Prominent Australian businessman, Daniel Petre has hit out at the “pathetic response” from the VC industry to sexual harassment, and issued a no-tolerance policy in the businesses he runs and supports.
Writing in the Australian Financial Review, Petre says all Australian firms and VCs should refuse to work with anyone outed (by others or themselves) for inappropriate behaviour. He added that all institutional investors should also refuse to fund any VC firm that is proven to have allowed sexual harassment to have occurred within their teams, without “severe ramifications” for those implicated.
“I am appalled that we can be in 2017 and still having to get angry about sexual harassment – especially in an industry that is meant to be forward looking and gender neutral,” he said.
Petre’s Airtree Ventures is a leader on backing female-led startups, with more than 30% of the businesses in its portfolio founded by at least one woman. TidyMe, TheRightFit, GlamCorner, Jobbatical and Canva are all in the portfolio and have female founders. “We didn’t back [them] because they were female. We backed them because they are outstanding founders. Simple as that,” Petre writes today.
Petre’s comments come following a New York Times piece in which more than two dozen women working in technology startups shared their stories of sexual harassment — particularly when seeking financing. A number of the prominent male VCs named in the story have issued public apologies, of sorts, with (now former) 500 startups CEO Dave McClure writing that he’s a “creep” and needed to take a good hard look in the mirror.
McClure visited Australia last month to launch 500 in Melbourne, as a guest of the Victorian state government.
Petre writes today that he believes his own firm can do better in supporting more female founders. “Of course we can. And we will.”
And he said AirTree partners are happy to sign a pledge on stamping out appalling behaviour in the industry, and has invited a number others to join in.
His pledge includes that:
“AirTree will not fund any founder who has been found to and/or admitted to inappropriate sexual advances ever.
“AirTree will work diligently to ensure that if such actions are undertaken by any staff at one of our portfolio companies – those staff members are immediately fired – regardless of the role they have. If the staff are not fired AirTree will not provide any further financial or other support. And of course, we will hold our own staff to the same standard.
“AirTree will continue to support female founders and continue to lead the Australian VC industry in terms of the number of portfolio companies founded by women.”