Why Silicon Valley’s ‘NFL moment’ may never happen

September 29, 2014, 11:00 AM UTC
NFL: Preseason-Baltimore Ravens at Dallas Cowboys
Aug 16, 2014; Arlington, TX, USA; Baltimore Ravens running back Ray Rice (27) runs with the ball in the second quarter against the Dallas Cowboys at AT&T Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports - RTR42OHB
Photograph by Matthew Emmons — USA Today Sports/Reuters

The Ray Rice case of Silicon Valley may never come.

Last week, The Wall Street Journal posted a column headlined with a timely question: Will Silicon Valley Have Its NFL Moment? The article explores how poor treatment of women in tech has been a problem practically since the industry’s inception. Yet, unlike the NFL, discrimination and abuse in Silicon Valley has yet to reach a crisis point that has led to radical change.

Unlike clear-cut cases of domestic violence that law enforcement deals with inside and outside of the NFL, discrimination against women in tech is typically more nuanced. Undoubtedly, countless domestic violence disputes between professional athletes and their partners have gone unreported over the years. Yet when it comes to female tech entrepreneurs, many may not define questionable behavior as discrimination or abuse when it is happening.

Danae Ringelmann, the co-founder Indiegogo, the crowdfunding site, says her team was rejected 92 times by venture capital investors when she was searching for funds for her company. Ringelmann is one of many women who have a hard time getting funding (less than 7% of venture capital funds go to women-led startups), yet she says its always difficult to know what is discrimination and what isn’t.

“It is always hard to know if something is happening to you because of objective reasons or subjective reasons,” says Ringelmann. “It is easy to call yourself a statistic. But it is hard to know if your company is not getting a call back from investors because you are a woman, or because they just don’t like the business model.”

Even when cases of discrimination and abuse become more apparent, the female tech entrepreneurs who chose to come forward typically do so anonymously. In August, a nameless female founder outlined for Forbes her experience what happened after a persistent venture capitalist invited her to his home for dinner. It was clear that the VC wasn’t interested in her company when he started to come on to her. Other women have chosen the same route to tell their horror stories, possibly out of fear of retaliation from sexist VCs.

A few legal cases alleging gender discrimination in Silicon Valley had made national news. In July, Whitney Wolfe, a former Tinder executive and co-founder, sued the mobile dating app on grounds of sexual harassment and abuse. Wolfe accused the company’s CEO Sean Rad and CMO Justin Mateen of verbal abuse, calling her words like “annoying,” “dramatic” and “whore,” only to eventually take away her co-founder title and force her to resign from the company. Yet even an outlandish case like Wolfe’s was settled out of court for an undisclosed amount. Sure, the CMO resigned, but other than that,Wolfe accusations’ weighed on the public consciousness only for a couple of weeks.

Ultimately, what led the public conscious to grab hold of the Ray Rice case and never let go was the graphic elevator video. The image of the former Baltimore Ravens running back pummeling his then-fiancée unconscious was too horrible for anyone to ignore. Perhaps the same will have to come out of Silicon Valley for the same change to come. That said, images of a CEO calling a female partner a “whore” or of a VC hitting on an entrepreneur — although damaging — don’t sound to me like enough to shake up the entire country.

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