A state senator is looking to amend the laws protecting against discrimination and harassment in the workplace to ensure they cover entrepreneurs seeking funds to start a business.
The #metoo movement and other instances of women sharing stories of their experiences have prompted a new focus on sexual harassment in industries from Hollywood to restaurants to politics and pushed many workplaces, including the state legislature, to revisit their policies on reporting and preventing harassment.
Along the way, a “body of articles” has been published detailing sexual harassment in the venture capital world, said Sen. Cindy Friedman, describing the dynamic as “sort of an extension of the bro culture of high-tech now.”
Friedman, an Arlington Democrat, said she spoke with constituents who are active in the venture capital community and have experienced harassment. She decided to tackle the issue, filing a bill to broaden the state law prohibiting harassment and discrimination against employees.
“What’s covered is employee-employer relationships. What this does is it just expands the language so that it’s business transaction, and that it’s grantor-grantee, investor-investee, those relationships,” Friedman told the News Service. “It’s the power dynamics within basically the business community that we’re trying to focus on.”
Friedman’s bill (SD 1523), which is cosponsored by four other senators and four representatives, would also ban “any person whose business includes sponsoring, guaranteeing or granting funds or engaging in investment transactions” from discriminating based on race, religion, sex, gender identity, sexual orientation, or other characteristics.
Fortune magazine reported that all male-teams received about 79 percent of the total $85 billion invested by venture capitalists in 2017, while all-female teams received 2.2 percent, up slightly from the 1.9 percent the year before.
Friedman, who worked in the high-tech field for 20 years, said she found the small number of women working in that industry “were every bit the equal and in many cases surpassed their male colleagues.”
“So I know from experience that this doesn’t have to do with women’s ability to come up with good ideas or run a company or be part of the system, so one really has to look at what’s going on there, why there’s such an imbalance in who gets to start a company, who gets to run a company,” Friedman said.
She said she hopes her bill starts a conversation and “opens the door to more women entrepreneurs, to more women having access to funds to generate companies and bring new ideas to fruition.”
“I hope that it just levels the playing field, that’s all,” she said. “If you have a good idea, you shouldn’t be barred because of your sexual identity. We need all the good ideas we can get, and they don’t all come from men.”