Last week’s anonymous confession in Forbes from a female founder about her fundraising nightmares sent chills down our women’s spines — mostly because the discomfort sounded all too familiar.
And today, Y Combinator partner Jessica Livingston issued a very clear warning to investors attending next week’s demo day, that absolutely no inappropriate behavior towards founders will be tolerated. And while Livingston wasn’t explicit, this is likely directed mainly to male investors.
The anonymous confession in Forbes described a female founder being met with sexual and romantic advances from male investors, veiled under fake business interest in her venture. Sadly, the founder not only shared her experiences anonymously but even nicknamed the investors in question, highlighting just how deep the fear of professional repercussions runs. The Whitney Wolfes of the tech world, boldly taking action against misbehavior, are sadly very few and far between.
And unfortunately, Livingston’s statement today is not just preventative: Even Y Combinator has had its own cases of investor misbehavior toward female founders, which president Sam Altman revealed to Valleywag’s Nitasha Tiku in light of his blog post about Y Combinator’s diversity:
i asked several YC founders if i could share specific examples of their own experience, but they all asked me not to it’s difficult to fully anonymize but i did generally talk about investors being inappropriate and also only focusing on the men in the room, which were the two most common issues […]
yes, they dont get told. its a really hard situation, but i dont feel like its my place to push anyone more than once to tell the stories
but we do quietly just stop inviting investors to demo day, sending them referrals, etc
(and i have asked a number of times if i can make the reason public, but for super understandable reasons the women that have suffered the abuse don’t want it)
Livingston’s statement could easily be taken as a nice PR move, but I’m giving her more credit than that. She and Y Combinator don’t have to say anything about this, especially at the risk of alienating certain investors, but they did. The next step will be to see the Y Combinator leadership’s response if something were to happen.