In one sense, Tammy Cho is a typical Silicon Valley entrepreneur: She’s a college dropout.
When the now 22-year-old was just a sophomore business major at Georgetown University in 2013, she quit school to work on her software business full time after it got funding. Cho was, of course, following in the footsteps of iconic founders Mark Zuckerberg, Bill Gates and Steve Jobs, who all famously ditched university life.
The gambit paid off. Last year Cho’s company was acquired by a large tech firm called Meltwater, where she now works as a product design lead in San Francisco.
Almost a year after settling into the job, Cho read an essay that went off like a bomb in the tech world. Susan Fowler, a former Uber engineer, detailed the mistreatment and harassment she experienced at the ride-hailing company ― and how her complaints went ignored.
Everyone read it, including Cho and her colleague at Meltwater, Grace Choi. They saw themselves in that post. They started talking, opening up about their very personal experiences with discrimination, harassment and racism in the work world. “There were stories we hadn’t shared with anyone else,” Cho said.
In very typical Silicon Valley fashion, the conversation made them wonder, “Why don’t good solutions to sexual harassment already exist?” Choi writes in a post on Medium. They set out to find one, or at least figure out a way to help with the problem.
And finally, this week Cho, Choi and Annie Shin, a software engineer who had been friends with Cho since high school, launched Betterbrave.com, a comprehensive guide for anyone who’s experienced sexual harassment at work and doesn’t know what to do next.
The three women devoted hours of their free time over the past several months to put together the site, reaching out to hundreds of people to talk about sexual harassment, including employment lawyers, human resources professionals, and women in their network who spoke about confronting tricky workplace situations.
“It felt like our duty to figure out a way to address this issue,” said Cho.
The website features information on what constitutes harassment ― including unwelcome sexual advances, inappropriate touching, jokes and gestures, as well as guidance on what to do if it’s happening to you.
“It felt like our duty to figure out a way to address this issue.”
In clear, straightforward language, the site offers guidance for those wondering how to handle mistreatment at work. There’s also a form you can fill out to be connected with an experienced attorney who can offer guidance. Many will offer a free consultation for those who’ve been targets of sexual harassment.
In a section called My Options, the site says victims should let harassers know their behavior made them feel uncomfortable. “Be firm, specific, and suggest a behavior that is more appropriate,” the site advises. “Never apologize. It might look something like this — ‘Hey Josh, your remarks about my outfits on a daily basis make me uncomfortable. I’d prefer if you would stop making these comments.’”
A section called My Rights is firm: “There are laws against sexual harassment,” reads the site. “Repeat that back to us. There are laws against sexual harassment. Moreover, there are laws against retaliating for reporting sexual harassment.”
Cho and the site emphasize that if you believe you’ve been sexually harassed you should contact a lawyer. Though targets certainly can talk to their employers’ human resources department, that’s not always helpful. “We heard a lot of stories where HR mishandled the case,” Cho said. In Fowler’s case, Uber’s HR department sided with her harasser.
A California employment lawyer, Devin Coyle, helped fact-check the site. Another lawyer with expertise in sexual harassment told HuffPost that the site looked pretty good but also emphasized the importance for victims of harassment to consult with a lawyer to best understand their options.
Cho and her co-founders aren’t making any money off Betterbrave.com for now. Lawyers who get new clients through the website could potentially make money from new cases, of course.
Cho’s not ruling out profits down the line. “We’ll see how things go,” she said, explaining they want to do a lot more research before committing to a for-profit model. “We want to ensure that whichever model we choose aligns with our mission.”
Next up for the site is a guide for “allies,” people who know, or want to help, targets of harassment.
Not enough people understand that this problem even exists, so one clear goal is education, Cho said. And the issue for her and her co-founders feels personal. A lot of the time, young women who are new to the workforce are even more vulnerable to unwelcome sexual advances, she noted.
“You’re young and you have your entire career ahead of you. It’s terrifying,” she said. Still, she adds, this happens to women (and men) at every age. “It’s just kind of everywhere.”
Cho said the site’s been getting a steady flow of traffic since it launched. On Tuesday, Betterbrave got a thumbs-up from the woman who inspired the whole endeavor. A tweet from Susan Fowler read, “This is AMAZING!”