Why Silicon Valley treats predators differently

Hollywood execs face the consequences. Tech moguls think they’re above them

By Nicole Karlis

Senior Writer

Published December 5, 2017 7:00PM (EST)

Shervin Pishevar (Getty/Patricia De Melo Moreira)
Shervin Pishevar (Getty/Patricia De Melo Moreira)

Ripples from the Weinstein Effect have touched one of Silicon Valley’s most prominent. Shervin Pishevar, an entrepreneur and venture capitalist with a portfolio that includes high-profile companies like Uber and Airbnb, publicly announced this morning that he will be temporarily stepping down from venture capital firm Sherpa Capital to pursue a defamation lawsuit in the wake of multiple sexual assault allegations and one rape allegation — which Pishevar claims are all part of a “smear campaign.”

In a statement released via his lawyer, Pishevar says, “I have decided to take an immediate leave of absence from my duties at Sherpa Capital and Virgin Hyperloop One, as well as my portfolio company board responsibilities, so that I can pursue the prosecution of my lawsuit, where I am confident I will be vindicated. Through the discovery process, I hope to unearth who fabricated the fraudulent London ‘police report,’ and who is responsible for spreading false rumors about me.”

The so-called “false rumors” appear more serious than mere rumors. Five women have come forward to a Bloomberg reporter to share personal stories about times that Pishevar allegedly sexually assaulted or harassed them or those close to them. One of the women recalled that at Uber’s 2014 holiday party Pishevar allegedly assaulted a 30-year-old Uber executive, Austin Geidt, who declined to comment on the allegations.

All of the women who have come forward to Bloomberg asked not to reveal their identities, wary that Pishevar’s litigious reputation and his influence in the tech industry could harm their careers. Those fears are validated by Pishevar’s response to a May report — where a woman accused him of raping her at the Ned Hotel in London, which partly incited him to file a defamation lawsuit against a political opposition research firm.

If you thought Louis CK’s “apology” was bad, imagine your assaulter filing a defamation lawsuit to silence you.

The #MeToo movement has given many women the confidence to come forward and confront their abusers. In Hollywood and in the media industry, powerful perpetrators are being fired and/or suffering the consequences of their actions, setting a precedent that abuse of power and sexual harassment is unacceptable in their industry.

Can the same be said about Silicon Valley?


In the past few months, the way in which powerful men have faced sexual assault and harassment allegations in the tech industry has been different, and...  more lenient, frankly, than those in Hollywood. Venture Capitalist Justin Caldbeck resigned from his firm Binary Capital after six women said he reportedly made unwanted advances. While he publicly apologized, and stepped down from the firm, he has now moved on to another project: educating young men at Duke University, his alma mater, on the dangers of “bro culture.” His new mission, according to Bloomberg, is to “create positive change for women by educating young men about how to be better in the workforce.” Dave McClure, the founder of 500 Startups, a startup accelerator, resigned after women came forward and reported several unwanted advances from him. In a Medium post, he apologized and admitted he “f**ked up." But according to his profile on Crunchbase, a LinkedIn clone for tech investors, he still sits on the board for a few companies.

Hollywood has been less forgiving. Harvey Weinstein was fired from his own studio, and it’s probably safe to assume he won’t be giving a talk about life after being a sexual harasser at his alma mater any time soon; his brand is far too toxic. After women came forward about Louis C.K.’s aggressive advances, C.K.’s pending movie “I Love You, Daddy” saw its release cancelled, along with his contract with FX. NBC fired “Today Show” host Matt Lauer after multiple women came forward with stories of him sexually harassing them at work, including one instance in which Lauer reportedly gifted a sex toy to an employee in his office.

In the tech industry — long a bastion of gender inequality and bro culture — if you sexually harass someone, you’re still respected. Your career can turn around. You can become an advocate for change. But the message in Hollywood is different. In Hollywood, if you sexually assault or harass someone, your career is over.

What message does this send to future predators in Silicon Valley?

Pishevar’s response to these allegations is another reflection of a symptomatic problem in Silicon Valley: The sense of entitlement that the industry collectively holds, evidenced by companies that think they’re above the law, founders who think their app is “changing the world,” and techies who have fallen for Ayn Rand’s hyper-individualistic libertarian ethos. The I’m-above-you, your rules don’t apply to me attitude is what makes Silicon Valley so seductive yet so dangerous at the same time.

Tech companies are content with this ideological view of their industry, as many buy into the hype: It drives investors to invest and helps them acquire talent. Startups have been famous for rebelling against traditional corporate work culture. But when it’s time to face the industry’s issues with sexism, abuse of power, sexual harassment, and assault, how does their failure to set industry standards bode for the future? For an industry that has made billions of dollars off of the noble idea of changing the world and building the future, it doesn’t seem to want to be a part of the movement to make life better for women in the workplace.

By Nicole Karlis

Nicole Karlis is a senior writer at Salon, specializing in health and science. Tweet her @nicolekarlis.

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