Lessons from the 500 Startups saga: We asked the Australian startup community what fighting harassment really looks like

Annie Parker with Anthony Farah

Annie Parker with Anthony Farah. Source: Supplied

It’s been a huge week for the startup ecosystem, with several important conversations sparked by news of Dave McClure resigning from 500 Startups, the venture capital fund he founded in 2010.

Amid mounting claims of inappropriate behaviour, partners at 500 Startups resigning over concerns about the leadership team, trending twitter hashtags like #brolash and the news LaunchVic was threatening to pull the plug on the 500 Melbourne program, one question shines through: What can Australia’s startup ecosystem actually do to tackle bad behaviour?

StartupSmart asked entrepreneurs, mentors and investors in the Australian startup space for their thoughts on how we can change culture and attitudes towards discrimination and harassment in the startup space. Here are some actionable suggestions for startups to prevent these behaviours taking hold in their business.

Annie Parker – Lighthouse, muru-D, Code Club Aus, TechFugees Aus co-founder

If a colleague, friend, founder, investor, mentor – anyone – says or does something that you believe can hurt someone else, SHOUT UP AND SHOUT LOUD.

We need for reporting [of] this unconscionable behaviour to be the accepted norm – not the other way round.

And if you don’t know how to handle a situation, ask for help.  Call me, call any of the hundred or so people on the signatory list of our statement against harassment in the Aussie ecosystem – you are not alone.

Aaron Birkby – Startup Catalyst chief executive, River City Labs entrepreneur in residence 

Culture starts at the top. It’s not enough to have a cultural statement or workplace policy.  Everyone in a position of leadership has to lead by example, through every choice of word and every action, every day.

James Cameron – Partner at AirTree Ventures

It’s up to us as VCs to show that we stand behind female founders. Thirty percent of the companies in our portfolio have been founded by women, but we can and will do better.

We’re taking action to increase this number through mentoring more female founders and doing more to highlight the success stories amongst the female founders in our portfolio like Stacey (TidyMe), Taryn (TheRightFit), Karoli (Jobbatical), Audrey (GlamCorner), Natalie (HyperAnna) and Melanie (Canva). We will also soon be announcing some additions to this list.

Abbie Burgess – Envato HR, Diversity & Inclusion Advisor

Australian startups are in a good place to focus more on creating workplace cultures built on trust and honesty, and we know that this in turn helps to provide employees with a greater sense of safety/security to respond with emphasis and support when these issues arise.

Fiona Boyd – Heads over Heels chief executive

Encourage diversity in teams, and ensure wherever possible that there is broad representation from all members of society regardless of their gender, ethnicity, age or religion: After all it will be this varied group of individuals that will most closely represent the potential markets for products and services you may wish to launch.

Ensure that hiring and recruitment guidelines actively promote and seek for this diversity, by ensuring that the prospective short-list of candidates comprises women or other candidates who may be ‘different’ to the standard hires. 

Create role models and celebrate their success, so that others are inspired to follow and create their own amazing companies and cultures.  It is particularly important that we highlight the achievements of women entrepreneurs and other groups who have previously flown under the radar, to change perceptions of what an ‘entrepreneur’ looks like and how they behave.

Monica Wulff – Startup Muster chief executive and co-founder

In terms of actionable items, I see it coming down to culture and senior members of staff reinforcing that culture. You can create policies, but unless they’re reinforced and led through example they won’t be followed.  Recognising that your employees and their welfare is of paramount importance to your business is a great place to start.

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Daniel Mumby
4 years ago

Angela, questions are a good start, but we need to go further -much further-like this. https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/gender-integrity-ethical-behaviour-vc-venture-capital-daniel