My Statement to Congress on Ending Workplace Sexual Harassment
Good afternoon Congresswoman Frankel, Congresswoman Brooks and members of the Women’s Caucus.
First, I want to thank you for holding this hearing today and giving me the opportunity to speak on behalf of women in tech, and for putting forth the time and energy to make the change we all so desperately wish to see in the world.
My name is Rachel Renock, I am a Cofounder and CEO of Wethos and I’m here today to represent the women of STEM who do not have the privilege of being able to represent themselves, for fear of retaliation.
I’m here today for the women of color, more specifically the Black women, whose companies are statistically outperforming their all male counter-parts, generating $44B a year in revenue, yet receive less than .2% of venture capital.
I’m here today for the young women, in college or fresh out, whose potential has been stifled by on-going fears of a working environment that does not welcome them.
I’m here today for the women of the generation that paved this road before me, whose lives have been spent tediously navigating and demanding more of a male-dominated corporate culture, only to enter tech 30 years later and be met with the same sexist dismissal; now dubbed “too old to hustle”.
I’m here for the queer women and non-binary femmes of the LGBTQ community who are statistically sexually harassed at exponentially higher rates than our cis/straight-counterparts.
My experience having entered tech at 25 to found a company built to connect people with more meaningful work is not an experience that is unique to me, or any woman or woman-identifying individual that has set out with the same or higher ambitions than their male counter-parts: to create a world-changing company. As a young gay white woman from a middle-class family, I’ve been awarded many privileges in my years on this earth, but I’ve also experienced many unnecessary and despicable obstacles.
At its smallest offense I’ve been dismissed. I’ve not been taken seriously. I’ve been talked down to, laughed at, and ridiculed for my efforts. At its worst offenses I’ve been told by an investor offering to write a half a million dollar check that my sexuality turned him on and I sat frozen while he made crude and hyper-sexualized comments about my female cofounders. All of this while attempting to emotionally manipulate me into believing that he and only he would ever invest in my company, leaving me with the choice to either walk away and put my success in jeopardy, or lock myself into a contract with him and his horrible behavior that could last 10+ years.
I walked away from him, a privilege that many women do not have, and 2 months later we raised $1M in venture capital. We also made the incredibly tough decision to come forward in the New York Times to help oust some of the most powerful men in tech for their poor behavior, putting our company and our careers on the line, much like I am doing today.
My story of redemption is not one that many women have the opportunity to experience. In fact, it is much more common for women to be driven out by this type of behavior, with countless opportunities lost and endless problems left unsolved, all so that we as a culture can continue to protect predators.
And so today I must ask: why do we continue to let companies squander the potential of women to protect the comfort of bad men? Why do we continue to let companies put a bad man’s desire to use his power to hit on women at free-will ahead of a woman’s desire to change the world?
I’m here to say that time is up.
I’m here to speak to you as a human first, and a woman second. A human with ambitions, with potential, with world-changing ideas like so many of the other female founders and contributors in tech that I speak to every single day.
I’m here to make a plea to be treated equally, and to make a plea for the women who want to be known for being more than just a statistic, who’s only desire is to be treated as people, and to be taken seriously.
I’m here today to demand an end to forced arbitration and NDA’s at a federal and state level in all cases of discrimination and harassment that silence and bully victims into conceding their livelihoods for fear of being put in danger — yet these predators continue to walk freely in the workplace, inevitably destined to strike again.
I’m here to represent the hundreds of thousands of opportunities lost by women in tech every single day because of their race, gender, age, class, sexual orientation, and disability, and to address a toxic power dynamic that eats away at the core of the American Dream.
We can no longer make false promises of equal opportunity, contingent on circumstances of being born into a place in society that we cannot control. We can no longer continue to teach women to “shrug it off” and to not listen to their own voices.
And so I ask you with every bit of courage that I can muster to help us make a change. I ask our male allies to join us in this fight to create a safe work environment for everyone. I ask us to be brave, to stand for what is right, not who, and to use your power to work together to push us toward a more equitable world, which I know with every bone in my body will only improve the lives of both women, AND men everywhere.