The politics of sexual harassment has been a big subject of debate. Are women at workplaces even aware they are getting sexually or otherwise harassed? Why do many women brush it under the carpet? Is it the fear of public embarrassment or a concern for their career? Are powerful men abusing their positions to harass women? RK Pachauri case is a standing example of how someone of power and repute allegedly harassed tens of women in his organisation exercising his boss-man stand. Supreme Court’s Ashok Kumar Ganguly was forced to resign after an intern went public accusing him of harassing her. Now these issues are cropping up in the startup ecosystem too, which clearly seems quite unprepared to take it up. Uber’s Susan J Fowler went public on her own blog detailing a year of harassment at the company.
In India, a young startup founder Wamika Iyer has gone public with her interactions with Mahesh Murthy, a venture capitalist who is often found on panels and summits of great repute. Here is a one on one interview with Wamika Iyer that gets down to the basics. We also have a reaction from Murthy as part of this story.
Why were you keen to connect with Mahesh Murthy in the first place?
I tried to connect with many VCs for mentorship and funding when I had the idea of starting up my venture, Mahesh Murthy being one of them.
Back in 2015, I had emailed many seed fund companies with my idea of Dukaandaar to know their inputs which I did not pursue later. However when I finalized on my plan to start a Chennai based venture- FrshDay.in with my partner Vishal Nadar, I connected with Mahesh Murthy on professional networking site-LinkedIn, post which he requested the conversation to be moved to WhatsApp for ease(the screenshots were shared earlier). That was the first time I interacted with him. I had chat with him only thrice about my startup. Have never met and have never spoken to him on call too.
In the period you hadn’t spoken out or this story hadn’t been published – how did you deal with things?
Have already mentioned in my linkedin posts, however will reiterate. I tried to speak out but my voice wasn’t heard out or rather ignored. Honestly, I was demotivated from pursuing my dreams after seeing senior VC in the industry behaving in such a manner. For a while, I even thought that starting a common local food van which does not require the support of any VCs is better than this struggle.
I may not have reached out to any VC after that incident and I decided to carve my own path without any guidance.
Staying calm about Mahesh’s issue did not help. He did continue to behave in similar way with more women and there has to be a full stop to it as it is disrupting the culture in the startup ecosystem.
Why is the startup ecosystem unfriendly towards women?
We talk so much about women entrepreneurship and also have so many platforms now where women based startups are encouraged yet if there are people behaving this way, it puts a question on the progress that we have made
Do you think its hard for women to reach out to mentors and supporters?
It depends. If asking about travelling interests or hobbies to break the ice with a VC is considered as ‘talking anything
under the sun as 2 single adults’, then it is definitely tough for women to reach out to potential investors or mentors. However, I believe people with stronger network or from Ivy League background are usually welcome for funding and mentorship in India.
Do you believe the startup ecosystem will take a long time to transform to becoming gender balanced and female friendly?
We are gradually moving towards the transformation but it will surely take time as we are still in a male dominant society and such incidents pulls us a step back. I have heard of comments like- Being a woman, you should not connect to a male VC on your own etc. If we think on such lines, then obviously we have a long way to go to become gender balance/female friendly.
Do you plan to take any legal action now that the story and whats-app exchange is already out?
Apology is the least that he could do, not just to me but to all the women that he has misbehaved with. This isn’t my battle alone and I want to ensure that no other aspiring woman entrepreneur faces all this. Yet I believe there is more of casual approach to such behaviour. Such behaviour is setting an example for startup ecosystem to soon turn into an industry where there is lack of professionalism. A VC from my network messaged me last week saying she has never heard of such a thing happening at Silicon Valley and I believe we must reach to the level where we can say the same about Indian startup ecosystem.
Do you think women centric investment funds are key to helping women entrepreneurs?
It would be good to have women centric investment funds to help women entrepreneurs and to encourage them. When there are such issue, male founders support each other but women don’t come out to support and voice their opinion publicly due to societal pressure and that makes us weaker than men.
It is really important to stand for what is right, irrespective of the gender and society.
What’s been the most rewarding part of your entrepreneurial journey so far and how have you kept yourself going
I am a struggling entrepreneur carving my way inspite of many hurdles and too young in the industry to have anything concrete to label it as rewards. But I believe passion is something which has kept me going inspite of many challenges in my way. Many women entrepreneurs reached out to me saying success should be your revenge in this battle and I sincerely hope to prove them right someday and would love to help and be an inspiration for future generations of female entrepreneurs who would be in the stage where I am today.
SheThePeople.TV also emailed Mahesh Murthy and this is the bottomline of his response:
“I am shocked and outraged at the extraordinary defamation and deliberate character assassination being carried out by a lady who had a set of voluntary personal conversations with me online and who seems to be using your publication as a platform to continue to carry out her plan for deliberate defamation. I shall be filing legal proceedings shortly.”
Here’s his rebuttal on Medium.
Article Updated: SheThePeople.TV had used Wamika Iyer’s picture as per an Asian Age report, which has been removed
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