Erica Swallow a 28 year old MBA student at MIT’s Sloan School of Business has claimed that she has been reprimanded after blogging about her internship at venture capital outlet, General Catalyst where she claims she and other females were treated with sexist overtones.
Wrote the chagrined Erica Swallow: ‘I was consistently reminded of my place as a woman in a man’s world’
‘What message do you think I heard when I was the only woman, at a lowly intern position, sitting in on founder pitches and investment meetings? In short: VC is no place for a woman.’
The former intern has since told that the firm ‘wasn’t exactly ecstatic‘ (you think?) about her decision to blog about gender bias, with several of her bosses wanting to know why she hadn’t consulted them first and how they could spin positive publicity out of the incident.
Of the 46 employees, Swallow would tell there were only four are female, with just one woman on the firm’s investing side.
Told the MBA student in a first hand account for the Wall Street Journal: ‘The fact that all of the meetings they set up about my post that last week and beyond were with men, and that the majority of our conversations revolved around bringing this topic back to a positive perspective of what the firm and its peers are doing to solve the problem, made me feel as if the core of my post, my feelings and less-than-welcoming experience, were not valued,’
Adding: ‘They didn’t see that I felt left out; they saw that their firm was under attack.’
Erica Swallow would tell the final straw came during a ‘highly constructive’ conversation about diversity initiatives with her mentor at the firm, when another partner ‘stormed in’ and began reprimanding her.
Reiterated Erica Swallow: ‘He said the post was misguided and anger-filled, and he was disturbed that he had received emails from LPs and portfolio founders asking how I could have done what I did. After multiple calm responses to his shouting, I couldn’t take it anymore. He had been standing and pointing furiously at me the entire time, while everyone else was seated. I stood up, tears falling from my eyes and my breath becoming uncontrollable, and said I wasn’t going to take this treatment. I hadn’t done anything wrong for speaking up about something I felt was an issue, but I was being treated like a perpetrator. I had broken their trust, they told me. And maybe I had, but I would not be silenced and belittled.’
In her defense, the former intern has said people have called her ‘brave, courageous and completely out of my mind’ for speaking up – and that 99per cent of the feedback she’s received has been positive.
Of course one wonders how much directive any intern, male or female gets to have at any internship, especially where there is large sums of money at stake? Perhaps an intern’s role is in fact to listen and learn and ask questions and to maintain constant dialogue, even dialogue that they would consider best shared with the outside world, considering that when any outlet brings an intern in they ought to expect some degree of loyalty and composure.
For her part, Swallow would tell that other women who had worked at General Catalyst contacted her to say that felt similarly excluded, thanking her for giving a ‘refreshingly honest’ description of the business world. Which puts pause to the question, why they in turn have declined to raise their voice if things are in fact so onerous for females?
That said, the former intern says her biggest issue is with those who think her story is better kept behind closed doors.
Reiterated Erica Swallow: ‘When I wrote the blog post, I was merely trying to share my experiences in hope that others who are holding back their own personal experiences would be inspired to speak up themselves, or at least find solace in the fact that they are not alone, nor insane or wrong for feeling how they do,’
That said commentators on the web have taken the aspiring capitalist to task, with some questioning her maturity and her understanding of what her role as an intern would actually involve.
Told some: ‘It shows considerable lack of judgment to publicly cast aspersions on the heavy hitters in an industry you wish to break into. Does she really think this will help her career?’
Also, I don’t blame her superiors for being mad. If she really wanted constructive conversation, do that first, in private, before putting your firm on public blast with only your side of the story. OF COURSE they are going to be mad, as she could potentially cost the firm investment and money. I too have felt slighted at work for one reason or another. I didn’t blog about it, I acted like an adult and talked one on one with people in the company. It worked out great for me, go figure. She’s a maroon.
So basically she is mad because there were only 4 women out of the 29 people at the firm? Ummm, yeah, I am sure the hiring manager made a conscious decision to deliberately not hire women. He just hates women! What an idiot this girl is.
the real villain here is the Sloan Professor that didn’t teach her that a sample size of five does not represent an entire industry. I can name numerous female VCs off the top of my head who would clean my (male) clock in any given transaction.
So what does she suggest – that General Catalyst immediately hire a bunch of female managing directors in lateral moves? Lateral moves are relatively rare for established and successful VC’s, because those people already have economics locked into ongoing funds at their current funds. Logically, the way that there will be more women in senior roles at most VC firms is for women to start in junior investment roles and work their way up. We’ve apparently discovered one person who is unsuited to being one of those pioneers.
Second, she doesn’t appear to understand the basic fact of working for someone else. She proposed a project, it was rejected by the firm in favor of the project that they wanted her to do, and she took it as a personal affront. That’s life, and I don’t assign her a high hope of future success if she can’t understand that.
The fact that even as a “lowly intern”, Ms. Swallow was given an opportunity to sit in on high-level meetings is at the very least an opportunity for positive change, if not quite a dispositive sign the barriers are tumbling down. Following that logic, she might have focused her comments on how to build on what is evidently a rather imperfect beginning rather than simply writing a blog post that she surely must have – and absolutely should have! – known would be incendiary.