How A Female Engineer Built A Public Case Against A Sexual Harasser In Silicon Valley : All Tech Considered Niniane Wang, an experienced engineer with a startup incubator, says she was harassed by a male investor. She wanted to be certain that when she came forward, she wouldn't be ignored.
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How A Female Engineer Built A Public Case Against A Sexual Harasser In Silicon Valley

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How A Female Engineer Built A Public Case Against A Sexual Harasser In Silicon Valley

How A Female Engineer Built A Public Case Against A Sexual Harasser In Silicon Valley

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ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

In the past two months, many powerful men accused of sexual misconduct from Hollywood to the U.S. Congress have lost their jobs. It wasn't always the case, though, that this type of behavior would be punished. NPR's Laura Sydell has the story of a Silicon Valley engineer who wanted to make certain that when she came forward, the man responsible paid a price.

LAURA SYDELL, BYLINE: Niniane Wang has an impressive pedigree - master's in computer science, founder of Google Desktop and lead engineer positions at Microsoft. Back in 2010, she ran an incubator for elite startups. Justin Caldbeck, one of her investors, asked to meet Wang for a drink to talk about a new company.

NINIANE WANG: And when I showed up, he switched the conversation to be questions about my dating life and then started to pressure me for sex.

SYDELL: Afraid to offend an important investor, Wang politely declined, but Caldbeck continued to pursue her, not just that night but over a period of weeks.

WANG: I felt very trapped.

SYDELL: He finally gave up. Wang felt conflicted. She wanted to warn other women about him, but she'd seen too many women tell their stories only to be ignored, disbelieved or worse.

WANG: You worked up all this courage to tell your story and the perpetrator doesn't have any consequences.

SYDELL: Wang also worried that coming forward would hurt her chances of attracting other investors. Then, she saw the resignation of Uber's CEO and other executives after the company got caught up in a harassment scandal. Seeing how they were brought down inspired her. With the logic of an engineer, she developed her own method for dealing with harassment. First - have a goal. Hers was making sure that if anyone searched Justin Caldbeck's name on Google, stories of harassment would pop up. Then, she gathered evidence - texts, emails, phone records.

Word got around the whisper network and two other victims of his harassment came forward with her. They strategically picked a media outlet - The Information, an online news site read by Silicon Valley elite. Then, on a Thursday in June, the article was published.

WANG: I felt at the time like I was jumping off a cliff and taking two other women with me (laughter).

SYDELL: At first, nothing happened. Wang had a network of people on social media, so she made sure they saw the article and reposted it. Over the course of four days, Caldbeck went from denying the allegations to resigning from his venture capital firm. Caldbeck told NPR, I'm sorry to any women that I've ever put in a bad position or made uncomfortable through my actions. Wang's clearheaded engineering strategy had worked. In fact, it had worked so well that it actually impressed investors like Mike Hirshland. Wang was an acquaintance of his, and he was always impressed, so he sent her a note.

MIKE HIRSHLAND: I just wanted to make sure that in a time that she probably felt like she was in the middle of a tempest that just wanted to share with her that I was a big fan and hoped someday to back her.

SYDELL: Wang's success sparked more women to come forward. Some of them came to her for advice.

KATER GORDON: When I saw Niniane come forward this summer, I reached out to her and I just thought, man, you're so brave.

SYDELL: Kater Gordon had her own story, and she told Wang about it. It involved a powerful Hollywood figure - Matthew Weiner, the creator of the hit series "Mad Men." When she was 27, Gordon was his writing assistant. She even won an Emmy for her work. Gordon says she often worked long hours late into the night alone with Weiner. One night...

GORDON: We were working together, and he told me that I owed it to him to let him see me naked.

SYDELL: Gordon ignored the comment, but she says it made her question whether Weiner really thought she was talented. It changed their relationship. He yelled at her at work. She left the show and gave up her career in Hollywood. Now, she wanted Wang to help her tell her story.

GORDON: She brought up to me the idea of you should have a goal in mind.

SYDELL: For Gordon, it was about restoring her reputation as a writer and warning other women about Weiner. Wang told Gordon to develop a sort of chart with ways to achieve her goal, and she told her to make sure she told her story in a way that was dispassionate and clear.

GORDON: She sort of found a pattern for herself that worked, and then she's expanding it to include other people so that the process - you're not starting from square one.

SYDELL: Gordon's account did go public. Weiner denies what happened, but Gordon feels she achieved her goal of warning other women. Now she plans to pass this method on to others. Laura Sydell, NPR News.

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