Yesterday Daily Beast released extremely disturbing recordings made by Neha Rastogi, a quality assurance manager, of her husband, Abhishek Gattani, who is CEO of the startup Cuberon. She made the recordings in the couple’s Santa Clara home. Gattani has been abusive throughout the ten-year marriage and finally Rastogi started recording it.
The recordings are hard to listen to. The violence is scary. The imbalance of power is heartbreaking. But for me the most jarring aspect of the recording is the insider, tech-industry talk that goes on in between beatings.
For example, he poses a hypothetical to her: “OK, here is a link that seems to be landing to a page, which takes you to this content. Would you…”
But then comes the first hit.
“… keep that link, or would you remove it? Tell me…”
Then comes a second hit.
“… Keep that link or remove it?”
Each time I reread the transcript of the recordings, I am stunned by the jargon juxtaposed against the terror.
But I shouldn’t be stunned, really, Because here’s the profile of an abuser:
- Socioeconomic pressures
- Low self-esteem
- Untreated mental health issues
- A lack of appropriate coping skills
So what happens when all these factors come together?
There will be lots of talk about domestic abuse among educated, middle-class couples (and full-disclosure, I am part of that statistic). But based on what I know about the startup community (a lot) and what I know about domestic abuse (a lot), I am pretty certain Silicon Valley actually has more domestic abuse problems than other middle-class enclaves.
Silicon Valley is a perfect storm for middle-class domestic abuse.
Financial problems are common in situations of abuse because people who have trouble with money feel out of control and abuse is a messed up way to assert control.
The New York Times is full of stories that remind us that financial trouble is often mental, and always relative to peers. If all your friends have a summer home in the Hamptons, then financial trouble could be having to sell your ski chalet to pay taxes on the beach house. (Conversely, if all your friends live on pasta and potatoes then you will not feel impoverished doing the same.)
Financial hardship is actually a big problem in Silicon Valley. Nearly 40% of Silicon Valley is foreign born. Most of them are on visas that allow US companies to pay below-market wages. Y Combinator is an investment firm gaining more and more influence over Silicon Valley funding models, and the founder of Y Combinator, Paul Graham, has said that a key trait of a startup founder is they can live in poverty.
You might think there is some magical cutoff point when people don’t have financial trouble, but there’s not. CNN reports that a family of four in Santa Clara that earns $100,000 a year would be living in poverty. Silicon Valley is the most expensive housing market the world, and it has the highest concentration of millionaires in the world. So even people earning $500,000 a year could easily fall into the realm of financially troubled. The socioeconomic pressures of Silicon Valley are extraordinary.
I took a look at the LinkedIn profiles of Gattani and Rastogi and it’s clear that Gattani has worked with people who had significant exits, but he probably did not. Gattani and Rastogi are not making it financially. And he is not nearly the hotshot he expected to be. And he’s taking it out on his wife.
Mental health problems are rampant in Silicon Valley.
The New York Times reports that venture capital firms look for people who are just manic enough. So what makes Silicon Valley especially prone to domestic abuse is not just the financial stress, but also that the opportunities attract people who are likely to have mental health issues and also likely to have a lower ability to manage their emotions effectively.
Psychiatrist Dr. Michael Freeman studies the relationship between entrepreneurship and depression. In one study Freeman conducted, nearly half of the entrepreneurs said they experienced mental health issues at some point in their lives.
He says many of the personality traits found in entrepreneurs — creativity, extroversion, open-mindedness and a propensity for risk — are also traits associated with ADHD, bipolar, depression, and substance abuse. This, coupled with a very high rate of Aspergers in Silicon Valley, means people’s ability to self-regulate effectively is compromised.
So lack of appropriate coping skills is a ubiquitous problem. Yet the demands for coping skills are higher than most places.
Richard Hagberg is famous for coaching Silicon Valley entrepreneurs, and he explains that most startup founders do not have appropriate coping skills because the level of stress people experience running a startup is not like anything else. It’s 24/7, you are responsible for the livelihoods of many people, and you must scale very very quickly, with no roadmap. Every morning you wake up having to fend off failure.
But of all the trends you will read about concerning Silicon Valley, the one that’s most important is this one:
Silicon Valley is full of shit.
The feminist narrative of Silicon Valley makes me want to stab my eyes out. Sheryl Sandberg spent years convincing women that they should idolize her and try to emulate her by “leaning in.” She has since backtracked on her Lean In diatribe. And she acknowledges that working full time in Silicon Valley while you have kids is only marginally possible.
Which is why most big companies in the area pay for women to freeze their eggs. Which is of course less of a perk and more of an insult to women since we really have no idea if freezing eggs works, and women are giving up their most fertile years.
And you already know that Silicon Valley is all white and Asian. But did you know that people in Silicon Valley don’t care? A recent survey shows that 80% of workers in Silicon Valley think their company is diverse. Yet in reality only 4% of workers are black or Latino.
The findings are not earth-shattering because Silicon Valley has never been known for transparency or honesty. Entrepreneurs can’t talk about what is really going on with them or their company because it shows vulnerabilities to investors or to board members and then the value of the company goes down.
So people don’t show their true selves. Or the true reality of anything, really.
Fight BS with social transparency and personal honesty.
Rastogi read a victim-impact statement aloud in court. She is protesting the light sentence her husband received (less than 30 days in jail) even though he pleaded no contest. And, if you live in Silicon Valley and you want to make a difference, you can show up at the Santa Clara Superior Court in San Jose to put pressure on Judge Allison Danner to give a harsher sentence. In this case, the pressure might actually work — the judge did the sentencing early so she could leave on vacation, which means she hasn’t heard the victim-impact statement yet.
You can also stop lying about your life and in particular your life in Silicon Valley. And those of us outside of Silicon Valley should stop lying to ourselves about domestic violence. The victims can be strong, smart, capable women who lose their way in the maze of marital compromise. And the abusers can be the bright, charismatic, hard-working men we read about in glossy magazines.
We don’t benefit by distancing ourselves from the horrors of this case. We benefit by going closer.
There are thousands of equally admirable, well-educated women who did not have the foresight or chutzpah to record their husband beating them. Do you want to know what you can do to help those women stand up for themselves? Stop acting like it’s something that would never happen to you. Something that you’d never put up with.
Just like you could be living in poverty in Silicon Valley on a six-figure salary. You could also be the woman who doesn’t leave the scene of domestic violence. That’s what we can take away from the horrible violence of Abhishek Gattani, and the stoic resolve of Neha Rastogi.