Malaysia’s Cheryl Yeoh revealed she was sexually assaulted by VC boss
“Black Box of Inappropriateness”
It happens to the best of us. It happens when we least expect it. It happens and it can be hard to talk about it. Three years ago, founding CEO of the Malaysian Global Innovation and Creativity Centre (MaGIC) Cheryl Yeoh was sexually harassed by a man she was working with—500 Startups co-founder Dave McClure. But she only revealed her story in a blog post on 3 July.
What is MaGIC? It is a government-funded agency under the Finance Ministry that was launched in April 2014 to support entrepreneurship in Southeast Asia. Many local entrepreneurs have thanked Yeoh for helping to put Malaysia and its startups on the world map. Yeoh left the position in January 2016.
Why now? McClure recently resigned from 500 Startups in the wake of similar allegations by other women and posted an entry titled, “I’m a Creep. I’m Sorry.” In a shocking twist, he received sympathetic messages from some of the people in the tech community. One of these comments were, “Dave, you’re not a creep, you’re a solid dude. I sorta wish you didn’t apologise for wanting a sex life like other human beings.”
What happened? In Yeoh’s blog post, she said McClure visited her in Malaysia to meet some investors and other people in the industry. The group then adjourned to her apartment for a brainstorming session about 500 Startups and a tech accelerator that would become known as Distro Dojo. But soon, something didn’t seem right. McClure kept pouring scotch into her glass and though everyone had gone home, he didn’t want to leave.
Unsure of what to do, she offered to let him stay in the guest room but he followed her to her bedroom. “That’s when he first propositioned to sleep with me. I said no. I reminded Dave that he knew my then-boyfriend and that we’d just talked about him earlier that night,” she wrote.
“At this point, I led him to the door and told him he needs to leave. On the way out, he pushed himself onto me to the point where I was backed into a corner, made contact to kiss me, and said something along the lines of ‘Just one night, please just this one time.’ Then he told me how he really likes strong and smart women like me. Disgusted and outraged, I said no firmly again, pushed him away and made sure he was out my door.”
Why didn’t she tell anyone? 500 Startups managing partner Khailee Ng is a close friend of Yeoh’s and was among the people at her apartment that night but Yeoh wrote she couldn’t even open up to him because the Distro Dojo deal was at stake and important—the program has since made a huge impact to companies such as Grab and KFit—and she was afraid people would not take her story seriously.
In an interview with BBC—her first since publishing the blog post—Yeoh said looking back, she feels angry that she couldn’t tell him. She added that it was considered normal in the startup world and was unfamiliar then with the law in Malaysia for sexual harassment but really, just couldn’t go through it (pressing charges) at that time. She is, however, now looking into it.
Her advice? “In my post, when I retold my account of what happened, I urged women to write down a full account of what happened (that night), email it to themselves right away so they have a timestamp and they remember what happened, or email it to your best friend, your mum, and when you’re comfortable email it to him, so he knows that what he did was not OK, and that you’re hurt.”
“I think that helps with getting closure and it also makes them realise that you’re not OK with it.”
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