Vinod Khosla: Sexual harassment in Silicon Valley ‘perceived as a reality’

Longtime and influential venture capitalist Vinod Khosla was back in the news after saying sexual harassment in Silicon Valley is rare compared to other industries.

Speaking at a trade event in Palo Alto Thursday evening, Khosla shared his non-statistical “impression” on the issue, saying he believes that it is overblown due to the high media profiles of the alleged harassers, Recode reports.

Silicon Valley has been embroiled in a spate of sexual harassment scandals involving high-power venture capitalists and female staffers and startup founders.

Former “Shark Tank” star Chris Sacca wrote a public apology in advance of a New York Times article on sexual harassment. Binary Capital founder Justin Caldbeck and 500 Startups founder Dave McClure took an indefinite leave and resigned from their positions, respectively.

A blog post by former Uber engineer Susan Fowler Rigetti on the company’s harassment culture in February triggered a chain of events that ultimately led to other women speaking out and Uber CEO Travis Kalanick’s resignation.

While Khosla was “a little surprised” by the revelations, he said Silicon Valley is a safe place for women.

“I did not know that there was any discrimination,” Khosla said. “It’s a reality because it’s perceived as a reality. And perception is more important than reality.”

Khosla also said no women felt harassed by him or his employees at Khosla Ventures.

Despite Khosla’s assurances, sexual harassment in Silicon Valley is considered to be a pervasive cultural problem. A 2016 survey involving 200 women in tech found 60 percent of women reported unwanted sexual advances at work.

One key reason more women have not come out may be due to companies’ strict non-disclosure agreements, according to employment lawyers.

“Those types of clauses can prevent people from coming forward, and end up covering up sexual harassment,” Maya Raghu, director of workplace equality for the National Women’s Law Center, told the Mercury News’ Marisa Kendall.

Social media reactions to Khosla’s comments were largely not kind:

Photo: Venture capitalist Vinod Khosla leaves San Mateo County Superior Courthouse after testifying Monday afternoon May 12, 2014, in Redwood City. Khosla was called to testify about his refusal to open public access to a stretch of beach along the San Mateo County coastline. Now, Khosla appears to be denying that Silicon Valley has a problem with sexual harassment. (Karl Mondon/Bay Area News Group)


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  • Brian

    I interpret this as saying “Sexual harassment is not limited to Silicon Valley in fact it is worse in other areas” I don’t know if I disagree with that as long as it is followed by “and it needs to stop everywhere. This should be addressed as a wide spread problem and not a problem that is a Silicon Valley problem”.

    By making this a “Silicon Valley” or a “Tech” problem you are limiting it and doing a disservice to people getting harassed who are not in tech or Silicon Valley. This happens in all industries and all parts of the country (and certainly the world). Tech is facing the issue now, but what is happening else where?

  • Frances Mann-Craik

    Mr. Khosla – you are WRONG!

    As a “longtime and influential” member of the Silicon Valley VC community your voice has more weight than most, so it is disturbing to read your thoughtless comments about sexual harassment in this article. With all due respect sir, YOU ARE WRONG!

    1) “Sexual harassment in Silicon Valley is rare.” As a woman with 40-years experience in Silicon Valley high tech, I can assure you sexual harassment is not rare here. Whenever people of power, who lack self-control and moral standards, are given unfettered power, sexual harassment can and does occur. Not just at the lofty VC firms, but throughout every IT company – startup to Fortune 100, from top to bottom.

    2) “….compared to other industries.” Actually, it’s worse in high tech. Start with the fact that only 25% of high tech workers are female. Just the 1:4 ratio of women to men sets up a disadvantage for women. Per the article, in a survey of tech women, “60 percent of women reported unwanted sexual advances at work.” By comparison, a July 2016 survey by Hart Research* found that 40% of women in the restaurant industry have suffered sexual harassment. *

    3) “…overblown due to the high media profiles of the alleged harassers.” Some consider the problem of sexual harassment in high tech has been seriously “under blown” for decades. We women of the ‘70s were just so thrilled to secure professional jobs and promotions, that we’ve kept our mouths shut and our heads down. We didn’t “blow the whistle” for fear of losing our jobs. (I once lost a job for refusing the sleep with the CEO. I never said anything for fear of being black balled in my career. ) It’s a small valley and word gets around. I applaud the bravery of the young women of today who are speaking out.

    4) “I did not know that there was any discrimination,” Khosla said. Sir, sexual harassment and sex discrimination are two very different things. Both are important. Both exist in the Silicon Valley. YOU should know they exist and if not you should learn about them.

    5) “Khosla also said no women felt harassed by him or his employees at Khosla Ventures.” Have you ever asked them?

    Mr. Khosla, women are trying hard to have a fair shot. We don’t “perceive” these problems; we LIVE these realities every day. YOU have now made our problem worse. Please learn more about these issues so that you can become part of the solution. Let’s have lunch and I’ll tell you my personal sexual harassment stories and how I succeeded in spite of them!

    Frances Mann-Craik
    CEO Addison Marketing

  • Lynne

    I can’t believe this guy actually believes his own drivel. And given that he’s a powerful male, he’s certainly not likely to be on the receiving end of sexual harassment, is he? So how the Heck would he even know???