Ashton Kutcher, actor and investor, has recently found himself facing criticism after his foray into improving workplace gender equality. Beyond his household-name status and fame on the screen for shows and films such as That 70s Show, Punk’d, No Strings Attached, and Jobs, Kutcher is also a successful venture capitalist. His big-name investments have included Skype, Airbnb, and Foursquare, and he has been hired by various companies in product engineering, directing, and managing roles.
It was in his role as an investor and entrepreneur that Kutcher went online on July 7 to promote workplace gender equality, though he quickly faced significant backlash for the mistakes he made in this attempt. Kutcher hosted a Facebook Live Chat for his venture capital firm, Sound Ventures, with an aim to discuss gender equality in the workplace in order to inform and connect with more female investors.
Although well-intentioned, Kutcher presented a number of discussion questions that angered viewers at the Facebook Live event, such as “What should be the rules for dating in the workplace? Flirting?” and “Should investors invest in ideas that they believe to have less merit so as to create equality across the portfolio?” Immediately, commenters on both the live event and on Twitter denounced these questions as both problematic and perpetuating classic stereotypes about women. Even wife Mila Kunis and managing partner/COO Effie Epstein, who had joined him in the discussion, allegedly criticized Kutcher for his questions.
Kutcher immediately acknowledged his missteps, taking to Twitter in a series of tweets that included, “I’ve already offended some folks by asking the wrong questions. I’m certain given the sensitivity of the subject I will say other things wrong” and “[I] hope we can find space to be wrong in the pursuit of getting it right.”
A week after the first discussion, Kutcher released a new set of more thorough and specific discussion questions on LinkedIn, inviting more feedback and thanking a list comprised of nearly all women – including Kunis and Epstein – as well as his viewers for helping him “reframe the issue.” Kutcher acknowledged that his first launch was “misguided,” and included a list of suggestions to male allies of women with Cynthia Schames’ article “How Not To Be A Creep.”
Kutcher also included links to tools for uncovering blind bias and finished the post by addressing his previous mistakes one more time: “Lastly, this topic is scary to talk about,” he wrote. “You are going to say the wrong thing and you will be vilified for it. Don’t let it stop you from wading into those waters and learning how to swim … If your heart is in the right place, people will be willing to educate you.”
It’s important to note that both in his first criticized list of questions and in his updated list, Kutcher ended each set with the same question: “Are these the right questions?” Despite the controversy that initially ensued, this repeated final question indicates that this much is clear – Kutcher, like many men in tech and business, still has more to learn, but unlike many stubborn misogynists that exist in the workplace, he is open and willing to do so.
Sign Up For Our Newsletter