Tech executive plea for decency in Silicon Valley

LinkedIn co-founder urges tech to clean up its act over treatment of women and others

Silicon Valley veteran and LinkedIn co-founder Reid Hoffman has condemned sexual harassment in the tech industry, calling for a cultural change around how it treats women.

In a blog post, Hoffman said that firms should agree on a "Decency Pledge" in order that people - mostly men - act in a responsible, professional manner. This comes after a spate of allegations against several tech executives who have abused their position to sexually harass women, some from ethnic minorities.

Hoffman cited a report published by The Information regarding sexual harassment allegations against venture capitalist Justin Caldbeck of Binary Capital. The report quoted a number of women that alleged that Caldbeck made pass at one woman and groped another under the table of a Manhattan bar.

In a report by Axios, Caldbeck said in a statement that he was taking leave of absence from Binary Capital and would be seeking professional counselling to deal with his behaviour. He said the "past 24 hours have been the darkest of my life".

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"I am deeply ashamed of my lack of self-awareness. I am grateful to Niniane, Susan, Leiti, and the other women who spoke up for providing me with a sobering look into my own character and behaviour that I can no longer ignore. The dynamic of this industry makes it hard to speak up, but this is the type of action that leads to progress and change, starting with me," he said in a statement.

Hoffman said that there should be a way for people to complain about the behaviour of others that wouldn't limit the careers of the complainants.

"I think the industry should actively work on building a kind of industry-wide HR function," said Hoffman. "So that venture capitalists who engage in such behaviour face the same sort of consequences that they would if their overtures were directed at an employee."

He added that VCs should understand that they have the same moral position to the entrepreneurs they interact with that a manager has to an employee or a college professor to a student.

"That is to say, as soon as you start discussing potential business deals of any kind with an entrepreneur, there is no such thing as an innocent or appropriate sexual proposition or remark. If you are interested in pursuing a business relationship of some kind, you forfeit the prospect of pursuing a romantic or sexual relationship. If you want to mutually pursue a romantic or sexual relationship, then forfeit the prospect of a business relationship," he said. 

Hoffman said that if anyone sees a venture capitalist behaving differently from this standard, they should disclose this information to their colleagues as appropriate "just as one would if one saw a manager interacting inappropriately with an employee or a college professor with a student."

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