The technology industry comes with many promises. Executives like to think they’re building a better world—one where people can come together, learn, and make tons of money free from the confines and outdated thinking of the old, stodgy institutions holding innovation back. But just because there’s a path for a guy without a college degree to become a billionaire doesn’t mean that trajectory is open to everyone.
One thing the tech industry definitely promises if you’re a woman is that you’re almost certainly going to be sexually harassed, assaulted, or treated worse than men. This is a sad fact of life for many women in tech. But this year some of these women started going public, in large part thanks to the brave work of Susan Fowler, who in February came forward about her experiences as an engineer at Uber, where a workplace culture of sexism and harassment was pervasive. Fowler’s story opened the floodgates, and ever since there’s been a steady stream of allegations from women in tech detailing their stories of harassment, discrimination, or even flat-out assault.
Those reports have lead some powerful men to step down from their posts, including Justin Caldbeck, the co-founder of Binary Capital, who was accused of making unwanted advances toward half a dozen women in a report from the Information. Caldbeck left his post as managing partner in June after apologizing to the women he “made feel uncomfortable in any way, at any time.”
Now, months after taking his leave of absence, Caldbeck recently went on LinkedIn to update his professional network about his new line of work—as Arlan Hamilton, founder of Backstage Capital, noted on Twitter. Only Caldbeck didn’t list a company or a new academic pursuit. Instead, he notes that he’s taken a position as “Head of Self-Reflection, Accountability & Change,” where he is “focused on acknowledging my mistakes, making amends and making change.” As of Monday, Caldbeck’s LinkedIn profile still read that he was working as a “Head of Self-Reflection.”
Caldbeck has company, including Dave McClure, who founded 500 Startups, a well-known early-stage venture capital fund. According to a report in the New York Times this summer, McClure made inappropriate advances toward a female company founder, Sarah Kunst, whose conversations ended with 500 Startups after she discussed Caldbeck’s behavior with one of his co-workers. Like Caldbeck, McClure apologized and left his post. But also like Caldbeck, according to Hamilton’s tweet, McClure also described his new work with a satirical update on LinkedIn, which read that McClure is now working as a “janitor” at “DMC,” likely his initials. The jokey job status has since been removed from his LinkedIn page.
Since nothing on the internet is as ephemeral as we’d sometimes prefer, the screenshot lives on as a testament to what looks like a man who not only appears to lack any humility, but doesn’t seem to take seriously the impact of unwanted advances on women in the tech industry. Feeling like you have to bow to people in power to advance your career is real and common, and the fact that men in power take advantage of that dynamic is real, too. And it can all have real consequences for women’s senses of self-worth: How could they not ask themselves if their career advancements had been premised on sexual expectations or a superior’s sexual interest?
In the case of both updates, it’s easy to glean an intention on the part of the executives to return to their old worlds—that this is a hiatus. Maybe Caldbeck really will conduct some honest soul-searching and come to a more nuanced understanding of how his power and privilege, especially when abused, can undermine the power of others. That he’s cracking wise, unfortunately, suggests he might not yet understand how discouraging being hit on in a professional setting—especially one where you’re trying to strike a deal for venture capital—really is. Sexual harassment in tech isn’t something that will only pass with time. It needs more than a timeout. Changing the dynamics that allow men to objectify women in the workplace will take a lot of work, especially from men like Caldbeck who are in power, already make lots of money, and probably don’t want to do anything different than what they’ve done until now.
Joking or not, at least Caldbeck said he was engaged in “accountability & change.” McClure went with “Janitor”—as if he’s cleaning up other people’s messes and not his own.