Jennifer Hyman, CEO of Rent the Runway clothing service said that she was the victim of sexual harassment but that gender discrimination is the larger issue and it’s not being addressed.
Hyman was speaking to 200 female startup CEOs at the Project Entrepreneur Summit in San Francisco. The conference had to turn away more than 500 applicants.
Project Entrepreneur is a joint venture between Rent the Runway and financial services giant UBS with the goal of creating a pipeline of highly effective female startup CEOs with the skills to build fast growing companies.
Sexual harassment can happen at anytime, she said. “It happened once when I had already raised $8m and I had revenues. He then went to my board and tried to get me fired. He tried to destroy me and my business.”
She had immediately reported the incident to her board. “I was lucky in that I had great relations with my board and they supported me completely.”
She advised female CEOs to speak about such incidents from the very beginning. They should not feel trapped or alone. She said that gender discrimination is the larger issue and urged her audience to pay attention to gender diversity within their companies.
The gender pay gap is substantial and discrimination is found in the latest tech jobs. A report in 2016 from Glassdoor found that many tech jobs have wider gender pay discrimination than other professions.
She said that male CEOs are treated with more respect by investors and by their own staff. And, male CEOs have a greater margin to make mistakes. She also criticized the lack of female visionaries quoted in the media.
Some organizations such as Silicon Valley Forum do name female visionaries in their annual awards which honor four recipients. Over the 20 year history of the SVForum Visionary Awards the majority have been male but in 2017 the majority were female.
Three women were named a 2017 Visionary: Linda Rottenberg – CEO and Founder of Endeavor; Neri Oxman professor at MIT’s Media Lab; Megan Smith U.S. CTO. The fourth is Steve Jurvetson partner at venture firm DFJ.
Hyman co-founded Rent the Runway with Jennifer Fleiss and launched in November 2009. The company has funding of more than $176 million — the latest Series E raised $60 million in December 2016 followed $60 million in December 2014.
Project Entrepreneur organizes half-day conferences for female founders of very early startups. They are taught many skills such as: how to pitch their ideas; the metrics that investors want to see; how to recruit a board of directors. Most of the teaching is done by female executives.
The organization also hosts a startup competition with 200 applicants and five winners offered $10,000 each and a five-week intensive accelerator program in New York City in April.
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