“Hey G. I will not leave Berlin until having sex with you. Deal?”
That was the proposition sent to female tech entrepreneur Gesche Haas from an angel investor she had met at a tech networking event. The 10-word email also included a link to the investor’s professional details, just in case Haas may have briefly doubted in the moment that it had actually been sent by someone she’d only talked briefly about work to and had exchanged business cards with. No word yet on whether his “business card” was printed on his home HP inkjet printer, but you know you wouldn’t be surprised either way.
We reached out to Gesche Haas to find out how she felt about the sexist experience, why she decided to go public with her story, and to get her tips on how to survive in the male-dominated startup space. Read below to get her side of the story.
What excites you about being in the tech/startup space?
“I love startups because they are inherently focused on changing the status quo and, by definition, require the leadership of bold, passionate and extremely dedicated people. Creating something from nothing can be very challenging — but attempting the seemingly impossible makes me feel much more alive than chasing a paycheck.”
How did you feel when you first received the inappropriate email?
“I had very mixed feelings. I pride myself on being easy-going, very aware and in control of my stress levels, and not taking things personally. For those reasons, I was hesitant to let it affect me at all. However, I could not shake off how disrespectful and condescending the email struck me, especially given the professional context and setting.
I continued to struggle with these mixed emotions for several weeks and expected it to remain a very personal issue. I certainly did not anticipate that this email a month later would become international news. I ended up describing the whole series of events in a medium post as an avenue for shedding light on the utter lack of readily available guidance and actionable solutions in situations like mine.”
The sender of the email was kicked out of several accelerators. Do you support this outcome?
“This journey never was about vengeance, but rather, awareness, open communication and progress. However, after talking to a few people, I quickly made the decision that I wanted the accelerators to be aware of one of their mentors sending out emails of such nature — and including a professional link in his emails describing his relationship to them. Being in their shoes, I would have wanted someone to tell me if my professional reputation and organization were potentially being tainted.”
How do you think going public with your story helped minimize gender issues in tech?
“I actually feel strongly about an increase of transparency benefitting this world as a whole. Point in case: Even if the accelerators had not decided to stop working with the sender of the email, by making this information public, it would have given power to potential accelerator applicants with which to determine for themselves whether or not they deemed the behavior inappropriate or not. I, personally, would not want to work with an accelerator who has ties with such a person and, in most cases, this kind of knowledge is not public.
Knowledge can only become “power” if you have access to the knowledge.”
What advice would you give to a woman in a male-dominated industry?
“Here are three general life guidelines that I found effective, which can apply to both women and men:
1) Never ever feel like you are a victim. You’re not. And this belief takes power away from you and puts you in a self-inflicted helpless state. As Eleanor Roosevelt said: “No one can make you feel inferior without our own consent.”
2) Focus on yourself, know who you are and know what you want. Your ability to minimize your value of peer perception, and your ability to accept and love who you are and have a clear goal in mind will directly correlate with your ability to rise above and beyond. I truly believe we are all destined for great things, but can only maximize our potential if we have the courage to shoot for the stars.
3) Stay positive. Having a glass-half-full mentality not only makes us happier but also much more determined, confident, action-driven and a more appealing person to work with (both on a professional and personal level).”
What is next for you?
“Given my combined experience as a hedge fund analyst and various work experience in the startup world, I am exploring investing in startups myself. I am also building a female-focused entrepreneur community with the aim of increasing the number of successful startups launched.”