A template for investor/founder sexual harassment policy



This policy template is a collaborative effort by a group of whistleblowers, investors, founders, and activists, compiled by TechCrunch. The full list of contributors can be found below.

Venture capitalists need to adopt formal policies to protect startup founders from sexual harassment, assault, and discrimination throughout the fundraising process. The policy template below was created to facilitate the creation of comprehensive, enforceable investor/founder sexual harassment policies. It also seeks to lower the barrier so more people can courageously speak up against their harassers without fear of retaliation.

We hope to see all VC firms draw from this template to formalize their own binding policies, establish them with urgency, and consistently follow-through with ejecting or punishing staff that violate them.

It’s important to acknowledge that this is merely a jumping off point that should help generate conversation and, more importantly, action on the part of firms and founders. The long-term ability of people in power to impact the quality of life of entrepreneurs, employees and users is worthy of more discussion.

[For more on how firms can ensure fair enforcement, and how this cultural shift towards decency can avoid causing a chilling effect on fundraising for female-led startups, check out TechCrunch editor Josh Constine’s accompanying op-ed “The need for industry-wide investor/founder harassment policy.” Constine also coordinated, compiled and edited the information contributed to this template. -Ed.]

Founders should expect and push their investors or those they consider partnering with to have made a clear commitment to eliminating harassment. Those looking to support this drive can share this template with the hashtag #HarassmentPolicy. 

Purpose And Context

  • Declaration of the goal to eliminate sexual harassment and discrimination in startup funding
  • Statement of values regarding why protecting founders from harassment by investors is necessary due to the imbalanced power dynamic
  • Explanation that standard  sexual harassment law does not adequately cover the investor/founder relationship, so voluntary policy is needed
  • Recognition that harassment and discrimination perpetrators and recipients can be of any gender or identity, though most often women are harassed by men
  • Discussion of the need for a culture of explicit consent
  • Encouragement of founders and LPs to demand formal sexual harassment policy from investors with whom they work
  • Note that meetings after-hours or in informal locations are part of the fundraising process, and that typical sexual harassment policies do not prohibit appropriate contact in these settings
  • Acknowledgement that startups also need strong internal sexual harassment and discrimination policies
  • Context that fixing sexual harassment and discrimination is part of a larger need to address all kinds of discrimination and harassment in the technology and startup industry, including sexism, racism, ageism, and ableism

Investor/Founder Sexual Harassment And Discrimination Policy

  • Zero-tolerance for investors overtly sexually assaulting, harassing, or discriminating against founders or their teams
  • Stern punishment for other violations of the policy
  • Scope of those bound by the policy that beyond investment partners may include any investment decision makers including VC firm staff, advisors, scouts, board members, or anyone else that could retaliate against a founder, or influence the funding decision about a startup
  • Scope of those protected by the policy beyond founders receiving investment, including founders who pitch or discuss potential investment with the firm, their fundraising teams, and potentially all staff, plus anyone the firm tries to recruit to their portfolio companies

Prohibited Forms Of Harassment Or Discrimination

Level A: Verbal Or Gender Harassment

  • Inappropriate comments about physical appearance or romantic life
  • Degrading sexual or sexist remarks, innuendos, and jokes

Level B: Direct Sexual Propositions

  • Sexual advances including repeated requests for dates, drinks, or personal contact
  • Inappropriate sexually-themed communication in person or online
  • Sexual invitations including requests for sexual activity or romantic meetings at one’s home or hotel room

Level C: Sexual Coercion Or Bribery

  • Quid Pro Quo harassment including implicit or explicit requests for sexual activity or silence about harassment in exchange for reward including funding, referrals, future employment, promotion, or invitation to exclusive events
  • Sexual coercion under threat of punishment including defamation, firing, negative reviews, or blocking funding

Level D: Sexual Assault

  • Unconsented physical contact of a sexual nature, including touching, groping, or kissing
  • Sexual contact without proper consent due to intoxication
  • Rape

Enforcement

  • Enforcement policy with consequences for each level of violation will be internally published and available to prospective portfolio companies, LPs, or hires to the firm as part of the due diligence process
  • Training in following the policy, its enforcement, and complaint reporting procedures will be mandatory all new and existing firm team members, and updated regularly
  • Violators of the policy face punishment including ejection from the firm
  • Subjects of harassment will be protected from retaliation or being publicly named
  • Whistleblowers will be protected from retaliation or being publicly named
  • Firm members aware of violations who do not report the problem to the firm or outside mediator will be punished in compliance with the firm’s enforcement policy for willfully ignoring or enabling violations
  • Complaints will be swiftly addressed with priority over day-to-day business
  • Resolution disputes will be referred to independent third-party review and mediation
  • Agreement to do due diligence on prospective firm employees and  not knowingly hire or work with those rightfully fired by other firms for violating the policy
  • Clear guidelines on how past violations by someone prior to working with the firm will be handled, including whether all past violations are punishable or if there is a statute of limitation
  • A process for what happens to prior investments, in-progress deals, board seats, and fundraising connected to a venture partner fired for violating this policy, such as adding clauses to terms sheets, limited partner agreements, and general partner operating agreements

Supplemental Recommendations

  • Scheduling regular in-person anti-harassment and anti-discrimination training for all new and existing firm members
  • Setting aside long-term funding to pay for outside independent review and mediation of disputed resolutions to complaints, such that mediators aren’t incentivized to protect the firm
  • Avoiding non-disparagement clauses in contracts that are designed to silence those who are harassed or whistleblowers
  • Proactively surveying portfolio companies regarding whether they or their colleagues have been harassed
  • Disclosure to LPs, portfolio companies, staff, and when appropriate, the public, if someone is ejected from the firm because of sexual harassment or discrimination policy violations to discourage them engaging in the same behavior elsewhere

Contributing Writers:

  • Cheryl Yeoh Sew Hoy, founding CEO of Cheryl Yeoh & Co
  • Niniane Wang, founder of Evertoon
  • Susan Ho, founder of Journy
  • Sukhinder Singh Cassidy & Lesley Grossblatt, theBoardlist
  • Shaherose Charania, co-founder of Women 2.0, strategist at 23 Design
  • Kate Brodock, CEO of Women 2.0
  • Susan Hobbs, partner at CrunchFund
  • Dave Morin, partner at Slow Ventures
  • Jacqueline Garavente, analyst at Union Square Ventures
  • Eric Bahn, former venture partner at 500 Startups
  • Elizabeth Yin, former venture partner at 500 Startups
  • Hunter Walk, founding partner of Homebrew
  • Nicole Patrice De Member, CEO and founder of INDAIS
  • Ingrid Sanders, entrepreneur and advisor
  • Ernestine Fu, partner at Alsop Louie Partners

Special Thanks For Inspiration:



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