I’m a successful woman in tech — and I didn’t complain to HR about the sexual harassment I’ve experienced

Donna Harris

Donna Harris is cofounder of 1776, a global startup incubator and seed fund headquartered in Washington, D.C. She can be reached via Twitter @dharrisindc.

In the aftermath of “the Google memo” I had to read Eric Weinstein’s tweet multiple times to be sure I’d read it correctly….

Complain to HR tweet
Like Eric, I too am a venture capitalist and a techie. Long ago, I started my career as a Systems Engineer. I’ve worked for big companies like Oracle and run several startups of my own. Some failed; some soared and produced nice exits. I’ve raised tens of millions of dollars, run a VC fund and run incubators around the world.

You could say that, over my 25 successful years in tech, I’ve been around the block a few times. And, I can tell you, most of those blocks were littered with rampant sexism, mansplaining, unconscious bias and some downright ugly discrimination.

Yet I didn’t complain to HR.

I didn’t complain to HR when the president of [our unit in] Korea took me to a brothel and bought me a prostitute. Or when that same president sent his managing director to my hotel room in the middle of the night to threaten me if I did complain. Or when he withheld my plane ticket (back in the days when you needed old fashioned paper to board a plane) so I was, in essence, hostage in a foreign country.

I didn’t complain to HR when the male sales reps I worked alongside took their clients to strip clubs. Or when my boss joined them. Or when they all came to work hung over the next day and recounted their adventures loudly for all to hear.

I didn’t complain to HR when coworker after coworker assumed traveling for business gave him a free pass to come on to me. Or when they commented on my cleavage.

I didn’t complain to HR when I was pursued by one of my investors doggedly trying to get me to sleep with him. Or when my other investors told me they invested because I reminded them of their daughters.

I didn’t complain to HR when I was asked to step out of a photo so my male CO-founder and CO-CEO could be featured in a cover story solo. Or when I was repeatedly mistaken for his assistant when copied on emails.

I didn’t complain to HR when my boss took my idea for a new business line and handed it to his buddy to run, telling me the business would “do better if led by a man with gray hair.”

I didn’t complain to HR the 8,000 times I was interrupted, mansplained, dismissed, ignored, or not invited. Or when I was told I was too bossy or called intimidating. Or all the times I was told to stop talking so much about diversity problems or sexism in tech.

I didn’t complain to HR because, like nearly every woman on the planet, I was doing was I was taught my whole life to do. Be nice.

Have you ever been too nice and ended up in a situation that could have been avoided if you just would’ve been an a–h-le?

My neighbor, Amy, shared this quote a few weeks ago, and my response was “So. Much. This.” I spent much of my career being nice. Making others feel comfortable. Not rustling any feathers. Because, God forbid, my confidence, dignity, power, and assertiveness might be labeled as bitchiness.

So, Eric, as I reflected on your tweet, I just want to say thanks…

Thanks for helping me reflect on all the times I didn’t complain to HR. It reminded me of all the times I was too nice, when I should have been an asshole and called out the bad behavior behavior around me. It solidified for me that, despite the passing of 25 years (!!!!!), not much has changed — the bros’ of the Valley, tech, and venture are not going lead the way to changing a very sexist system.

Thanks for reminding me that, despite the continuous stream of disgusting frat boy behavior all around me, I managed to succeed in ways most men only dream of. Which reminded me of all the evidence that shows women actually get higher returns on capital when they do get venture capital. Which re-motivated me to find ways to help women succeed. So we can make voices like yours irrelevant.

Or, as my mom used to say “kill them with kindness.”

she is kind but strong, and that is where so many mistake her. they interpret her kindness for weakness and force her to show her strength.

I know I’m not alone in having these sorts of stories. Share yours and encourage others to do the same, with the hashtag #didntcomplaintoHR.

SEE ALSO: How a laid-off woman in her 50s learned to code and launched a whole new career

SEE ALSO: Inside the world of Silicon Valley’s ‘coasters’ — the millionaire engineers who get paid gobs of money and barely work

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