New York-based start-up founder Gesche Haas went to a Berlin tech conference looking for many things —connections, investors, ideas for her new company — but not sex. Yet, much to her dismay, Haas returned to her hotel room one night to find that one of the conference’s investors had sent her a sexually explicit email, as Valleywag reported Tuesday. This was not exactly the kind of “networking” that Haas had in mind.
The culprit, Pavel Curda, is a European angel investor — basically, a wealthy figure who provides capital for business start-ups —with whom Haas had spoken briefly during one of the conference’s professional events. Haas, who went to Berlin looking for connections to help accelerate her startup, Conjure.io, was unsettled by the email, and wondered if perhaps she'd acted in a way that invited Curda’s sexual advances.
She quickly realized that she hadn’t, of course — a fact further confirmed when a fellow female conference-goer told Haas that Curda had sent her the exact same email. Apparently, being a woman at a tech conference is enough of a reason to warrant being sexually harassed via email.
Early on Wednesday, Curda admitted to drunkenly sending the inappropriate emails and made a public apology for his actions, though he had initially claimed that his email had been hacked. According to TechCrunch, Haas has acknowledged but not accepted his apology.
I don't blame her. Here's the email Haas found in her inbox from Curda:
What happened to Haas and her fellow coworker is not
an isolated event. Rather, Haas’s experience is merely one of many incidences. In a world where prominent tech CMOs call their female VPs "whores" and CEOs send out mass, sexually degrading emails about women they
meet, there's a common, incredibly harmful notion that men don’t have to respect
their female colleagues, employees, or bosses.
Why can’t an attractive, intelligent woman interact with a financially powerful man — or any man, for that matter — without risking falling prey to sexual predation? And, further, why do men have a virtual monopoly on the power and money that keeps major corporations running, from Silicon Valley to Wall Street?
On her Twitter, Haas noted the importance of speaking out about her story, especially because it started a conversation about how women are treated in the workplace.
And Haas has the right idea.