Addressing Sexual Assault: Cheryl Yeoh Shares Own Story & What Companies Must Do To Fix It
What can we do about sexual harassment in the workplace?
In a recent blogpost, MaGIC’s ex-founding CEO recounts her personal experience with sexual assault and lists down company policies that should be set in place
On 3 July, Cheryl Yeoh who is now based in San Francisco, wrote about her account after a New York Times coverage on sexual assault in the Silicon Valley. Her blogpost details her own account with prominent Silicon Valley investor and cofounder of 500 Startups, Dave McClure, who has been facing sexual assault accusations of inappropriate advances against women within the tech startup industry.
Cheryl kept her silence but was compelled to put forth her experience with Dave after reading his post, "I'm A Creep, I'm Sorry", a response for the sexual assault allegations.
In her blogpost, Cheryl "Shedding Light on the “Black Box of Inappropriateness” appeared to have a good working relationship with Dave and considered a subsequent partnership
In April 2014, Cheryl was plucked from Silicon Valley to manage MaGIC (Malaysian Global Innovation and Creativity Centre), an agency formed by ex US president, Barack Obama and the Malaysian Prime Minister, Najib Razak as an effort to kick off the startup culture in Malaysia.
Since the days of running her own startup Reclip.It, which was funded by Dave's startup incubator, 500 Startups, Cheryl and Dave have kept a good professional relationship to which she decided to carry on this preexisting partnership.
In the post, Cheryl describes the advances made by Dave she experienced three years ago
On 6 June 2014, Cheryl and and a few friends including Dave had a casual get together at her place to brainstorm about an accelerator programme for 500 Startups, branded 'Distro Dojo' and a hashtag for MaGIC. During that time, Dave is described to have been actively refilling Cheryl's glass of scotch.
When it was past midnight, all except for Dave had left with an Uber. Cheryl offered to get him an Uber but he said no. He had also declined to sleep on the couch or the guest room after she offered. Cheryl walked back to her room and that was when Dave made a move.
"Then I went into my own bedroom but Dave followed me there, and that’s when he first propositioned to sleep with me. I said no. I reminded Dave that he knew my then-boyfriend and that we’d just talked about him earlier that night.
At this point, I led him to the door and told him he needs to leave. On the way out, he pushed himself onto me to the point where I was backed into a corner, made contact to kiss me, and said something along the lines of “Just one night, please just this one time.” Then he told me how he really likes strong and smart women like me. Disgusted and outraged, I said no firmly again, pushed him away and made sure he was out my door."
Prior to that, Dave has also invited her twice to his hotel room before via private text
In June 2011, Cheryl's was featuring her startup CityPockets in an event in New York, Dave dropped by to congratulate her while later following up with a text inviting her to his hotel room for a chat. "I kept thinking to myself… this can’t be a proposition! It’s simply crazy! What balls does a VC (venture capitalist) have to send such a text that I can easily share with the press?" to which she ignored.
A year later in June 2012, Dave offered Cheryl a chance to join him at a grand entrepreneurial event, Xconomy Napa Summit. Later that night, she received another invite to his hotel room for some wine and she obliged but nothing happened that night. As Cheryl describes, "Dave sitting across the room from me the whole time, relating to me how he was lonely and an entrepreneur just like all of us, that nobody understands his side of the story as well as his own failures, struggles and insecurities."
Cheryl was conflicted about speaking out about the incident because it might have threatened the Distro Dojo deal which weighed on the entire region's future of startups
The timing of the assault had caught Cheryl in a difficult position. She explains, "On one hand, I was really upset with Dave’s individual misconduct and never wanted to work directly with him ever again, but on the other hand, if I said anything, I would most certainly kill the Distro Dojo deal."
She also noted how important the deal was for the region. To put it in perspective, the deal has helped boost local companies like GrabTaxi and Kfit, further crediting 500 Startups as what gave rise to the startup ecosystem here in the first place.
Cheryl makes it clear that her word is against Dave's individual misconduct and not 500 Startups
In her post, Cheryl still acknowledges and respects the work done by Dave and 500 Startups and wants things to change for the better.
“I believe in 500 Startups and want to find constructive ways to deal with this. Dave has done a lot for many founders, and people (including me) are grateful for his support in many ways. What he’s done for the startup community is commendable.
It’s tough for some to accept the truth that Dave abused his power for sexual gain and put women in compromising, powerless positions. But we need to acknowledge the difference between inappropriate behavior and assault. What I experienced with Dave was the latter.”
Khailee from 500 Startups and friend of Cheryl's shares his statement with us
"I'm angry and sad about what happened to Cheryl, even more so as she's a close friend.
At the same time, her choice to join 500's initiatives to strengthen industry practices for women, reinforces the shared belief in 500 as an organisation.
500's mission is larger than any one person. 150 staff (43% female) in 20 countries, 1,800 portfolio companies in 60 countries (30% female founders), and 500 cofounder Christine Tsai, leading 500 as CEO, will further build on our work. We will continue to be a platform for investing in and developing the full range of entrepreneurial talent including women, minorities, in Silicon Valley and beyond."
How can we fix this?
Here are some of the conditions Cheryl calls to be outlined in the workplace as part of company policy:
1. Identifying verbal harassment, especially gender-targeted ones
• Such as degrading and sexist comments
2. Direct sexual prepositions
• Aggressively implicating invites and/or requests that are suggestively sexual
3. Requesting for sexual favours in exchange for a reward
• Such as closing a deal, funding, withholding a promotion or using termination as threat
4. Physical sexual advances
• Inappropriate and possibly forceful touching, kissing, groping, and other forms of sexual misconduct
Next, providing a safe channel for reporting about the harassment:
• Have a hotline that attends to harassment which creates a safe way to communicate with the perpetrator in describing what they did wrong as a warning
• Reports to be recorded as data points and to be confronted by the firm
Also, training venture capitalists and founders on how to recognise harassment when it's happening:
• Holding portfolios within companies for inappropriate behaviour to be recorded for all stakeholders, thereby creating a safe passage for victims to report about a case without feeling compromised
Hold sexual harassment surveys in the company:
• Surveys to be taken of each other and in private
• Will act to encourage victims to step forward
Cheryl is working with the 500 management team to craft policies and raise awareness on sexual harassment in the community
Finalising the post, Cheryl says that she’s working alongside the 500 team to reach a solution to erase the norm of sexual harassment in the workplace not only in tech industries but across all professional settings.
Cheryl has also offered her support to those who have had similar experiences, encouraging them to contact her at [email protected]
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