The Tech industry has long been accused of promoting a “boys club” atmosphere that is both dismissive of and antagonistic to women. Many big names in the industry have fought to dispel this reputation, but now a headline is being spread that brings that negative reputation back to the forefront. This, after venture capitalist Justin Caldbeck said he’s taking an “indefinite leave of absence” after being accused of sexually harassing women in the tech industry.
In a statement released by his firm, Binary Capital, Caldbeck said: “The gap of influence between male venture capitalists and female entrepreneurs is frightening, and I hate that my behavior played a role in perpetrating a gender-hostile environment…”
The statement and the leave of absence came after a report by tech journalist Reed Albergotti, who says at least six female tech leaders have accused Caldbeck of multiple unwanted advances including both late-night texts and groping. Caldbeck, despite stepping away from his firm for a time, flatly and strongly denied the claims, calling them attacks on his character.
Conversely, Caldbeck did say he was “deeply ashamed” of his “lack of self-awareness.” His statement also thanked the women who spoke out, saying it caused a “sobering look into my own character and behavior that I can no longer ignore…”
Two of the women, Leiti Hsu and Susan Ho, said they thought Caldbeck’s apology was a good start, but that more needed to be done: “We need men to be just as engaged in calling out the problem if we want to see real change… At this point, we’re happy to go back to focusing on running our company.”
It didn’t take long for at least many in the tech industry to take up the cause. Reid Hoffman, founder of LinkedIn, used his platform to publish a stark and blunt post about sexism in the tech industry, and in Silicon Valley in particular: “This is entirely immoral and outrageous behavior. And it falls to us to stand with you, to speak out, and to act… If you stay silent, if you don’t act, then you allow this problem to perpetuate.”
The tech industry has been a constant target of claims of sometimes aggressive and otherwise inappropriate behavior for years, and, lately, many of those accusations have blazed across the headlines. In the same week Caldbeck issued his mea culpa, there was a major shakeup at Uber that led to the resignation of CEO Travis Kalanick, which was the end result of a harassment complaint published by former Uber engineer Susan Fowler. A subsequent investigation led first to the firing of 20 Uber employees, then Kalanick’s investigation.
For Caldbeck, the leave of absence may have been the best proactive move to get back out ahead of this story. Time … and further investigation … will tell.