An industry with a reputation for gender discrimination did the right thing by pressuring RadiumOne to fire Gurbaksh Chahal
On Sunday, founder and CEO of technology-advertising firm RadiumOne was fired after pleading guilty to misdemeanor charges in a domestic violence case. It was a long time coming—too long for an industry already mired in gender issues.
Video cameras in CEO Gurbaksh Chahal’s apartment reportedly showed him hitting his then-girlfriend 117 times, according to police. The judge ruled the tape inadmissible because it had been improperly seized. (Police argued that they took the tape without a warrant because they worried it might get erased.) Chahal’s former girlfriend withdrew her testimony and refused to cooperate with police, according to the San Francisco Chronicle. And then Chahal—who was originally charged with 45 felony convictions after his arrest in August—struck a plea deal for three years probation, a year in a domestic violence training program and 25 hours of community service last week.
In the months since his arrest, some of Silicon Valley’s biggest names have called for RadiumOne to fire Chahal because of the incident: consultant Anil Dash, venture investor Jason Calacanis and Fortune‘s Dan Primack all questioned the board’s choice to support the CEO. A #DropRadium hashtag bubbled up on Twitter. TechCruch announced that RadiumOne was no longer invited to sponsor one of their conferences. The Democratic National Committee returned $20,000 donated by Chahal.
In the midst of all the bad press, RadiumOne nonetheless chose to keep Chahal on for almost nine months after he pled guilty to the charges. Until Sunday, Chahal issued statements saying that his board was standing behind him and proceeding with their planned IPO. Chahal continued to act as the face of the company boasting on the blog about the company’s success and their new partnership with Condé Nast. (Condé Nast announced this weekend that they are “reviewing the partnership.”)
But finally, the board caved to pressure and fired Chahal who took to his blog to defend himself on Sunday, saying that his girlfriend was having sex for money and denied accusations that he injured his girlfriend during the argument.
While RadiumOne’s choice to stick with Chahal for so long was a despicable one—campaigns have already begun to cripple the company—the outrage in parts of the tech community over his behavior is a good sign for the industry. Silicon Valley has a reputation for a culture in which women are underrepresented in both engineer and executive positions: only two to four percent of engineers at tech companies are women. Blame “brogrammer” culture or intro computer science classes in college designed to weed out those who are unexperienced with programming, but women are simply outnumbered in the tech world.
And sadly for those few women in the industry, that sometimes means facing a misogynistic culture. Former GitHub developer Julie Ann Horvath chronicled harassment and boys’ club antics that forced her out of the company on TechCrunch in March. Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg has shared conversations she has had with men in the industry who said they don’t hire young women because they’re not competent or because their wives are worried they would cheat with them.
It often takes a long time for the any professional community to recognize and punish bad behavior—just look at the sudden uproar over alleged comments by Donald Sterling, the owner of the Clippers this past weekend; Sterling has had a decades-long history of racism that should have been admonished long ago. In comparison, Silicon Valley (if not RadiumOne’s board) has been relatively vigilant in their criticism of Chahal over the past few months. So while the protests against RadiumOne don’t prove that Silicon Valley has solved its sexism problem, they do suggest that major players are aware of their reputation with women and battling to amend that image.