You Won’t Believe How Many Women in Tech Say They’ve Faced Sexual Harassment

Sexual harassment at the workplace
Photography by Novastock—Getty Images

Last year, Trae Vassallo took the stand during Ellen Pao’s discrimination case against Kleiner Perkins, testifying vividly about her experience being sexually harassed by a former partner at the VC firm. Afterwards, she says an “overwhelming number” of women approached her to share their own stories of harassment. Despite having been on the receiving end of unwanted sexual advances, Vassallo was surprised at how prevalent the issue seemed to be—and says that most men she talked to seemed shocked to hear it was happening at all.

Now, she and co-author Michele Madansky want to help the world understand just how big a struggle women face in the tech industry with a new survey, aptly titled The Elephant in the Valley.”

Appearing on Kara Swisher’s “Re/code Decode” podcast, Vassallo, a former general partner at Kleiner Perkins Caufield Byers who is now an independent investor and advisor, and Madansky, a research consultant who spent four years at Yahoo (YHOO), talked about why they wanted to quantify the problem. The goal? To stamp the prevalence of sexism “into the conscience of everyone in Silicon Valley,” said Madansky.

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The survey includes just over 200 women—most of whom have at least 10 years of tech experience—sourced from Vassallo and Madansky’s networks. The vast majority of respondents now work in the Bay Area and more than 70% have kids and are at least 40 years old. A quarter of the women are in the C-suite, 11% are founders, 11% are in venture captial. They work everywhere from startups to tech giants like Apple (AAPL) and Google (GOOG).

In addition to stats, the survey includes first-person stories from anonymous responders. Anyone who wants to add her own experiences is welcome to—there’s a submission form in the survey website.

The report covers a range of topics, from sexual harassment to unconscious bias to gender-based exclusion. Here are a few of the stand-out stats:

Sexual harassment

A whopping 60% of the women who participated reported experiencing unwanted sexual advances. Of those, 65% said that at least one advance came from a superior. One woman reported that the first time she traveled with a new CEO, he propositioned her. After she turned him down, she was never asked to travel with him again. “This impacted my ability to do my job,” she writes.

Many women—39%—said they did not report the harassment, fearing that it would hurt their careers. Of those who did report it, 60% were unsatisfied by the result.


Women report being left out of career-advancing opportunities: 66% said they’re excluded from important social and/or networking events. Nine out of 10 respondents said they’ve seen sexist behavior at conferences and company offsites. An example: One women said she was taken to Hooters for lunch. She also reported that a male manager had ordered only beer to drink at an offsite she attended while pregnant.


Unconscious bias

The numbers around unconscious bias are particularly high: 88% of those responding said they’ve watched a client or co-worker ask a male colleague a question that should have been addressed to them. More than 80% said that they’ve dealt with demeaning comments from male colleagues—or have encountered a client or co-worker who made eye contact with male colleagues but not with them.

According to one anonymous respondent: “In evaluating deals, sometimes a male CEO will address all his replies to my male associate—while I’m the [general partner] on point. I don’t make investments in those companies.”

A full 84% of the respondents said they have been told they were “too ambitious.” Nearly half said they’d been asked to do things like take notes or order food—or “office housework” tasks that their male colleagues are not asked to do.


Three out of four women said they’d been asked about family life, kids, or marital status in an interview. One women reported that she was in a review session, where a male partner said of another female employee ‘we don’t have to worry about her bonus or promotion because she just got married. So she’ll probably have a baby and quit soon.'”

So, what can be done?

“We think that just getting the story out there and letting people know how prevalent these behaviors are will spur the conversation,” Madansky told Swisher.









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