I have hesitated to weigh in on the trickle of takedowns of female founders/CEOs over the last month. For one thing, I am no longer a journalist and so I’m enjoying the fact that I don’t have to have a take on something for the first time in 20 years. For another, it makes me uneasy.
There are plenty of female leaders I have taken issue with and criticized. But I set a high bar for doing it. And that’s not because women should blindly support women, but because the pile-on when a woman f*cks up is overdone and gendered and I don’t like being a part of it. Put another way: The entire Internet is piling on, do I really need to weigh in too? (Or in the case of Elisabeth Holmes: All of Hollywood. How many movies and TV shows were commissioned about her?)
My friend Sara Mauskopf wrote about the inevitable take down of female CEOs for TechCrunch and she captured my unease about the topic and why I haven’t weighed in. A lot of these founders absolutely did bad things. In a vacuum should they be fired? Maybe. Probably.
Definitely in some cases. But this isn’t a vacuum: This is Silicon Valley. A place where the cult of the founder is so strong that male founders who do far worse don’t get fired, or if they do, they rapidly get funded to launch second acts.
In some cases the “sins” of female founders amount to a hard-driving culture. The exact thing that many VCs demand of male founders. That’s a profound gender tightrope female founders have to walk: Prove you can be as harsh and unrelenting as a male founder, but if the press finds ou—welp!—here’s your severance package.
I still don’t have a lot to say about this. Except this: Did you see this story about the CEO of Synapse Financial Technologies getting sued for gender bias? From Bloomberg: “The CEO ‘undermined, intimidated, and toyed with the female employees,’ the women said in the complaint, which also alleges that Pathak made ‘overt, graphic sexual comments in front of and to female employees and demeaned and belittled them.’”
And also this:
“In September, Synapse made news. It had raised $23 million in a funding round led by prominent venture firm Andreessen Horowitz, which declined to comment for this story. Its general partner, Angela Strange, was aware of some concerns surrounding the CEO, according to two people familiar with the matter who asked not to be identified discussing private information. But Strange—who focuses on ‘increasing inclusivity’ as part of her mandate at the firm according to its website—thought she would be able to help improve the culture at the company, one of the people said. She decided to invest anyway.”
At Pando, I had a name for industry “nannies” who parachute in, infantilize male founders who do horrible things as simply not knowing any better, give them cover, and enable further abuse: Fiduciary cool girls. It’s more galling in the case of people like Arianna Huffington and Sheryl Sandberg who pretend to stand for things—a campaign against “drowsy driving” in Huffington’s case or women standing up for one another in Sheryl’s—and throw those values under the bus for the sake of giving these men cover.
I don’t know Strange, and I don’t know this company. But if the treatment of female CEOs who’ve been rapidly fired for creating hard charging cultures isn’t gendered, surely we’re about to see this male CEO charged with much worse in a lawsuit, not just leaked emails and screenshots, get fired, right?
Today’s new questions on Chairman Mom:
- What’s the current guidance on year-end/holiday tipping for the people that keep your world turning?
- We’re thinking of driving up the coast from LA to SF. What are some kid-friendly recommendations?