Stopping Sexual Violence In Silicon Valley: No More Dave McClures, Justin Caldbecks or Emil Michaels

Sexual Violence and Harassment Prevention Action Plan -- Open letter to Silicon Valley

Recent news reports describe sexual violence and harassment long-tolerated in Silicon Valley and VC-funded organizations. The lurid details appear credible and clearly indicate time has come for direct, unambiguous action to prevent sexual violence and hostile environments.

More than one commentator has described the macho "Bro Culture" underlying widespread abuse, as if the same dynamics plaguing college campuses simply have been transferred and accepted in top companies. Awareness campaigns without behavioral shifts allow us to merely substitute talk for actions. Words do not substitute for developing mutual respect in relationships and protecting employees from denigration or coercion.

It's time we deal with the root problem: negligent and disrespectful behavior. These behaviors must be confronted. Leaders must find a way to change the habits these behaviors have become for too many employees and related parties.

Our nonprofit has spent years introducing tools to combat abusive and criminal behavior on campuses. Now, we offer advice to corporate leaders who can develop globally known software and services but fail to meet basic standards of decency in preventing vile behavior toward their own employees, suppliers, customers, and other stakeholders.

By adopting our "Respectful Behavior Program" we believe you can remove over 90% of the current risk of sexual violence and harassment within your organization.

Sexual assaults and harassment problems will not be solved through well-intentioned "awareness" campaigns. Too many have learned instinctively to "say the right things" when it comes to discussing sexual assault without actual behavioral change. As a result, corporate surveys may announce "improved climate," but that is not enough to effect real change in behaviors.

It's time for companies to actively produce better behaviors and reject unacceptable ones. This requires changing the environment in which these behaviors occur. For example, when we enacted seat belt laws, compliance never got over 30% despite expensive awareness campaigns. The solution: change the behavioral context by requiring car companies to install self-fastening seatbelts (attached to both door and seat). A few short years after that context change, compliance rose to above 80%!

This Action Plan proposes you adopt a similarly effective environment change: the "Respectful Behavior Program." It has three integrated parts (which must be implemented together to ensure success):

  1. Ongoing programs focused on mutual respect and affirmative consent should be held every three to four months and remain mandatory for everyone in a firm. Repetition is important. If your program is to be meaningful, it must distinguish between behavior that occurs within the boundaries of a mutually respectful (private) relationship and one which occurs in the unequal power dynamics of a public workplace. We are happy to share with you relevant materials regarding mutual respect from our partner the Affirmative Consent Project (see http://AffirmativeConsent.com).
  2. Every employee needs explicit instruction that employment is conditioned upon their use of the We-Consent app (see http://We-Consent.org) to document consent with any sexual partner who may be a fellow employee, customer, vendor, supplier, regulator, or competitor. If the employee stays out of trouble, great. But, if the employee faces an accusation without using the We-Consent app, their ability to remain employed will be suspended immediately. No exceptions. That level of visibility will lead awareness that promotes real behavioral change.
  3. Every employee should be encouraged to download and use both the “I’ve-Been-Violated” app and the “What-About-No” app. It is no longer tolerable for Silicon Valley firms to foster an environment where sexually-oriented misbehavior goes unreported. The I’ve-Been-Violated app allows victims to record their stories in a contemporaneous time frame and maintain control of when and how those stories get told. The added credibility of video recordings can add to victims’ affirmation of being taken seriously when they do decide to come forward. The What-About-No app gives users the ability to record their “pursuer” being told no.

Decency alone requires you to take steps to eliminate the possibility of hostile environments. The behavioral changes that result from implementation of the Respectful Behavior Program will do just that. Some naysayers will object to each of these. Many may claim they have no need for multiple sessions or messages. Others will raise the specter of false accusations or of “big brother” watching. Successful implementation demands you address these concerns as well.

If your firm rigorously implements these three components, we are confident that it will reduce problematic sexual encounters by 90% within two years. These components serve as the company equivalent of mandatory self-fastening seat belts. The goal is behavior change, and the Respectful Behavior Program promotes repeated and measurable action.

The first step is to call company-wide or group level meetings to discuss the program. The discussion will be harsh but it will bring to light many of the issues and tensions regarding sexual harassment and violence heretofore suppressed within your organization. Employees will object (probably vociferously) to the imposition of the We-Consent app requirement. Some will worry about the risk of false accusations (as what happened to Joe Lonsdale). Hear them out. Then explain why behavior change is needed -- not mere words. Ask for suggested alternatives. Remind them that status quo, stasis, and SOP’s are not acceptable any longer.

Our organization is available to assist you with these meetings. We have over twenty years’ experience dealing with the negativity and shock which comes from a demand for sudden change regarding institutional attitudes. We can help educate your team or your firm as a whole (and as non-profit we are inexpensive).

The second step is to implement change. Not a study. Not words. Not personnel replacements. Change. Sexual harassment and violence need to have consequences. It is clear these problems plague an entire swath of the American economy. Addressing the problem demands investment not band aids. Tweaking the program we suggest above to best fit your firm’s needs can be done in days.

The bottom line is that the time has come for action.

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Silicon Valley’s problem is echoed on American college campuses. At a college, this is referred to as eliminating “hostile environments.” While your firm is NOT a college, it can benefit from the lessons learned as colleges struggle with these issues. We modeled the above on the behavioral change program we have proposed to American colleges and universities.

We write to you today to urge that you as an individual and that your firm and its investment companies as organizations begin the hard work of eliminating sexually harassment and discrimination in all forms from the subtle to the violent.

Invite us out to speak. We can help you make a difference.

Please visit Empowering Victims

Michael Lissack, Executive Director, ISCE.edu, lissack@isce.edu, (617) 710-9565

Debra DeSousa, Director, Campus Relations, ddesousa@isce.edu, (734) 498-8406

Renn Brown, Deputy Director, Campus Operations, renn@isce.edu, (704) 860-7121

Links:

Affirmative Consent Project http://affirmativeconsent.com

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