, or experience unwanted sexual contact by investors.

1. Callisto chose to send the survey to the 125 founders who signed up for the YC female founder email list. They choose this group under the assumption that these founders would welcome being reached out to for the survey because they had signed up proactively to this email list. ↩

Source: Y Combinator

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