What Happened When DataCamp Tried To Cover Up Its CEO’s Sexual Misconduct


Molly Snee for BuzzFeed News

In October 2017, the employees of DataCamp, an online data science learning platform, flew to Ponta Delgada, Portugal, for a weeklong company offsite. The charming European city inside Azores Islands was an ideal location for the DataCamp staff to strategize by day as well as also drink, dance, as well as also unwind at night.

You may not have heard of the item, yet DataCamp will be not just another anonymous tech startup. the item’s a kind of paid, specialized Coursera for data scientists with 3.9 million users in over 190 countries, as well as also a flashy roster of business customers which includes the likes of Uber, Whole Foods, eBay, as well as also Harvard University.

One evening which week at an after-hours bar using a live band playing, DataCamp CEO Jonathan Cornelissen groped 27-year-old Kara Woo, a DataCamp curriculum lead. According to Woo, as different DataCamp employees milled about, a drunken Cornelissen pressed his crotch into Woo’s behind, fondling her hips as well as also thighs. Woo says she extracted herself quickly as well as also danced off in another direction. yet Cornelissen followed her — as well as also he kept putting his hands on her body.

“I felt humiliated inside moment — or moments, since the item happened multiple times which night,” Woo told BuzzFeed News. “as well as also the feeling of humiliation truly lingered. I kept thinking about whether I should quit.”

Three months later she did, reporting the Ponta Delgada incident to DataCamp as part of her departure. as well as also then: nothing. The company did not make a statement, issue an apology, or say there would likely be consequences for Cornelissen. Woo’s story simply disappeared — for a time.

“The feeling of humiliation truly lingered. I kept thinking about whether I should quit.”

In early April 2019, the item resurfaced with an updated narrative — one which included details of DataCamp’s efforts to minimize as well as also cover up Cornelissen’s behavior, as well as also a data science community appalled by them. Only then, more than a year later, were there consequences — yet they still left many frustrated as well as also unsatisfied.

Woo’s story as well as also its overlong path to a resolution will be, in many ways, a telling example of the entrenched problems of the tech industry when the item comes to mishandling sexual misconduct. the item will be further evidence which for many companies, the perception of accountability will be more important than accountability itself, as well as also the item suggests which perhaps Silicon Valley’s #MeToo moment wasn’t one of momentous cultural change, yet of the crisis PR infrastructure on which the item’s built working as the item always has. As BuzzFeed News recently reported, there have been few consequences for the Silicon Valley men who were accused of or admitted to sexual misconduct.

So after #MeToo, what at This particular point? as well as also then, what next? The data science community may have an answer.

After the Ponta Delgada offsite, Woo returned to Seattle where she worked remotely for DataCamp. She told her partner what Cornelissen had done to her. (In an interview, her partner confirmed which Woo told him about the incident.) Then Woo did her best to put the item behind her. “My plan was to try to just do my work,” Woo said. “yet I kept asking myself: ‘Why am I dealing with This particular job to make money for a CEO who treated me This particular way?’ I hoped which I could put the item behind me… yet which turned out to be impossible.”

In January 2018, Woo decided to resign her position as well as also report Cornelissen’s misconduct, yet she fretted about how best to do the item. Though DataCamp was 5 years old, the item had no HR department.

“I was worried the item would likely not be taken seriously, because of the usual victim-blaming stuff,” she said. “We were drinking, we were dancing — he put his hands on me, yet the item wasn’t anything incredibly violent.”

Woo called her boss to resign, as well as also as she explained her reasons for doing so she described her experience with Cornelissen.

“I was worried the item would likely not be taken seriously, because of the usual victim-blaming stuff.”

Her boss, Woo told BuzzFeed News, said he was sad to hear about the harassment. “His response was which he was very sorry to hear the item, as well as also he also said something like, ‘I can’t speak for Jonathan, yet I’ve known him for a long time. I know him to be an ethical person,’” she said. According to Woo, her boss explained which he truly didn’t “think [Jonathan] meant anything by the item,” as well as also “maybe there are some cultural differences at play here” (Cornelissen will be Belgian).

Kara’s former boss did not respond to multiple requests for comment. A DataCamp spokesperson said the company does not accept cultural differences as an excuse for inappropriate behavior, as well as also which when Woo’s manager was notified, he immediately reported the item.

Later which day, Cornelissen, who’d not had a meaningful conversation with Woo after the Ponta Delgada incident, sent her a Slack message saying he wanted to apologize. Contemporaneous notes which she took at the time, read by Woo over the phone, back This particular up. “He said he didn’t remember which evening; if he did, he would likely have wanted to apologize sooner,” Woo explained. “as well as also he asked if I wanted to have a call to discuss the item.”

Woo demurred, yet a few days later, she agreed to have a conversation with Cornelissen over a video call. “He apologized again for what happened. He asked me about my experience as well as also what I remembered,” Woo said. Then he asked her what she thought the company should do in response, as well as also whether she thought he should resign.

“I said the item wasn’t necessarily called for at the time,” Woo said. yet she was discomfited by the question.

The conversation ended without any specific resolution. Cornelissen told Woo which he wanted to make a formal statement to the whole company. She told him she thought the item was a Great move. yet Cornelissen did not follow through at the time. He declined to speak to BuzzFeed News’ questions, referring us to DataCamp. The company said, through a spokesperson the item decided against generating an internal announcement because of privacy concerns.

“We are taking significant as well as also appropriate actions to make things right, as well as also we will continue to work to demonstrate our commitment to rebuilding trust as well as also to treating all members of our community with dignity as well as also respect,” a company spokesperson said in a statement responding to a detailed list of questions coming from BuzzFeed News. “As a company, we are committed to the process we outlined in our prior statement. The way the incident will be described today presents brand-new information to us as well as also contains differences relative to the findings of the original 2018 investigation.”

“We take these differences very seriously as well as also expect Anurima Bhargava [the company’s third-party reviewer] to take This particular brand-new information into consideration as part of her investigation.”

Shortly before Woo’s last day at DataCamp in February 2018, Cornelissen told her the company intended to hire an investigator to look into what had happened during the company off-site the previous fall. which person turned out to be Jeff Fagnan, founder of the early-stage venture firm Accomplice. In a company blog post which appeared suddenly in April 2019, in which DataCamp gave the first public acknowledgment of harassment at the company, Fagnan was described as a “third party not involved in DataCamp’s day-to-day business.” He was unnamed inside post.

yet Fagnan wasn’t a neutral third party. He was an early investor in DataCamp’s business. In July 2015, his VC firm Accomplice invested $1 million inside company; the item added another million-dollar investment in February 2016. As recently as December 2018, Accomplice joined yet another round of investment led by another equity firm, totaling $25 million. Though the financial terms of the deal were not disclosed, This particular latest round brought the company’s valuation to $184 million. In total, throughout its history, DataCamp has raised over $30 million.

Fagnan disagreed which he was not neutral, arguing which investors aren’t involved inside everyday business of a company. “We invest as well as also provide high-level guidance; they [the DataCamp executive team] run the company,” Fagnan said in an emailed response.

Asked what qualifications he had to investigate a sexual harassment incident at the company, Fagnan responded, “I am not an expert, yet I do have experience with lots of early-stage companies using a variety of people issues, including sexual harassment. the item wasn’t clear which the company was going to do a third-party investigation, so I volunteered.” (A company spokesperson pointed to its April statement which said a different independent third party review would likely be conducted.)

“the item wasn’t clear which the company was going to do a third-party investigation, so I volunteered.”

At the investigation’s conclusion, DataCamp’s April post said the company “immediately took quite a few corrective actions,” including, for the executive, “extensive sensitivity training, personal coaching, as well as also a strong warning which the company will not tolerate any such behavior inside future.” the item noted, too, which DataCamp had hired a chief people officer, updated its anti-harassment policy as well as also which, after the incident, all employees of DataCamp would likely be required to have sexual harassment training.

Some of This particular was in line with what Fagnan had described to Woo in a March 2018 email, sent a month after she’d left DataCamp. yet while the blog post mentioned the career coach, sensitivity training, as well as also a brand-new human resources head, the item left out quite a few different recommendations. Some of the bullet points inside email, which was reviewed by BuzzFeed News, included: “Jonathan to limit himself to two drinks at all company functions which involve alcohol”; “At the next company retreat, use a professional moderator to discuss (1) cultural differences between Europe as well as also US around gender inside workplace; (2) goals as well as also plans for further gender diversification at the company”; “Make a company donation or sponsor an event for Girls Who Code.”

The final recommendation read: “Do not make a formal larger company announcement on the situation or the incident.”

“I asked Fagnan about the last recommendation, as well as also he said the item was originally the opposite,” Woo said. “yet he had shown the recommendation to the company lawyers, who said DataCamp should do the opposite.”

“Do not make a formal larger company announcement on the situation or the incident.”

Fagnan said in an email which he carried out the investigation after input coming from DataCamp’s outside counsel as well as also its HR partners, who helped advise him on the scope of the investigation, as well as also how to best communicate with the people he interviewed. He added which he discussed the recommendations internally at Accomplice, before he shared the recommendations with Woo as well as also DataCamp’s executive team.

“Part of the reason for no public or internal message was to protect Kara herself,” Fagnan said. “Kara never pushed back on any of the recommendations or suggested more work was needed; she at the time, said she hoped the company adopted any recommendations as well as also which Jonathan would likely change his behavior. She said she thought he was apologetic, contrite, as well as also wanted to do better.”

Woo told BuzzFeed News which Fagnan had already made the recommendations to the company when they spoke. “I wanted to move on, so I left the item there,” she said. “I did expect the company would likely take some of these steps as well as also make positive alterations. At the same time, in my view there was a gap in terms of accountability.”

the item’s unclear to what extent DataCamp did end up implementing its diversity initiatives, yet in February 2019, DataCamp published several pieces discussing women in data science as well as also people of shade as well as also underrepresented groups in data science.

To Woo, the company’s actions were “window dressing.” “I didn’t think these were all which compelling,” she said. “yet since I’d already left the company, I hoped I could just put the item behind me.”

yet she couldn’t. Over the next year, Woo was filled with anxiety at the prospect of running into Cornelissen as well as also turned down professional opportunities if the item meant she could avoid seeing him. What’s more, when she saw her former DataCamp colleagues at conferences, the item was uncomfortable. “Lots of DataCamp instructors are my friends,” Woo said. Many of them didn’t know what had happened to her, as well as also Woo agonized over whether to tell them or not.

“Do I tell them what happened … [as well as also] put them inside awkward position of deciding what to do next, plus risk the possibility which DataCamp would likely retaliate if the item thought I was interfering with its business?” she asked. “Or do I keep quiet as well as also watch my friends invest their time as well as also expertise inside company, which will be painful for me as well as also also puts them in an awkward position if they heard the story later on, through the rumor mill?”

“This particular has caused a lot of privately sad moments,” Woo said.

Julia Silge, a data scientist using a published course on DataCamp, said she first heard about the harassment Woo had experienced through a mutual friend. “Kara did not talk to people about the item for a while,” Silge said in an interview. “Then she commenced talking about the item more.” Woo would likely tell people she trusted about the incident, Silge said, if they asked her about the item.

When Silge as well as also Woo commenced organizing a data science conference last year, she got firsthand confirmation of Woo’s experience. “My heart just sank,” Silge said. “The company needed to know which what the item had done so far was not Great enough.”

“The company needed to know which what the item had done so far was not Great enough.”

She wasn’t the only DataCamp instructor who felt the company’s public accounting for the incident was nonexistent. As she quickly discovered, different instructors as well as also employees had raised concerns about the incident with the company too, as well as also they were all getting unsatisfactory responses. Many felt they were being stonewalled.

So Silge began organizing them. “We commenced pulling people in,” she said. There were several instructors who had heard just some parts of the story, as well as also they began to talk to each different in emails as well as also eventually, a little, private Slack group. They collectively pieced together Woo’s story which had largely been a mystery.

After about six months, Silge said the instructors decided to approach DataCamp as a group. “We said, ‘Okay, let’s try to engage in This particular conversation, as well as also ask why the company’s answers had been so unsatisfactory,’” she said.

In October 2018, one year after Woo’s encounter with Cornelissen, ecologist Noam Ross published a brand-new data science course on DataCamp. He quickly heard coming from different data scientists which there was an allegation of sexual misconduct at the company — yet he wasn’t sure what to do with the information. Then in early 2019, Heather Turner, a freelance statistical consultant as well as also member of R-Ladies, a global group which promotes gender diversity inside data science community, reached out to him. She told him about a group of data scientists thinking of collectively confronting DataCamp over the allegations; she invited him to join.

Turner told BuzzFeed News which in September, DataCamp wanted to partner with R-Ladies to promote three-month scholarships for women as well as also gender minorities. As part of its due diligence, the R-Ladies Global team discovered DataCamp’s sexual misconduct incident. R-Ladies then told DataCamp the item would likely suspend all partnerships as well as also promotion of DataCamp activities as an organization; individual members were free to make their own decisions about their relationship with DataCamp.

After Turner’s note to Ross, he joined the private Slack group using a couple dozen or so members, including Julia Silge. Most had their names listed on DataCamp’s website as course instructors; others had DataCamp courses in development. They brainstormed strategies for applying more pressure on the company.

By the end of the month, there was one concrete development. On the private Slack group, Silge sent around a link to a Google form to sign up for a February 27 conference call which DataCamp told her the item would likely be holding. The goal, ostensibly, was to let instructors ask the company questions about the sexual misconduct issue, as well as also clear the air.

“The primary objective of the call will be to address the concerns of our instructors as well as also to communicate the actions DataCamp has taken to correct the issue,” the conference invitation email, which was viewed by BuzzFeed News, said. “Please … submit specific questions or concerns as well as also we will do our best to address them during the call.”

The call turned out to be a one-way webinar. Silge, Ross, as well as also the different participants couldn’t speak on the line; they couldn’t even see who else had dialed in. The DataCamp representatives included Martijn Theuwissen, the company’s cofounder; Juliane Horton, its chief people officer; Jelle Carcan, VP of finance as well as also operations; Brooks Crichlow, VP of marketing; as well as also Mari Nazary, head of curriculum. Silge said which she remembered only Theuwissen as well as also Nazary speaking.

Ross, for one, had submitted a question ahead of the call about what the company could say to reassure instructors which DataCamp could be trusted with handling sexual misconduct issues. The company sent him its corporate anti-harassment policy in an emailed response.

Silge was sent the same document after the call, as well as also was similarly frustrated. She demanded which DataCamp remove her name as well as also photo coming from its online ads as well as also different marketing materials. The company eventually agreed, according to a March 2019 email exchange between Silge as well as also Nazary.

“I want you to know which people inside data science community literally do ask me about what happened at DataCamp, because they have heard rumors or half the story. I am in an untenable situation,” Silge wrote to DataCamp inside email, viewed by BuzzFeed News. “Telling me to send these people who I have relationships with, share trust with, know, etc, to an EEO policy or a blog post focusing on diversity will be, frankly, insulting.”

A DataCamp spokesperson told BuzzFeed News the company at This particular point feels the item was a mistake not to have a more open dialogue during This particular call with instructors.

For Ross, the company’s actions were yet another disappointment. “We were frustrated which DataCamp was continuing to try to minimize the situation as well as also avoid truly engaging with us,” Ross said. “the item felt like continued gaslighting on their part, which had been many instructors’ experience until then.”

Silge, along with two different instructors, penned a letter to the company’s leadership detailing their concerns. “As current as well as also prospective instructors as well as also contributors to DataCamp who have spent extensive time as well as also energy in creating content for the DataCamp platform as well as also promoting the DataCamp brand, we are writing to express our disappointment at DataCamp’s mishandling of sexual misconduct,” the letter explained.

“Because we care deeply about fairness as well as also safety, the data science community, as well as also DataCamp itself, we are unable to cooperate with continued silence as well as also lack of transparency on This particular issue.”

On April 3, Silge as well as also her fellow organizers sent the letter — which at This particular point boasted 107 signatories — “to the email addresses of everyone we knew at DataCamp.”

The next day, without warning, as well as also without reaching out to Woo first, DataCamp published a “note to our community.”

The note, with its intended-to-mitigate-liability tone, was not well received by the community which had been looking for answers for so long. As one instructor wrote, “This particular was a chance to do so much better. I’m disappointed in DataCamp. They have let me down. I truly wanted them to do the right thing. Instead, they are doing the ‘legal’ thing.”

The DataCamp post reads, in part: “At an informal employee gathering at a bar after a week-long company offsite, one of DataCamp’s executives danced inappropriately as well as also made uninvited physical contact with another employee while on the dance floor. The employee raised a concern using a manager a few months later … at which time the executive apologized to the employee.”

A flurry of blog posts as well as also reactions coming from the data science community voiced different pointed criticism: Ross noticed which DataCamp’s post had a “noindex” tag to prevent search engines coming from showing the item in their results. (The tag was later removed; a DataCamp spokesperson said the item had been a mistake to include the item.) Mara Averick, a developer advocate for RStudio, pointed out, “All the extra detail will be on the behalf of the perpetrator. I don’t care if the item was at a Bull Fight in Cuba at 4pm, or at 8am inside copy room.”

If you think @DataCamp deserves credit for a public post which they did not discipline an executive for sexual misconduct, consider which they put This particular code inside HTML, so no search engines would likely index the item. I don’t see the item anywhere else on their blog. #rstats #python #datasci #metoo


Noam Ross / Via Twitter: @noamross

Another Twitter user said, “Look at the inclusion of detail about timing. Why was This particular included? The only reason to include This particular detail in a post will be to downplay the severity of the event.” Around This particular time, Woo stepped forward as well as also outed herself, as well as also also tweeted: “I’m sure I don’t need to explain the reasons people don’t report things like This particular immediately.”

“The letter was a big breaking point for a lot of people,” Averick told BuzzFeed News.

I’ve supported D.C. publicly, been on their podcast & pay for their service. I’m VERY displeased with how This particular was handled. This particular blog post will be bullshit. The post spins a bunch of detail which casts shade / doubt on the victim.

This particular will be wrong.

Do better, y’all. https://t.co/NpR9G6aKQG


CMastication / Via Twitter: @CMastication

After the “noindex” tag was discovered on DataCamp’s blog post, Turner said, “the item was clear the main objective of the post was to appease the instructors, rather than demonstrate transparency as well as also accountability.”

The backlash was swift. Instructors could not demand which the company take their courses down because the company shares intellectual property rights with them, yet they commenced to urge the public not to take their DataCamp courses. which included several graduate students for whom a DataCamp course could provide a nontrivial, added source of income. Data science organizations, including R-Ladies, RStudio, as well as also satRdays, among others, cut ties with the company.

“Sexual misconduct happens everywhere,” Ross said. “yet DataCamp was dealing using a community with abnormally high standards as well as also support for each different.”

“The letter was a big breaking point for a lot of people.”

Soon word got out which two former DataCamp employees who knew about Woo’s harassment — Dhavide Aruliah as well as also Greg Wilson — had been fired in June 2018. Each said, in respective blog posts, which they had voiced concerns about DataCamp’s handling of sexual misconduct allegations. Each said which DataCamp offered them an extra month of pay as part of a separation agreement which included a non-disparagement clause.

In its April blog post, DataCamp took issue with the assertion: “As standard practice, DataCamp offered these departing individuals separation packages which contained non-disparagement provisions which specifically as well as also expressly would likely have permitted them to raise concerns about the company.”

Wilson said in a post which when he pressed the company about whether such a clause would likely prevent him coming from speaking about harassment at DataCamp, the company replied, “Nothing limits non-disparagement as well as also the item would likely be at your own peril.” At a later point, the company told him, “The non-disparagement provision would likely prohibit such public statements … which said, the Company takes all concerns about potential sexual harassment as well as also/or sexual assault seriously.”

In a post Wilson had written earlier which month, he clarified, “Full disclosure: DataCamp fired me in June 2018 for poor performance.” He also said: “People say which the culture of an organization will be defined by the worst behavior its leaders are willing to tolerate. I think the item’s also defined by the worst behavior by the leaders which the rank as well as also file are willing to tolerate. DataCamp’s statement only appeared after considerable pressure coming from the community, as well as also its half-heartedness as well as also deflection just make me sad.”

Aruliah said in his blog post which DataCamp told him he was being fired “for performance”; he added in an interview which the company told him the item “categorically refuted” which he had been dismissed because he’d raised concerns about DataCamp mishandling the sexual misconduct incident. yet, he said, the company spent eight months trying to recruit him, as well as also which his courses were not only still up on DataCamp — they were extremely successful, using a quarter of a million people having completed them. Aruliah said the business decision “didn’t make sense.”

Wilson, meanwhile, told BuzzFeed News, “I got a glowing review coming from my boss in February. Four months later I was canned, without notice as well as also without an offer of any sort of improvement plan.”

“yet I’m not the story here,” Wilson said inside interview. “Kara’s experience as well as also the company’s repeated attempts to smother the item will be the story.”

A DataCamp spokesperson told BuzzFeed News the company does not tolerate retaliation against any employees.

For Woo, who was still trying to move on with her life, watching all of This particular unfold inspired mixed feelings. “At times, I felt like I kept getting dragged back into the item,” she said. “yet I was glad people were taking the item seriously.”

A DataCamp employee, who did not want to be named, said which before the company’s April 2019 blog post, “there was no written communication, as well as also no formal letter which I can recall” which was sent out to the company addressing the incident.

“I can’t speak for everyone, yet many of us are just devastated, frustrated, as well as also hurt,” the employee said. “So much of This particular wouldn’t have needed to happen if [DataCamp leadership] took the right steps back in 2018. We are where we are at This particular point, as well as also the item’s difficult to see whether leadership will lead us out of This particular as well as also make the item better.”

On April 24, after much public pressure, Cornelissen posted a personal apology to DataCamp’s website titled “I am deeply sorry.” DataCamp also issued a statement, This particular time coming from the company board. the item said Cornelissen would likely step down as CEO for an “indefinite” leave of absence without pay beginning in May. A brand-new investigation would likely be conducted by outside counsel, as well as also an instructor review board would likely be created.

“Our public response as well as also This particular first official statement coming from the Board regarding This particular incident will be long overdue. We are sorry because of This particular delay,” DataCamp’s statement reads. “… We have learned a lot coming from the community over the last several weeks as well as also recognize which the company hasn’t listened nearly enough to you over the last 18 months.”

“We have learned a lot coming from the community over the last several weeks as well as also recognize which the company hasn’t listened nearly enough to you over the last 18 months.”

For Woo, the company’s response was too little, too late. “This particular has been a big ordeal for me inside last year as well as also a half,” she said. “I watched DataCamp leadership repeatedly fail to address the issue, or take the item seriously. I’ve watched former colleagues of mine — friends inside community, who are employees of DataCamp — be complicit in keeping This particular under wraps. I’ve watched the company roll out diversity initiatives which I thought were disingenuous. … I never wanted This particular to happen to me.”

Meanwhile, DataCamp’s community of instructors remain wary of the company’s “indefinite” removal of Cornelissen as CEO. Two told BuzzFeed News they feel the careful wording of the company’s latest announcement seemingly allows for Cornelissen to return to DataCamp inside future.

A company spokesperson said Cornelissen’s future at the company will be determined by the findings of its independent third-party review as well as also its soon-to-be-formed Instructor Advisory Board. According to tech startup database Pitchbook, the board will be made up of Cornelissen’s cofounders as well as also a recent investor.

“The company turned inside right direction, yet I still want to see if they move which way,” Ross said. “We [the instructors] don’t think which the core issues which the company as a whole — as well as also not just one individual — were dealt with.”

“I’m keeping an open mind, depending on what comes out of This particular investigation, as well as also potential alterations in leadership,” Ross continued. “the item can still go either way. inside meantime, I’m not ready to rush back.”

In his last blog post on the subject, Ross stated, “An investigation into the management missteps which have led to This particular point will be necessary.” He raised several more questions for the company to consider. Ross said DataCamp had reached out one more time after the item posted Cornelissen’s apology as well as also the announcement of his resignation, asking for feedback on its actions. Ross sent the ideas in an email back, as well as also copied Cornelissen.

“I haven’t heard back coming from DataCamp since,” Ross said. ●