When co-founder of The Clean Collective Charlie Thompson (pictured) told me about her experience with venture capitalists in Silicon Valley my first reaction was "that still happens?".
In retrospect, that reaction was incredibly naïve, but I am certain there are others who would react in a simliar way; people who are unfamiliar with Silicon Valley and believe it to be a place where female founders can thrive as their male counterparts do.
The world of tech startups, diversity quotas, and futurists appears to remain dominated by men and plagued with misogyny and manipulation.
Thompson experienced this first hand when she went to Silicon Valley to try and raise capital for her startup The Clean Collective, one of the fastest growing marketplaces for sustainable and eco-friendly purchases in Australia and New Zealand.
In an open letter, Thompson describes how angel investor 'Phil' inappropriately propositioned her when attending a follow-up lunch meeting to discuss his interest in The Clean Collective.
The lunch meeting was set up in walking distance from Phil's photography studio, where he expressed a desire to photograph Thompson.
"During lunch, he confessed he's wanted to 'capture' me at his studio as soon as he met me at the investment conference, despite the level of business discussion he'd engaged me in at the time," says Thompson.
"If I went to his studio, which was conveniently located near the restaurant, 'he couldn't be sure what would happen' and that my dismissive reaction was unusual, as most women become CEOs 'because they want the fame'."
Being told of this experience genuinely shocked me.
But as Thompson heartily reiterated during our interview, this type of behaviour has never been, and will never be acceptable.
"When we say 'I can't believe it's still happening', it comes with quite an acceptance that it did happen at some point. But it's not a behaviour that has ever been okay. And that's why I felt really compelled to speak out about it," says Thompson.
"I think as well with my mission and what I've dedicated myself to doing it's very much about speaking out on behalf of people around the world who don't have a voice."
It's this perspective that drives Thompson to make The Clean Collective a success.
The startup, currently looking to raise $1.5 million via equity crowd funding platform Equitise, is on a mission to hold brands accountable and promote genuinely eco-friendly products.
The Clean Collective's online shop sells natural, organic and eco-friendly personal care, cleaning and reusable products.
They have developed a standard that each product sold on the website must reach, and it is a tougher standard than any set by regulators in Australia.
"We spent a very long time pulling together a new standard to assess the safety and sustainability of personal care, cleaning and reusable products. And in doing so we audited global capital databases, we engaged environmental scientists, and there's a growing awareness that our standard is the strictest in the region," says Thompson.
"There's been a turning point with brands coming to us asking whether they meet the requirements to meet the assessment."
The next step for The Clean Collective following its crowd funding phase is to launch a new app. Customers will be able to go into stores and use a barcode scanner in the app which will tell them instantly whether certain products meet their strict standard.
In addition, The Clean Collective hope to introduce a series of personal development e-courses with leading experts focusing on sustainability for schools, individuals and businesses that will be accessible worldwide.
Though the team is just getting started, in the last year alone The Clean Collective has prevented almost $2 million litres of toxic-chemical products from coming into contact with people and the planet, diverted more than 1.9 million single use items from landfill and removed 6,090 pieces of plastic from the ocean.
"It's estimated that we've got just 135 months until an unprecedented climate disaster takes place and that our babies are being born pre-polluted with 200 chemicals in their umbilical cords," says Thompson.
"What we're leaving to the next generation is a crisis and threatened future."
Business News Australia