Stop sexism graffiti in Turin, November 2016
Three venture capitalists have been forced to apologise after allegations in the media of gender discrimination and sexual harassmentProf.lumacorno / Wikimedia Commons

A number of prominent technology venture capitalists have been forced to issue apologies and admit to playing a role in perpetuating a culture of sexism and harassment in Silicon Valley following a string of damning allegations.

Over the weekend, both Chris Sacca and Dave McClure released statements apologising for their behaviour, after the New York Times (NYT) published an article on Friday 30 June about sexual harassment in the tech startup scene. Sacca was an early investor in Twitter and Uber, while McClure is the co-founder of Accelerator and investment firm 500 Startups.

The article points fingers directly at Sacca and McClure, and was the result of interviews with 24 women, many of whom provided corroborating emails and messages as evidence.

The NYT chose to embark on its investigation after tech site The Information published a damning piece on Thursday 22 June where six women alleged they experienced unwanted sexual advances (including groping) when seeking funding or advice on starting businesses from Justin Caldbeck, a well-connected Silicon Valley venture capitalist.

Caldbeck has now taken an indefinite leave of absence from Binary Capital, the firm he co-founded. He issued a statement apologising and says he is seeking professional counselling. Separately, Caldbeck and his venture capital firm Binary Capital are being sued for defamation and allegedly making false claims about a former female employee to prevent her from getting a new job after she resigned from the firm.

Stuck in a bubble

After the NYT article went live, Sacca wrote a blog post on Medium in which he disputed an account about him allegedly touching Susan Wu's face in a way that made her uncomfortable in 2009.

However he admitted that he had very likely contributed to making the tech industry feel inhospitable to women by being stuck "in a bubble" and only associating with people who are similar to him.

He apologised unreservedly, saying that conversations with friends and others over the past week before the story went live had helped him understand that his behaviour had likely made some women feel self-conscious, anxious and fear they might not be taken seriously.

"I am sorry. In my mind, because I hadn't acted in a way that exploited an imbalance of power or vulnerability in a VC-founder relationship, I've generally considered myself one of the 'good guys'," Sacca wrote.

"But's that's the crucial lesson I am learning right now in real-time: It's the unrelenting, day-to-day culture of dismissiveness that creates a continually bleak environment for women and other underrepresented groups. I contributed to that, and am thus responsible for the unfairly harder road that everyone other than white men must travel in our industry."

He admitted that he has never once faced discrimination or prejudice, and that he benefited from extensive privilege throughout his life. In particular, he said that early on in his career, he was trying to fit in and be accepted, and to that end, he often "didn't speak up" about "blatantly discriminatory hiring".

Sacca said he has already been aggressively supporting women and other underrepresented groups in the tech industry in the past few years, and that he intends to continue doing so, as well as to advocate on their behalf.

"I'm a creep. I'm sorry."

McClure, on the other hand, admits that he probably deserves to be called a creep for making inappropriate advances to Sarah Kunst (one of the women interviewed by the NYT) when she was asking him about a job.

He allegedly sent her a Facebook message that read, "I was getting confused figuring out whether to hire you or hit on you."

"I made advances towards multiple women in work-related situations, where it was clearly inappropriate. I put people in compromising and inappropriate situations, and I selfishly took advantage of those situations where I should have known better. My behaviour was inexcusable and wrong," he wrote on Medium.

"Again my apologies to Sarah for my inappropriate behaviour in a setting I thought was social, but in hindsight was clearly not. It was my fault and I take full responsibility. She was correct in calling me out.

"For these and other incidents where I have been at fault, I would like to apologise for being a clueless, selfish, unapologetic and defensive ass."

McClure and his co-founder Christine Tsai have both emphasised that neither Tsai nor other senior management at 500 Startups were aware of his behaviour until a few months ago. And when senior management spoke to him about the allegations, McClure admits he was initially defensive and refused to accept responsibility for his actions.

However, he has now realised that he is the problem and has handed over the day-to-day running of the venture capital firm to Tsai. McClure's role has now been limited to general partner, and it remains to be seen whether he will keep this role, as some investors are now calling for him to be removed.