One in five female founders who passed through influential Silicon Valley startup incubator Y Combinator have been sexually harassed or assaulted by an investor, according to a survey by Y Combinator.
Of 88 YC female founders surveyed, 19 reported experiencing inappropriate “incidents” from angel investors or venture capitalists, which included sexual overtures or badgering, coercion or quid pro quo, or unwanted sexual contact.
They survey comes as Silicon Valley—not to mention the wider business community—is facing a major reckoning in the #MeToo era. In the past year and a half, numerous cases of sexual misconduct, specifically in the tech community, have been in the headlines, including a sexual harassment suit filed by a former Google employee alleging a “bro culture” at the company, as well as a suit filed against Microsoft by over 100 employees, alleging gender discrimination and sexual harassment.
Uber is also under federal investigation for gender discrimination.
In 2017, a poll found that nearly half of women surveyed experienced workplace sexual harassment.
Asked in the Y Combinator survey about reporting unwanted contact and overtures, female founders said they wanted to protect others. When they didn’t report the behavior, they said it was for a reason many will recognize: the fear of retaliation.
The survey was sent to 125 of YC’s female founders, and 88 completed it. Given that 384 female founders have participated in Y Combinator, the survey is an incomplete but hopefully useful as a starting point for addressing what is clearly a widespread problem.
YC published the results of the survey in a blog post on Monday and noted that it has a zero-tolerance policy for inappropriate behavior. Additionally, the firm notes, “We also created a formal process for founders in the YC community to report bad behavior by investors.”
The survey was conducted by YC in coordination with Callisto, a YC-funded non-profit dedicated to building technology to combat sexual assault and harassment. Callisto notes that it only chose to send the survey to the 125 founders who signed up for the YC female founder email list.
Accelerators can act as a stamp of approval to potential outside investors, which is why even already successful startups will often elbow their way into a respected incubator. So when it comes to leveling the playing field in business, it matters when as many as one in five women answer a survey indicating they have experienced harassment or assault as a result of that professional association, especially abuse by the very investors that could have an outsized impact on the success of their startup.
Y Combinator’s Jessica Livingston, who co-founded YC with her husband Paul Graham, has spoken of the need for the incubator to attract more female leaders and launched projects to draw more women into the fold, including the Female Founders Conference. But the real challenge may not be attracting women to YC ranks. Rather, like seemingly every other professional and public space, the real challenge is getting men to stop abusing women.