State of Women in Tech Report Reveals 44% of Women Tech Founders Have Been Harassed

By Jemima McEvoy Thursday, September 24, 2020

While the tech industry is rapidly changing, women do not have the upper hand. As of 2018, less than 20% of tech positions in the US were held by women. Though female entrepreneurs are behind some of the country’s biggest and brightest companies, numerous industry barriers inhibit success, and women still struggle to obtain funding.

Each year, Women Who Tech — a nonprofit organization whose goal is to create a more inclusive economy and accelerate female tech entrepreneurs — attempts to quantify these divides. Women Who Tech has painted a thorough picture of today’s tech space for women by conducting interviews with over a thousand tech employees, founders, and investors worldwide. A whopping 70% of women in tech say they were treated differently at work due to their gender, compared to 11% of men. Here are the key takeaways from this year’s report, “The State of Women In Tech And Startups.”

Funding

Funding is often characterized as the number one barrier for female entrepreneurs. There is a massive funding gap between men and women. In 2017, only 16% of venture capital funding in the United States went to startups led by at least one woman. A mere 2.5% went to companies with all-female founders. A key issue may be the diversity of investors since just 9% of venture capitalists investing in tech startups, specifically, are women.

According to the report, this is still an issue today. Nearly 50% of women founders were told they would raise more money if they were a man. Additionally, 55% said they were treated differently while raising funding because of their gender, versus 35% of men who said they felt they were treated differently because of their gender.

Investors don’t seem to harbor the same concerns. In fact, most investors said a lack of funding is a venture capitalist pipeline problem, not related to bias. At least 70% of the investors interviewed (the majority were men) believe the underfunding of underrepresented founders has more to do with the investors’ pipeline than a lack of flow to that gender. The majority of investors don’t think access to funding is an issue. Per the report, 56% of investors believe “as long as you have a good product with a solid business plan and some traction, the tech sector provides the same opportunities regardless of who the founders are.” Consequently, to them, a lack of funding for underrepresented founders isn’t an issue.

"Only 2.7% of investor funding goes to women-led startups and .02% for Black women founders, yet 56% of investors don't think access to funding is a big deal, assuming that the best startups always rise to the top,” said Women Who Tech founder Allyson Kapin. “This is a complete disconnect from the reality and biased pattern recognition that women and underestimated founders face.”

Nonetheless, 82% of investors reported that their firms were implementing diversity, equity, and inclusion practices to increase portfolio range and include more underrepresented founders.

Harassment

While some of the biases against women are more insidious (i.e., more limited access to funding), other incarnations of sexism in the workplace or entrepreneurial space are less covert. Women have long experienced harassment while at work, and unfortunately, despite the energized #MeToo movement drawing attention to sexism and harassment, women in 2020 are still reporting similar problems.

Harassment of Women Tech Founders

Women founders continued to be harassed at alarming rates. In total, 44% of women founders said they have been harassed. LGBTQ founders and women of color both report being harassed at even higher rates: 65% and 47%, respectively, say they have experienced harassment. Furthermore, 43% of those who have experienced harassment said it occurred within the past year, even as the #MeToo gender equality movement was at its peak.

Sexual harassment is a bigger problem than before. When asked what type of harassment they experienced, 65% of women founders said they were propositioned for sex. This is 9% higher than the number of women founders who experienced the same problem in 2017 per the report’s previous findings. Furthermore, 59% of women experienced unwanted physical contact, 56% experienced someone directing a sexual slur toward them, 32% were groped, and 24% were sent graphic photos. All of these statistics were up from the 2017 report except experiencing unwanted physical contact (which was down 3%).

"Quite frankly, the amount of harassment that women in tech and women founders experience is disturbing,” said Craigslist founder, Craig Newmark, who also runs Craig Newmark Philanthropies and sits on Women Who Tech’s Advisory Board. “We need less ally theater and more people in positions of power to recognize that power, not abuse it, and support women in tech.”

More shockingly, many (40%) of the women founders who experienced harassment said an investor harassed them. Of those who experienced harassment, 59% said they were explicitly propositioned for sex in exchange for investment funding or introductions. Nearly 50% of those harassed were women of color founders, versus 38% of white women founders.

Harassment of Women Tech Employees

This problem is not unique to founders. Tech employees also report high rates of harassment. In fact, 42% of women working in tech say they experience harassment, compared to 11% of men. The majority (76%) say it was from another employee. Many (42%) say it was from a supervisor.

Of the women in tech who were harassed, 43% say they were sexually harassed. A shocking 35% were propositioned for sex, and 18% were propositioned for sex in exchange for a promotion.

Reporting Harassment

Per the study’s findings, women are reporting instances of harassment at a lower rate compared to 2017. Just 45% of women reported harassment to senior leadership, compared to 55% in 2017.

Another big issue is that 67% said they don’t trust how their company handles allegations of harassment. Additionally, when women did report harassment to HR, 85% said their harasser faced no repercussions at work.

These results show that while progress has been made, there is still a long way to go. Women are still experiencing bias relating to funding and harassment in the workplace. People need to be aware of these problems for the tech industry to address and resolve them.

About the Author


Headshot of Jemima McEvoy

Jemima is a journalist who enjoys reporting on business, particularly small business and entrepreneurship.

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