In wake of Binary Capital scandal, VC firms dust off sexual harassment policies

In the course of a week, allegations of sexual harassment and predatory behavior have unraveled Binary Capital, launched a lawsuit by a former employee, and prompted renewed discussion over how to address gender discrimination in venture capital.

Plenty of venture firms and managing partners have weighed in publicly, censuring now-departed Binary Capital Managing Partner Justin Caldbeck’s alleged behavior and committing to a decency pledge spearheaded by Reid Hoffman of Greylock Ventures.

But many firms are less willing to discuss their own policies and safeguards to prevent a similar situation from happening.

In the wake of the allegations against Caldbeck, VCJ reached out to more than 40 venture firms with a series of questions: Does the firm have a human resources department? Does it have a written sexual harassment policy? Would the firm provide VCJ with a copy of the policy? And have the recent public allegations at Binary Capital and Uber prompted the firm to create or update its sexual harassment policy, or prompted internal discussions about sexual harassment in general?

Many small companies do not have a dedicated human resource generalist. In California, only employers with 50 or more employees are required to offer harassment training, including sexual harassment, every two years.

The majority of firms, including some with partners who have publicly spoken against gender discrimination and sexual harassment in venture capital and committed to the decency pledge on Twitter, did not respond to VCJ or declined to comment. That includes Sequoia Capital, whose partner Roelof Botha tweeted in support of the decency pledge, and other prominent firms like Andreessen Horowitz, Benchmark and Khosla Ventures.

Binary Capital also did not respond to a request for comment.

Greycroft Partners declined to respond to VCJ’s questionnaire. But in a separate email the firm noted that they have a higher-than-industry-average number of female partners.

Other firms, however, shared their sexual harassment policies or offered insight into how partners and staff were responding to the scandal. Many expressed support that the issue was being addressed publicly.

Data Collective co-founder and Managing Partner Matt Ocko said his firm is too small to have a dedicated HR department, but that its CFO supervises HR functions and policies, including a sexual harassment policy.

“We are pleased to see this issue receive the attention it deserves so that the workplace is fair and equitable for all employees,” Ocko wrote. “While we recognize that there continues to be much room for improvement, we are encouraged at the progress that is being made, and look forward to continuing to be part of the solution.”

Venrock said it called an all-hands meeting this week “specifically to address this topic and welcome thoughts and questions from employees,” wrote Vice President of Marketing Nicole Pack. The firm has an HR department and a sexual harassment policy, although she declined to share it with VCJ.

“Sunlight is the best disinfectant,” wrote Bradley Tusk, founder and chief executive of Tusk Ventures. “The more people’s stories are out there, the more it forces change.”

Tusk Ventures shared the firm’s sexual harassment policy, which outlines a zero-tolerance stance on the issue and applies to interactions involving not only employees but “vendor, customer, visitor, or agent of the company.”

At Greylock, Marketing Partner Elisa Schreiber declined to directly answer VCJ’s questions, but pointed out that the firm supports Hoffman’s blog post on the human rights of women entrepreneurs, which launched the #DecencyPledge hashtag.

“Our partnership has always had a strong culture for how we behave with entrepreneurs and with each other, but we are committed to formalizing our policy on this topic and will share our policy once it is final,” she wrote.

Norwest Venture Partners and Menlo Ventures offered similar responses. Both firms maintain human resource departments and have written sexual harassment policies, although they declined to share their written policies with VCJ.

“The recent news has prompted internal discussions and we support the sentiments in the Decency Pledge,” wrote Menlo Ventures’ Director of Marketing Jenny Saling. “It is a topic that is very important to us as a firm both internally and as members of the wider venture and entrepreneurial ecosystem.”

And Ellie Javadi, senior director of marketing at Norwest, underscored the importance of non-discrimination not only among a firm’s employees but with founders as well. “Decency is a non-negotiable core value in all business interactions including those between VCs and entrepreneurs,” she wrote.

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Correction: The comment from Tusk Ventures was initially misidentified. It came from founder Bradley Tusk.