Elaine Stead launches a crowdsourced solution to sexism in Australia’s startup ecosystem

- March 11, 2024 3 MIN READ
elaine stead
VC investor Elaine Stead
Venture capital investor Elaine Stead has launched a free handbook on how to address sexism, harassment and other inappropriate behaviours in the tech sector.

Dr Stead, the founder of Human VC, said hundreds of Australian tech leaders have contributed to a new crowdsourced resource, “Addressing Sexism in Australian Tech & Investment”.

It contains a compilation of industry codes of conduct, methods of reporting, and enforcement measures from the likes of Blackbird, the Australian Investment Council, Southern Angels, and ANDHealth operations director, Jenna Polson. PR firm Third Hemisphere has assisted with the report’s creation.

Stead said she wants it to be to be a “living” document that will be added to as new approaches and solutions are offered.

The challenge, she says, is that intention and skills are misaligned when it comes to dealing with problems such as bullying, harassment and abuse.

The report also details why companies and individuals can struggle to speak out against the issues, the cost of inaction, and why the tech industry is particularly susceptible to sexism.

Stead wants any diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) specialists, more Australian VCs, and other tech sector leaders, to contribute their expertise to it.

To contribute email elaine[at]humanvc.co

“When we put out a public request for input to this industry-wide resource, many people proactively asked ‘how can we help?’,” Stead said.

“Yet in the ensuing 40-plus conversations we had, it became clear that many tech sector leaders had no idea how to address the problem, and weren’t aware that they were contributing to the issues themselves in various ways.

“Many companies were also notably small with limited resources, time, and training to deal with the issues, even if they had the best of intentions.

“So we wanted to lower the barriers to entry for avoiding and addressing poor behaviour, by making a one-stop-shop of pre-existing resources available to any interested party, free of charge.”

Dr Stead had her own very public experience of harassment at the hands of former Australian Financial Review columnist Joe Aston.

She launched a defamation case in response and was awarded $280,000.

Federal Court justice Michael Lee’s judgement said Aston “did single her out for focus and engaged in a sustained campaign of offensive mockery which amounted, in my view, to a form of bullying”, adding that “the targeted campaign of offensive mockery of Dr Stead was unjustified and improper”.

It continued even after Dr Stead revealed the personal cost, including suicidal ideation, and in 2021, partners and principals at several VC firms wrote to the AFR about its “ongoing smear campaign” against Stead in an open letter written by M8 Ventures partner Alan Jones that said “Australia has a problem with men who bully women“.

More recently, Dr Stead was among several women in the startup sector subjected to “a barrage of abusive, sexually harassing and vile comments” on LinkedIn by Sam Joel, founder of charitable startup GiveTree last November. He subsequently stepped down as CEO, with Third Hemisphere’s Hannah Moreno helping Joel to craft his apology.

The company has since deleted that apology from its LinkedIn page.

In the wake of that incident, a grassroots initiative Grapevine was launched by a group of women in tech a few weeks later. The platform shares personal stories about bullying, harassment and discrimination in tech, offering advice on how to address the problems people are dealing with.

Stead wrote about Grapevine and we need to listen to what women are saying about their treatment at work.

Download Addressing Sexism in Australian Tech & Investment here.

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